Human Rights Situation in Iran
Mr. John Weston (West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, CPC):
Mr. Chair, as the government liaison to the Iranian and Persian community, I am proud to rise today in the chamber to take part in this emergency debate on the democratic aspirations of the people of Iran.
Canadians care deeply about the freedoms of people around the world. Our Conservative government has expressed these concerns in three ways: we care, we listen and we act. Let me illustrate how our government cares, listens and acts.
Tonight’s debate represents a powerful and tangible expression of our democratic rights here in Canada, rights that have for too long been denied to the people of Iran. In lending our voices in support of reform and democracy in Iran, we embolden the cause of freedom and stand in solidarity with our Iranian brothers and sisters.
One may ask why we here in Canada should care about the plight of the citizens of a country on the other side of the planet. Some might ask if the crisis in Iran is not best left to its own citizens. This is a fair question. Certainly the people of Iran have a basic right to self-determination. However, I also know that Canadians are possessed of a great capacity for compassion. To quote one of the last century’s greatest freedom fighters from our neighbours to the south, Martin Luther King, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
It is never too early to stand up for the rights of the oppressed. I am reminded of the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Christian pastor imprisoned by Hitler, who said: “First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”
No, we Canadians cannot ignore the oppression by the Iranian regime just because Iran seems so far away. Though Iran is far away, the plight of the people of Iran matters to the conscience of this nation. The flagrant violation of Iranians’ basic human rights is intolerable to the people and Government of Canada.
That is why our government has taken a principled and consistent stand against the Iranian regime. For the last eight years, Canada has led in sponsoring and passing resolutions at the United Nations condemning the Iranian regime for its abuses. We have strengthened our assistance to those Canadians who have been targeted by this regime and we have been unequivocal in our opposition to the abuses of the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
I am proud to be a Canadian and I am proud to have a government that cares. We are a government that cares; but if Canada only cared and did not listen, we would not be able to help. Ours is a government that listens. As the member of Parliament for the beautiful riding of West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, I have the tremendous privilege to represent one of the largest Persian and Iranian community in Canada.
Since I was first elected to the chamber in 2008, I have had the opportunity to participate in countless events that highlight the contributions of this community to Canada, from the annual fire festival of the Persian new year, Nowruz, to other cultural events. I have participated in several meetings with members of the Iranian and Persian community and ministers of our government. I have worked on community projects with members of that community and attended local round tables and town hall meetings with them.
On the north shore of Vancouver, Nowruz celebrations have become a yearly highlight, not just for Iranian Canadians but also for Canadians of all backgrounds. Attendance records continue to be broken year after year as Canadians seize these wonderful opportunities to learn about and celebrate the contributions of Iranian Canadians to Canadian society.
Last year, I had the honour of organizing and hosting the visit of Dr. Shirin Ebadi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and one of Iran’s most inspiring human rights activists. All across our country, Canadians had the chance to listen to and read about the incredible and often painful story of a woman who has risked everything, including her own life, to bring light and justice to people who have none.
While in Canada, Dr. Ebadi had the chance to meet with our Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. She also testified before the Subcommittee on International Human Rights.
Ours is a government that listens to many voices in the Persian and Iranian community. Canadians do not turn a deaf ear to the needs of oppressed people anywhere else. We are a people and a government that act. We are appalled by the oppression of the Iranian people by the Islamic regime. Even as I stand before everyone this evening, our Canadian government stands before the world for freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
We have joined our voice with the growing global chorus calling for the end of Iran’s secretive nuclear arms regime. We call for the ongoing independent inspection of its nuclear facilities. The Government of Canada opposes in the strongest terms the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Iranian republic. We are working with the global community to ensure that the spectre of an Iran armed with nuclear weapons never becomes a reality.
Our government supports UN Security Council resolutions to impose restrictions on the Iranian government. We act in concert with our international allies, but because we care and because we listen, we also act in accordance with the special needs of our Iranian-Canadian community. Therefore, in July of last year, our government announced our own made-in-Canada sanctions against the Islamic regime.
Far too often, with the best intentions, a government imposes economic sanctions on another country, but instead of pressuring the foreign government, the sanctions turn out to hurt the very citizens the government is trying to protect. That is why the Canadian government, a government that cares, listened to Canadians of Iranian background and then acted last year, announcing our sanctions and other provisions under the Special Economic Measures Act.
These targeted measures are designed to hamper attempts by Iran to develop nuclear, chemical, biological and missile programs, as well as to persuade it to agree to constructive discussions with China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
I repeat, our government cares, our government listens and our government acts.
By using sanctions that put pressure specifically on those responsible for injustice, our government has targeted members of the regime while minimizing harm to the innocent citizens of Iran. It can never be said enough that our government condemns the abuses of the Iranian government but stands proudly and resolutely behind the Iranian people.
Across the Middle East, we are witnessing the advent of incredible change. From Tunisia to Jordan, Bahrain to Egypt, the chorus of voices has never been stronger, a chorus united together for change. The same refrain has been taken up in Iran and its echoes can be heard around the world.
I am proud and humbled to stand here in this chamber, the heart of our Canadian democracy. I am proud to stand united with members of all the parties in this, our plea for freedom. I am proud to lend my voice to that chorus.
History is made in moments such as these. We must never fail to seize such an opportunity and to stand for what we know is right.
Let justice and democracy flow like a mighty river.
[Member spoke in Farsi]
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Mr. Scott Reid (Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, CPC):
Mr. Chair, the hon. member is from a riding that has a very significant Iranian-Canadian population. The member was talking about how the government cares and how he cares. I believe him to be very sincere.
I have to think the member has many constituents who care very deeply and, I suppose, also very knowingly about the state of their ancestral country. I just wonder if the member could share with us a little bit of what he has heard from the Iranian-Canadian community that he serves.
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Mr. John Weston:
Mr. Chair, there are many different immigrant groups in Canada and, certainly, many in the riding I represent.
What I have found is that more than any other group I know, the people of Iranian origin have a visceral attachment to their homeland. That is partly because they have brothers and sisters, and relatives and friends who are imperilled by the Iranian regime. It is partly because many of them have suffered through tremendous strife in recent years.
Anyone who has seen the film Persepolis will know that it depicts the plight of a young woman who was doted on by her parents and has all the opportunities that anyone could ever ask for, but who witnesses oppression, who sees an uncle dragged off to jail for political reasons and ultimately executed. She then goes and lives for some time in Europe, has several unrequited love affairs, and struggles through her life and returns to Iran. She is a metaphor for the people of Iran.
She describes so brilliantly the plight of people who strive to be free, people who are well educated, famous for their entrepreneurial spirit, people who do not see it as right or just that a fundamentalist regime holds them in the kind of shackles in which they live in Iran.
With all Canadians, I long for the day when Iran will be a bulwark of democracy in the Middle East, a country with which we can carry on full democratic and diplomatic relations, a country with which we can exchange goods and services and have our people flow back and forth, as we can with other democratic countries.