Canadians of Iranian descent, victims of Iran-sponsored terrorism, and human rights advocates, are supporting S-219.
The Hill Times: "Using SEMA to advance the Canada-Iran relationship"
PUBLISHED :Monday, Jan. 30, 2017 12:00 AM
When Parliament reconvenes on Jan. 30, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development will continue to review the Special Economic Measures Act (SEMA). SEMA enables Canada to impose targeted sanctions against a foreign state in response to a decision by an international organization of which Canada is a member, or where a grave breach of international peace and security has occurred that has resulted or is likely to result in a serious international crisis.
As the study progresses, committee members should take note of S-219, a bill currently being studied by their counterparts in the Senate, which utilizes SEMA to structure a path forward for the Canada-Iran relationship.
Iran is one of several notorious regimes, alongside countries like Syria, Russia, and North Korea, to have been on the receiving end of SEMA sanctions. Although Canada was not a party to the nuclear agreement signed between the P5+1 and Iran, much of Canada’s sanctions architecture was dismantled after the deal was implemented. Bill S-219 focuses on what should happen to those measures that remain in place as the Government of Canada looks to balance holding the Iranian regime to account for its ongoing misconduct with Ottawa’s stated desire for re-engagement.
S-219 would tie the elimination of all current SEMA sanctions targeting Iran to requirements that the regime cease its terrorist activities, end its incitement to hatred of minority groups and its calls for the destruction of Israel, and put a halt to its vast system of domestic repression. Only once improvement is seen in these areas could current sanctions against Iran be eased or lifted. This is similar to the approach taken by the United States in reaching an arms-control agreement with the Soviet Union in 1975, which linked security, economic and human rights issues.
Iran is widely acknowledged as the world’s preeminent sponsor of terror and is formally designated as such in the U.S. and Canada. Iranian officials have been directly implicated in numerous terrorist attacks on multiple continents. Moreover, the IRGC-Quds Force, Hamas and Hezbollah, all listed terrorist entities in Canada, continue to receive billions of dollars of support and direction from Iran.
Iran’s incitement to hatred is defined in the bill as any public comment that incites hatred or contempt against an identifiable group or a member state of the United Nations. It is meant to counter the dehumanizing language the regime employs against minority groups in Iran, such as the Baha’i, as well as the calls to eliminate Israel. The latter actually constitutes a crime under the Genocide Convention. As former justice minister Irwin Cotler has written, combating Iranian incitement is a legal responsibility that Canada, as a State Party to the Genocide Convention, has an obligation to enforce.
The need to address Iran’s human rights abuses is especially acute. The regime tortures inmates as they enter the prison system, with methods including the surgical removal of eyes, hand amputations and flogging. It boasts the world’s highest per capita rate of executions; sentences girls as young as nine to death for minor offences; and persecutes members of the LGBTQ community and religious and ethnic minorities. Also deeply troubling is the regime’s propensity to arrest citizens of Western countries, including Canadians, for crimes like “insulting the sanctity of Islam” and “insulting Iran’s supreme leader,” or in Homa Hoodfar’s case, for “dabbling in feminism and security matters.”
Finally, while the public discourse in the West frequently discusses Russia’s support of the Assad regime in Syria, Iran’s role is often overlooked. In the past five years, the Islamic Republic has provided essential funds, soldiers and military advice to boost Assad’s death machine, enabling him to commit war crimes and atrocities that have claimed the lives of nearly half a million people and displaced half of the country—the worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st century.
Bill S-219 offers a concrete and well-calibrated program for balancing the Canadian government’s interest in re-engagement with its concerns regarding, in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s words, Iran’s “position of violation of human rights, of nuclear ambitions, and indeed of sponsoring terrorism around the world.” The bill creates a blueprint for bilateral relations to improve by legislating clear and basic benchmarks for appropriate Iranian conduct.
SEMA is highly useful for managing Canada’s relations with foreign states displaying particularly egregious and dangerous behaviour. The House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development would benefit from examining Bill S-219 in the context of its review of SEMA, and even inviting the bill’s sponsor, Senator David Tkachuk, to share his insights directly with the committee. Iran must remain subject to Canadian sanctions under SEMA until it ceases to pose a grave threat to international peace and security.
Sheryl Saperia is director of policy for Canada at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. She recently testified before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee on Bill S-219.
Former Justice Minister &Attorney General, Hon. Irwin Cotler, P.C., Founder and Chair, Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights: I'm pleased to appear here with my colleague Shahram on Bill S-219, An Act to deter Iran-sponsored terrorism, incitement to hatred, and human rights violations.
