House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak about Canada’s interactions with the Iranian regime. The questions I have posed before I feel have, by and large, gone unanswered.
A Liberal MP, during the throes of a protest movement against the authoritarian, theocratic government of Iran, said that this Iranian government was elected. This comment was deeply offensive to the Iranian community and to Iran’s democracy movement, right at a moment when they were fighting for their fundamental rights. Does the Government of Canada agree with its MP’s characterization of Iran’s government as elected, or does it not? This is something it should be willing to say.
The Iranian regime is a leading sponsor of global terror, murder, and violence. The Government of Iran played a major role, we have now learned, in supporting Hamas-instigated violence on Israel’s border, violence for which the Prime Minister called out Israel, not Hamas or Iran. Why did the Prime Minister issue a statement that did not call out Iran and Hamas?
The Canadian government called for an independent investigation into alleged actions by Israel during the border clashes but has asked Iran to investigate itself over the killing of Canadian professor Seyed-Emami in an Iranian prison. Why does the government seem more confident in Iran’s capacity for neutral self-assessment than in Israel’s?
There has been a very tepid response from the government, in general, to Iranian aggression and human rights violations. There has been an insistence on continuing to pursue warmer relations, with the government going so far as to directly finance an aerospace deal with Iran.
Some of my friends across the way want to profess their commitment to advocating for human rights in Iran. If so, it should not be difficult to denounce the Iranian government and reject the claim from one of their colleagues that it is elected. Hold the Government of Iran responsible for the violence it instigates in the region, and acknowledge the obvious reality that people do not die in Evin prison by suicide.
As the opposition, it is our job to ask tough, serious questions about the failure of the government to stand up for fundamental human rights in Iran and in many other places.
What is going on here in terms of the government’s failure to expect democracy and stand up for human rights, including the rights of Canadians? If we look at the aerospace dimension and the opportunity for Bombardier’s shareholders, there is a legitimate question about whether the government is making its decision on the basis of the interests of Bombardier, instead of on the basis of Canadian and universal human values.
However, I think there is something else going on here, when we look at its approach to Iran. This is what Michael Gerson calls the soft bigotry of low expectations that plagues the actions of western countries in their interactions with many nations in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. That is, the same states that criticize real or perceived declines in democracy in European or American states, in many cases have much less to say about worse abuses of process and fundamental human rights in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Why do governments single out Israel for criticism, for example, while ignoring other abuses in the region? Perhaps, to some extent, this is also rooted in the soft bigotry of low expectations. So much less criticism is directed toward authoritarian states in the region, perhaps because, unfortunately, much less is expected of them.
Human rights, universal citizenship, and democracy are the birthright of all people, affirmed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and are the necessary consequence of recognizing our shared humanity.
On this side of the House, we reject the soft bigotry of low expectations for Iran. We believe that freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law are the proper birthright of the Iranian people. They want it, they deserve it, and they will have it. The question for us is simply whether we will be on their side or not.
We need to know where the Government of Canada stands on this claim from a Liberal MP that the Iranian government is elected. Why did the Prime Minister issue a statement that failed to call out Iran and Hamas for their instigation of violence against Israel? Why does the government seem more confident in Iran’s capacity for neutral self-assessment than in Israel’s? These questions, which I have asked many times before, demand an answer.
Mr. Speaker, there were a number of issues in my hon. colleague’s comments, so I will take the time to answer some of them.
Contrary to what the member has implied, there have been no high-level meetings in Ottawa with Iranian officials involving the Government of Canada on the subject of this unconfirmed sale, nor is the government privy to any details regarding this unconfirmed sale. The government was first made aware of this potential sale from media sources, and Bombardier has not asked Global Affairs for any assistance in the sale of aircraft to Iran. At no time have Iranian officials discussed such a potential sale with Global Affairs.
Canada is maintaining its strict sanctions and export controls on goods listed as proliferation-sensitive in Iran, including goods and technology that could potentially further the development of Iran’s nuclear programs and ballistic missiles.
Furthermore, Canada continues to list Iran as a state supporter of terrorism under the State Immunity Act, lifting its immunity and allowing civil action to be taken against it under the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act. Canada has also listed the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as being involved in Iran’s external operations as a terrorist entity under Canada’s Criminal Code.
