Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee
Human Rights Situation in Iran
Hon. Lawrence Cannon:  
    Madam Chair, a year and a half ago, an extraordinary, peaceful people’s movement took to the streets in Iran. This movement rejected the results of the election, which had obviously been rigged, and called for radical reforms. Millions of Iranians took to the streets in June and July 2009, braving suppression, intimidation, arrest and violence by the Iranian authorities currently in power.
    As we witnessed the wave of democracy surging through Tunisia and Egypt in recent weeks, we were reminded that Iran had set an example of courage and hope for the Middle East. Canadians and the other members of the international community had promised never to forget the bravery of the Iranian activists.
    Where are the green movement leaders now? Unfortunately, while the events in Egypt and Tunisia sent out messages of hope, the events in Iran reveal an oppressive regime. The 2009 activists are now under house arrest; their telephone lines have been cut and security officers have been stationed outside their homes. These leaders were once the Iranian prime minister, the speaker of the Iranian parliament and the country’s president. And now, the judiciary and members of the Iranian parliament are calling for their arrest and even their execution for being “corrupts on earth”.
    The flagrant disregard and egregious abuse of the most basic human rights by the Iranian authorities have always been and will continue to be denounced by our government and by the House. Actions taken by the Iranian authorities against peaceful protesters in Tehran as recently as this week give our government much cause for concern. The hypocrisy of the Iranian authorities’ support for democracy in Egypt and the suppression of the same demands in Iran is outright unacceptable. The use of tear gas, batons and pepper spray against peaceful protesters by Iranian security forces is a gross violation of the right to free expression and assembly.
    Our government will continue to call on Iranian authorities to allow for peaceful gatherings and immediate release of any protesters who are being unjustifiably detained and we will continue to take Iran to task for its continued violations of human rights and freedom of expression and association.
    Unfortunately, these recent events have a long history. We will not forget that many of the young people arrested during the 2009 protest were taken to Iran’s notorious Kahrizak prison where they were brutally beaten and packed into small, unventilated cells by the dozens. At least three died from beatings or asphyxiation, while others were reportedly raped by their jailors. The Iranian parliament itself investigated these incidents and found that there were indeed severe abuses, including by Saeed Mortazavi, the same man implicated in the murder of Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi in 2003. However, in spite of the Majlis’ conclusions, the world is still waiting for those responsible for the crimes at this prison to be held accountable.
    The activists of the green movement have disappeared from Iranian society. Intellectuals, students, senior officials and clerics who joined the quest for freedom and reform are now either locked away or silenced forever. Many of them were forced to appear in humiliating televised show trials where they confessed their so-called crimes, clearly under duress. Many have been given severe punishment after a highly questionable process by the Iranian courts.
    However, in such cases as these, the word “many” can detract from the individual tragedies and suffering involved. In particular, I would call to the attention of the House the stories of Jafar Panahi, the gifted filmmaker honoured this year at the Toronto Film Festival, sentenced to six years in jail and banned from pursuing his craft for 20 years.
    Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a respected cleric and former deputy minister of culture, was detained for 160 days. Mostafa Tajzadeh, a former deputy minister, was detained for 10 months and then re-arrested for stating that the 2009 elections were rigged. Ibrahim Yazdi, veteran political leader and activist, was arrested in June 2009 and again in October 2010. He is now in declining health in prison and his trial date is reportedly postponed. I could go on.
    The courageous Iranians who fought for democracy in 2009 are today facing serious consequences, including the death penalty.
    On January 29, an Iranian-Dutch woman named Zahra Bahrami was executed on the basis of questionable drug-related charges that were laid after her arrest during an anti-Ahmadinejad protest.
    On January 24, Jafar Kazemi and Mohammad Ali Haj Aghaei, who were arrested during the 2009 protests, were executed after being accused of having ties to a terrorist group.
    The Government of Canada is very concerned and believes that this trend will continue and that the Iranian judiciary will hand down death penalties in the cases of other people who gathered to peacefully demonstrate their democratic opposition. The government is also worried that the approximately 100 civilians arrested during the February 14 demonstrations will be subject to the same non-transparent, draconian treatment.
    Other activists arrested following the election in 2009 are now receiving harsh sentences, including corporal punishment, for their peaceful opposition activities and vaguely defined offences that carry the death penalty. Here again are a few of the many who are suffering at the hands of a government that does not respect their basic democratic rights: Mehdi Aghdam, a youth activist, received six years in prison for participating in demonstrations; Emad Bahavar, a student activist, received 10 years in prison and a 10-year ban from political activities; Amir Khorram, a youth activist, received seven years in prison and 74 lashes; Sarah Tavassoli, a youth activist, received six years in prison and 74 lashes; a construction worker with two young children, Behzad Arabgol, received six years in prison for participating in a demonstration; Shiva Nazar-Ahari, a women’s rights activist, received four years in prison and 74 lashes.
    These terrible punishments against individuals exercising their universal rights of freedom of expression and assembly are an offence to reasonable people the world over and they must stop.
    The Government of Canada condemned the repression after the June 2009 elections and we have continued to condemn the systematic and violent suppression of peace demonstrations ever since. These ongoing and unjustifiable violations of universal human rights will remain a core issue in Canada’s foreign policy regarding Iran.
    Our stand will not soften, our international leadership will not lessen and our principled voice will not be diminished until Iran’s leaders turn away from the path of repression and all citizens of Iran can enjoy the freedoms and rights we hold to be universal and undeniable.