Mr. Chairman, as you and other members of the committee will recall, I had occasion on December 14, 2016, to appear here regarding Bill S-226, which dealt with sanctioning persons responsible for gross violations of internationally recognized human rights and which, on the human rights issue, dovetails with this legislation and helps to underpin it.
My basic theme today is that we are witnessing and have continued to witness for some time the toxic conversion of five distinct yet interrelated threats in Khamenei's Iran, and I use the term "Khamenei's Iran'' because I want to distinguish that from the people and public in Iran who are otherwise the targets of mass domestic repression. So my remarks are directed with respect to accountability regarding Khamenei's Iran and those engaged in the violations that I will address, and at the same time in order to protect the people of Iran.
These threats include, number one, the nuclear threat, which now warrants monitoring in the light of the JCPOA, the comprehensive nuclear agreement, to ensure compliance with it.
Two, Iran state sponsorship of international terrorism. As the U.S. State Department report on international terrorism has documented year after year, Iran remains the leading state sponsor of international terrorism, and its terrorist footprint is global. It isn't only in the Middle East. It is in Latin America, in Africa, in Asia, in Europe and the like.
Third is incitement to hatred. I note that your bill references incitement to hatred, but I would also reference incitement to genocide, which is a standing violation of the genocide convention. Where state parties to the genocide convention, like Canada, have a legal obligation to address and redress such state-sanctioned incitement to genocide, it's not simply a policy option; it is an obligation that flows from our being a state party to the genocide convention. I might add Iran also being a state party to the genocide convention has the obligation not to engage in such state- sanctioned incitement to genocide.
A fourth threat is the massive human rights obligations which regrettably have increased and intensified under what is characterized as the moderate regime of Mr. Rouhani, and have even intensified, as reports have recently documented, since the conclusion of the nuclear agreement.
Fifth, though not addressed directly in your bill, there is the increasing regional belligerent aggression of Iran. I'm referring to its aggression particularly in Syria, but also in Lebanon and through Hezbollah and the like threatening the independence and integrity of Lebanon, which becomes at issue in Iraq, thereby destabilizing Iraq and Yemen and thereby creating regional conflicts.
While it is not directly addressed in the threats that you identify in your bill, what I have just said about the regional belligerent aggression can be subsumed both under terrorist activities and human rights violations, but it may warrant a distinguishable address.
Finally, there's the panoply of illicit behaviour that accrues from the unlawful testing of ballistic missiles, which has been of particular concern of late, violations of arms embargoes as in the transfer of arms to Hezbollah, a terrorist organization under Canadian law, American law, European Union and the like, and the international money laundering and narcotics trafficking that have their own destabilizing aspects and which link up with the terrorist networks as well. All of this constitutes what has been called the Iran threat network, the ITN, warranting action by the international community, including Canada.
Accordingly, Bill S-219 provides what I would call a modest framework for such action dealing with the three major threats of the Iranian threat network. It is important to emphasize that they are in standing violation of international norms and international agreements to which Canada and Iran are both state parties. In other words, if Iran engages in international terrorism, then it is violating a network of international treaties and agreements, including when it is engaged in international terrorism that ends up targeting diplomats, as it has, and this engages the whole network of diplomatic immunity, treaties and the like.
If it involves incitement to genocide, then, as I said, it's a standing violation of the genocide convention and a breach of the obligations to us as a state party not to engage in such incitement.
If it engages in major human rights violations, it is in violation of major international treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or the treaty on torture. Again, these are treaties where we are both state parties.
In a word, we are obliged as a state party to these treaties, let alone as a responsible member of the international community, to enforce these international norms, to sanction these violators, and to combat the culture of impunity that purports to immunize violators from accountability.
One of the mistaken and I would say disturbing narratives that is continuously propagated — and, again, I'm saying by Khamenei's Iran — is that after the Iran nuclear agreement we are, to use their words, in a post-sanctions universe, in other words that there is no longer any need for sanctions because Iran has effectively been relieved of any need for sanctions now that it is a party, with the P5+1, to the nuclear agreement.
That somehow in a post-nuclear agreement sanctions regarding even non-nuclear violations are to be construed as violations of the nuclear agreement, even though Iran insisted with respect to the nuclear agreement that it should not relate to any other violations of a non-nuclear nature, a narrative that both fosters and sustains a culture of impunity, is to turn the logic and undertakings of the nuclear agreement on its head.