Canada also continues to demand an inquiry into the detention and tragic death of Canadian Dr. Kavous Seyed-Emami in Iran’s Evin prison. We continue to call on Iranian authorities to immediately give his widow, Maryam Mombeini, the freedom to exit Iran and return to Canada. The government has publicly stated on several occasions that as long as Ms. Mombeini is not able to leave Iran, the focus of any discussions with Iran will be on her coming home.
Canadians expect that their government will protect their interests and values abroad, stand up for human rights, and to provide consular services to Canadians in distress in Iran, such as the families of Dr. Seyed-Emami and Ms. Mombeini, and others. Providing these consular services and speaking up on behalf of human rights victims requires the ability to engage. We must take action that will serve and protect Canadians abroad.
Engagement and dialogue are about protecting interests and promoting values. They are not about ignoring actions we find objectionable or legitimizing governments that violate human rights. This government wants to address our international challenges head-on. Iranian behaviour represents one of the greatest challenges we currently face on the international stage. If we fail to engage, we fail to understand, and if we fail to understand, we are more likely to end up in a position where we have fewer good options. Protecting Canadian interests and promoting Canadian values are much harder to then accomplish. This government chooses dialogue and engagement as the best way to protect Canadian interests and values.
Mr. Speaker, in response to my colleague’s comment about aerospace, I turned up two articles on Google in the time that she was talking. The first is from Reuters, entitled, “Canada to lift Tehran sanctions, allow Bombardier to export to Iran”. It is from a couple of years ago, actually. The second article is entitled “Minister sees Iran thaw as opportunity for Canadian aerospace industry”. We have all seen these headlines.
To her other comments, she spoke about the value of engagement. Let us be clear that Zahra Kazemi was a Canadian citizen who died in an Iranian prison at the time of the previous Liberal government. I am not blaming it, of course, but the fact is that we had diplomatic relations at the time. Let us be clear as well that downgrading diplomatic relations is a tool that countries use in response to protest terrible human rights abuses and threatening international behaviour. In fact, the Minister of Foreign Affairs spoke today before the foreign affairs committee about downgrading our diplomatic relationship with Venezuela in response to violations of human rights.
Again, why the different treatment of Iran? Why the—
The hon. parliamentary secretary.
Mr. Speaker, as mentioned, there have been no meetings on record with Iranian officials and the government around the sale, so I am not sure. The hon. member is pulling this information up, but we do not have those records.
Diplomacy is a necessary tool to defend Canada’s interests and protect Canadian values. It is all the more necessary when dealing with a country that challenges our interests and rejects our values. We feel strongly that it is through dialogue and not through withdrawal or isolation that we can best advance Canada’s interests, including the resolution of complex and sensitive consular cases like the ones described earlier.
To be clear, however, there have been no high-level meetings again here in Ottawa with Iranian officials involving the Government of Canada on the subject of the unconfirmed sale. Iran is a political opponent challenging the interests of Canada and of our friends and allies. We can deal with this challenge—
Hon. Linda Frum: Honourable senators, on June 3, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei posted a tweet calling for the genocide of the Jewish people. The tweet read, “Our stance against Israel is the same stance we have always taken. Israel is a malignant cancerous tumour in the west Asian region that has to be removed and eradicated: it is possible and it will happen.”
This reprehensible call demonstrates yet again the depravity of the Iranian regime. Honourable senators, these were not hollow words. Yesterday the Palestinian Authority acknowledged that Tehran is fully financing and coordinating the deadly Hamas incursions on the Gaza border. This includes the most recent tactic of attaching fire bombs to kites in Gaza and launching them into Israeli farmland, causing millions of dollars in damage and putting Israeli lives at risk.
If this was not troubling enough, in an act of blackmail, the head of Iran’s atomic agency confirmed that Ayatollah Khamenei ordered officials to step up uranium enrichment if the JCPOA nuclear deal fails.
Combined, these recent events should form a strong reminder, if one was needed, that the current regime in Iran is not one worthy of re-engagement negotiations and is not one that should ever be described as moderate. It is clear that the decision of the Government of Canada to sever diplomatic ties in 2013 was the right one.
I ask all honourable senators to join me in demanding that the Government of Canada continue to suspend ties with Iran until such time as there is a regime change.
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