Mr. Mario Silva (Davenport, Lib.):  
    Madam Chair, I thank the minister for his words and I thank the House leaders for allowing this very important debate on Iran.
    I want to ask the minister specific questions in relation to some of the recommendations that were put forward originally at the Subcommittee on International Human Rights, of which I am vice-chair, and then at the foreign affairs committee, which ask for specific action from the Government of Canada, including: that the government call upon the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, to refer the matter of Iran’s genocidal incitement to the Security Council pursuant to article 99 of the Charter of the United Nations on the basis that Iran poses a threat to international peace and security; that the government list the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as part of the international terrorist organizations in accordance with Canadian law; and that the Canadian government enforce the standing international arrest warrants that have been filed against Iranian government officials.
    Those are part of the many series of recommendations that were put forward. I would like to hear what the minister has to say on some of these recommendations.
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Hon. Lawrence Cannon:  
    Madam Chair, my understanding is that this report was unanimous and that colleagues from all sides of the House endorsed the recommendations.
    As members know, the Government of Canada has already initiated a number of the recommendations and actions that were called for, particularly in terms of the genocide issue and the egregious violations of human rights by the Iranian leadership, President Ahmadinejad.
     We have always expressed our highest condemnation both here in this House in Canada and on the international scene, particularly at the United Nations. I recall being at the United Nations and walking out with the Canadian delegation when President Ahmadinejad took to the podium to speak to the assembly. This is something that we feel very strongly about.
     I want to reassure my colleague that we will look thoroughly at all of the recommendations and be extremely active in pursuing them. Indeed, we have already done quite a bit in terms of following the resolutions of the United Nations, UN Resolution 1929, we have been extremely active. We have put in place sanctions above and beyond the sanctions that have been called for. We have been very active in speaking out against Iran in terms of its disrespect for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its disregard of the IAEA.
    I could go on but I think my colleague gets the general idea of where we stand on this issue.
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Hon. Larry Bagnell (Yukon, Lib.):  
    Madam Chair, I congratulate the member for Mount Royal for initiating this very important debate. I also congratulate the minister who is very sensitive to this situation as he has seen the situation in Burma where there is an equally cruel dictatorship. The minister has been great in those instances.
    The Baha’i people in Iran have been persecuted for years, incarcerated unfairly, with extra-judicial killings, et cetera. I am hoping the government is against that and I am wondering what type of position it is taking against that type of activity by the leaders in Iran?
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Hon. Lawrence Cannon:  
    Madam Chair, we have indeed spoken out on that particular issue. I can point to my riding where there is a community that has been interacting with myself and that has been, at the same level as my hon. colleague, calling out for action in this regard.
    I had the opportunity to meet with Iran’s former minister of foreign affairs when our paths crossed in Brussels last year and we discussed, not only this issue, but a number of issues relating to human rights. I must say that it was a lesson that I think a lot of my colleagues here would certainly enjoy. They absolutely do not understand the fundamental notion of what human rights means. I, for one, take back from that meeting with that foreign minister that as long as that government is in place there will be no progress and no chance for freedom for the people of Iran. I think that as one the Parliament of Canada should speak out loudly so that our message can be clearly heard.
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Mr. Jim Maloway (Elmwood—Transcona, NDP):  
    Madam Chair, I thank the minister for his comments today on the take note debate.
    I recall that once the shah left Iran in 1979 and the Khomeini regime took over, there was a long difficult period in Iran with the theocracy that was running the country. However, I understand that in the last several years there has been a new group of people developing. The population is very young and well-educated. I think those two facts are something that most people, when they think of Iran, do not think about.
    What are the prospects and what are the numbers of people who are actively protesting this regime?
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Hon. Lawrence Cannon:  
    Madam Chair, if my colleague were to go back to the incidents that took place in June, as well as in July of 2009, there were a number of reports that indicated, as he has rightly pointed, that it is the youth of that country, the forward thinking people in terms of protecting human rights and who believe in freedom of expression, who are in the streets demonstrating for things to happen and to find a better way to do things.
    The world community has put in place a number of sanctions that, hopefully, will have an impact on the Iranian revolutionary guard so that the people, at the end of the day, will have a chance to have their voices heard and can move forward with fair and free elections and put in place the institutions that a lot of these people are calling for. They are calling for economic reform, for democratic reform. We need to be able to hear the call to ensure we can support the people who are legitimately seeking to pursue their human rights and pursue reforms in that country.
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Mr. Scott Reid (Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, CPC):  
    Madam Chair, it is extraordinary for us to walk out on the president of a country at a United Nations meeting, and that indicates an extraordinary depth of feeling.
    Could the minister remind those who are watching this debate what exactly caused the Canadian delegation to make the decision to walk out of the United Nations meeting?
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Hon. Lawrence Cannon:  
    Madam Chair, quite clearly, this was done on the heels of the president of Iran coming to the podium. He stated before his comments that he indeed denounced the state of Israel. He said that the west as well as the United States were responsible for the terrible tragedy that took place on September 11.
    How can we sit in the UN General Assembly and listen to this when we know that the Revolutionary Guard Corps called for the elimination of the people of Israel? It called for the elimination of the state of Israel. We cannot do that. This is against every fibre in which Canadians believe. That was the reason we walked out.