The fact that the nuclear agreement did not deal with the other threats that I mentioned, and those in your bill, does not and should not immunize or remove these threats from being sanctioned. On the contrary, it is reason alone for these other threats to be sanctioned precisely because they were not included in the nuclear agreement. Even if we are, for the sake of argument, in a post-sanctions universe regarding the nuclear agreement, then a fortiori we have to ensure that we are all the more vigilant with the non-nuclear threats, with the Iran threat network, as I mentioned, which is in standing violation of the international norms, lest under this false narrative we as a country, let alone the international community, become complicit in a culture of impunity and immunity and absence of any accountability for human rights violators and, thereby, we default on our own obligations.
Accordingly, while I was an MP I introduced a private member's bill in 2009, the Iran Accountability Bill, to hold Iran to account for the Iranian threat network, as I mentioned, and which is referenced in your bill. At the time, prior to the nuclear agreement, I called for a nuclear agreement and the negotiation of one so at least that threat would be addressed, and that clearly was one of the most compelling of threats.
As I said then and reaffirm today, we need to address the comprehensiveness of the Iranian fivefold threat, which constitutes a standing threat to international peace, security, human rights and particularly to the people of Iran.
This led to the study and report by our own foreign affairs subcommittee on human rights, which was referenced in your bill; the establishment of an Iran accountability week, whose centrepiece was addressing human rights violations in Iran; a global Iranian political prison advocacy project where members of Parliament, both in the house and the Senate, took up the case and cause of political prisoners — and I note that in your bill you call for the release of political prisoners — and which led to my own representation of Iranian political prisoners, including the leadership of the Bahá'í Ayatollah Borujerdi, a leading cleric in Iran who has tragically been imprisoned and tortured for advocating nothing other than freedom of religion and belief in Iran.
Now as I am meeting before you, we are in the ninth year of the imprisonment and the torture and detention of Saeed Malekpour, a permanent Canadian resident on the path to citizenship who was arrested when he went to visit his ill father, detained, convicted on trumped up charges, tortured in detention, and the like. Just 10 days ago in Toronto an evening was held, largely in the presence of the Iranian-Canadian community, to call for his release.
If I may just conclude on this point, as an MP no other issue involved me more than the Iranian issue because of the fivefold threat, because of the particularity of the human rights violations, because it engaged us so much as a state party, and because of the global spectrum of its fallout with respect to the totality of its threats.
As I said in 2009, but which may bear repetition today, my bill "targets the regime of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in Iran, and not the great civilization of Iran — and the peoples of Iran — who are increasingly the object of the regime's domestic repression.'' One cannot emphasize that enough.
I close, Mr. Chairman, with one other point regarding the false narrative. There is a suggestion, and I have seen it in testimony before this committee, or the implicit inference arising from it, that if we adopt something such as this Senate bill, then this will prejudice or preclude engagement with Iran, or that if we engage with Iran somehow we can only do so in a way that does not involve this bill. I want to say that there is no contradiction between engaging with Iran, which I have always supported, and supporting this bill. When we speak about engaging with Iran, we're not talking only about engaging with the Government of Iran. That is the formal dimension of that engagement. We are talking about engaging on behalf of the peoples of Iran, those who are the targets of mass domestic repression. Nor can engagement with Iran somehow relieve us of our international responsibilities to enforce international norms and treaties any more than non-engagement would allow us to, because as a responsible actor of the international community, we have a responsibility to enforce international human rights norms, to combat the culture of impunity, to be a responsible actor in the international community, and to do so on behalf of the peoples of Iran with whom we will be engaging, along with our engagement with the Government of Iran.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'm delighted to appear before this committee to participate in the discussion on Bill S-219. My presentation focuses on some aspects of the bill that we believe are important considerations with respect to Canadian values, security and global affairs.
I have been privileged and have the honour of working with the Honourable Irwin Cotler, a distinguished scholar with vast knowledge of both Canadian and international law, who has a relentless pursuit of justice in the global arena.
Bill S-219 is a step in the right direction. Although in my presentation I will be emphasizing the role of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, on all areas of concern in the bill, in my written submissions I touched briefly on perpetrators and enablers of gross violations of human rights in Iran, which is also part of the bill.
Many of those perpetrators are currently holding high government positions within the Iranian regime.
It is the significance of the Iranian regime threats and its actions in all these areas addressed here that makes it worth considering and enacting the bill.
