Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee

Mr. Speaker, tonight we are debating the situation in Iran. Many people have been seized with the situation on the ground and human rights. Many of us in the House have spoken out against the deplorable situation of human rights in Iran.
I will begin by just going back a couple of years. In June 2009, we watched scores of Iranian Canadians come to this city to cast their ballots in the presidential election. I remember it very well, as I am sure many do. There was so much excitement in the air. There was the idea of the possibility of change. Many of my good friends who voted in that election actually thought there would be a change in Iran. There were feisty debates between candidates, some of which I watched online while one of my staff translated it for me. Young Iranians were getting engaged in politics. It was quite exciting. It was long before the Arab Spring that we just saw last year. There was so much hope for change and we all thought that maybe change would come.
The results, of course, shocked Iranians and shocked the world. Abedinejad was declared the winner with a wide margin and all indications were that the results were not true, they were bogus, and the vote of the Iranian people was stolen from them.
What did people do? When they see this kind of theft of an election and people care about it, they take to the streets, which is what happened. People took to the streets. We watched from here and the world watched during those months. There was a certain unity of cause and concern that embraced many people in this country and people around the world. We thought maybe the voice of the people would be heard and that people would actually come together to ensure that democracy would not only seen to be done but would be done.
Then we saw what was a popular uprising in the first flashes of what we have seen with the pro-democracy movements and the Arab Spring that took North Africa this past year, and later into other parts of the Middle East, take place and take root. In fact, Canadians joined those popular protest gatherings. In solidarity with those who had taken to the streets in Tehran and right across Iran, people joined. I remember right out here at the eternal flame they joined in a quiet, solemn display of solidarity with the people of Iran. We said that the people of Iran’s voice should be respected.
What followed was, sadly for some, predictable but for so many Iranians was the tumult of disaster of a repressive regime cracking down on their voices. Those in power decided that they would use the monopoly of violence against their people. That is what happened after the uprising of the people following the results of the election being sullied and Abedinejad taking power. There was a repression that happened and it has continued on since June 2009.
Tonight we are here to debate the situation of human rights on the ground in Iran. However, I want it to be underlined that the people of Iran did speak, that they joined together and voted for change. They coalesced in change and fought for change and Canadians and people all around the world supported that voice. We must continue to do that.
Tonight we will speak to he human rights violations in Iran. My colleagues will speak to the political persecution, the repression of women’s rights, the attacks on civil society, the attacks on journalists, artists, independent trade unionists, the discrimination due to sexual orientation that we have already heard about and the repression of people based on ethnicity and religious beliefs. We will think of people, particularly for me, who are from the Baha’i faith. Of course, the origins of the Baha’i faith come right from Iran. We will think of the importance of being in solidarity with those who are not able to speak out.
We will want to ensure those who are in Iran now and those who are with the people of Iran that they are not alone, that we will speak with them.
However, let us look at the history of the democratic movement in Iran, because that is the other thing we have to underline. There is a democratic thread through the history of Iran. Canadian human rights expert, Payam Akhavan said:
Despite the violent repression of the protests, millions of Iranians have now awakened to their own power in a historic struggle for democracy. In contrast to mere “regime change,” this profound grassroots shift in consciousness is the most far-reaching expression of revolutionary change. Despite the challenges that lie ahead, there will be no returning to the totalitarian past.
That flame keeps burning in the Iranian people.
We know the current situation in Iran, but the long history should be noted. In 1906, there was a constitutionalist revolution that established a Parliament to end the absolute monarchy in Iran. The success was limited due to an Anglo-Russian meddling and a largely illiterate electorate, at the time, which undermined its going further.
In 1951, though, we know that the democratic election of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and his nationalization of the Aglo-Iranian oil company, later known as BP, brought a lot of attention to the world. Of course, it was the attention of the CIA.
The CIA-sponsored coup in 1953 undermined that democracy and what we saw after was something that carried on for too long. It was the regime that we all know too well, the shah’s regime that fell in 1979 due to a popular revolution. Now the promises that were made for democratic change by those who came in sadly were not realized. Instead, Islamic militants began to establish a totalitarian state under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini through a reign of terror and violence.
From 1980 to 1988, the devastating war with Iraq went on, in which the west supported Saddam Hussein. Let us remember that. That war traumatized the Iranian people and helped the Islamic regime’s consolidation of power.
In 1997, the election of the reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, signalled a desire for an open society. Hard-liners undermined every attempt at modest reforms, and again democracy and reform were undermined. That was sad.
As I just mentioned, in June 2009 reformists believed they could beat Mr. Ahmadinejad but the sham elections that took place showed how determined the regime was to hold onto power. Ahmadinejad’s victory gave rise to the massive peaceful protests that I mentioned and, let us be frank, that few observers had actually predicted.
What we know is that there is a vibrant civil society still fighting for truth, justice and civil rights. Women and students continue to organize and speak out, as do workers and members of different religious backgrounds. Secular Iranians have also come together and demonstrated that their country’s political coming of age must not stop.
I must say that the human rights in Iran that we talk about tonight must be protected, but we should also be consistent in how we do that. The solutions are to invest in rights and democracy and build a system of international relations based on respect for human rights. The hope and intention on all sides of this House is to see the kind of change in Iran that would have helped a more democratic and progressive society.
What should Canada do? Invest in rights and democracy. Sadly, the government killed the institution, Rights and Democracy, that could help with that. Be smart in our diplomacy. Ensure we do not beat the drums of war at a time when we need to invest in diplomacy and look for bridges to reconciliation and to support human rights in all their forms in Iran.
Finally, let us remember the words of Mr. Akhavan. He said:
The paradox in today’s Iran is that just underneath the authoritarian surface of the Islamic Republic lies the most promising democracy in the Middle East.
Let us support it. Let us support human rights in Iran and let us not get caught into rhetorical games that lead to war.