Article 151 of the regime's Constitution specifies the duties of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as protecting the revolution and its accomplishments. In other words, the IRGC is the backbone of the apparatus established to preserve the dictatorship, which itself rests on three pillars. The first is suppression within Iran; the second is export of terrorism and fundamentalism throughout the world; and the third is the program to manufacture a nuclear bomb and nuclear-capable missiles to threaten other countries.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the Iranian regime was overtly engaged in terrorism around the globe that targeted Iranian dissidents such as Dr. Kazem Rajavi in Geneva, Mohammad Hossein Naghdi in Rome, Shapour Bakhtiar in Paris, leaders of the Kurdistan Democratic Party in Berlin, Ghassemlou in Vienna, and the list goes on. It equally targeted citizens of other countries, including the bombing of the American marines in Beirut, Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, the Jewish AMIA Center in Buenos Aires, and many more.
In the same period, 450 acts of terrorism were registered to have been carried out by the Iranian regime that spans from countries like Pakistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Yemen, Syria to Switzerland, France, Germany, Italy, Austria, the U.S. and Argentina. The IRGC played a critical role in planning and conducting these acts of terrorism.
However, in recent years there was a shift to use and employ foreign nationals and foreign entities for terrorist operations around the globe. Two days ago, the National Council of Resistance of Iran — the main Iranian opposition group which is credited for exposing Iran's clandestine nuclear activities, including the existence of the Natanz and Arak nuclear facilities back in 2002 — disclosed valuable information about the IRGC's training centres across Iran mostly designed for foreign nationals.
I would encourage honourable senators to study this report that I have prepared as it relates to this bill.
The newly disclosed information also identified some of the key commanders of the IRGC.
The NCRI noted that Iran's recruitment of foreign nationals has been on the rise at least since 2012 and that the IRGC training facilities have grown accordingly. According to the report, this expansion has been explicitly endorsed by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei who visited the Quds Force training centres last year, an incident that the NCRI views as underscoring Khamenei's reliance on the IRGC to advance the regime's agenda and objectives.
It goes without saying that there is no distinction between the IRGC and the Quds Force, either in the Iranian Constitution or in the national budget.
In addition to being a potent and lethal terrorist force, the IRGC is also a conglomerate financial powerhouse, answerable to no one but the Supreme Leader and outside of any regular oversight about its spending and budget. Close to 70 per cent of Iran's economy is tied to the IRGC and its affiliated front companies. They span from controlling exports and imports, narcotics shipments and exports, to shipments of arms and ammunition to inflame regional conflicts.
In concluding my remarks, I want to touch upon some narratives that I have seen those opposing the bill have used.
One, JCPOA proved diplomacy works. My argument is that those who now say JCPOA was the result of diplomacy, including the Iranian regime's officials, were the ones who for many years denied that Iran had any nuclear capability, denied they were after the nuclear bomb, and they were arguing the sanctions were counterproductive and would not yield any results.
I believe no fair-minded person these days would argue that if it was not for the pressure of the sanctions we would not have even this agreement. I still reserve my judgment on the shortcomings of the JCPOA.
Two, dual national Iranian-Canadians would be hurt by the bill as it hinders re-engagement with Iran. This is one of the narratives I have heard. Unless my reading of the bill is wrong, the only people who would suffer from the passing of this bill would be those identified as gross violators of human rights, inciters to hatred and genocide, and those engaged in spreading terrorism. I believe that Canadians at large and by that virtue the vast majority of Canadians of Iranian descent who have come to this land to be free of oppression and intimidation will welcome such restrictions on such individuals.
Third, we do not want to see another devastating war. I just can't swallow why a small dose of justice-seeking measures in full compliance with international law and our value system equates to war. No one wants war. In order to avoid it, we must stand firm in bringing to justice perpetrators of crimes against humanity. More than half a century after the Holocaust, we are still bringing perpetrators of those crimes and even accessories to those crimes to justice, as we should. No one can argue that this measure will hurt Canadians of German descent, and even if it does, that is still the right thing to do for our future generations and this marvelous land of freedom and human rights. Thank you.
The Chair: This evening, we are continuing our study of Bill S-219, An Act to deter Iran-sponsored terrorism, incitement to hatred, and human rights violations.
I welcome our witness from Toronto, by way of video conference, Ms. Marina Nemat. Ms. Nemat is a member of the Board of Directors at the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture. In 2007, Ms. Nemat published a memoir of her life in Iran, entitled Prisoner of Tehran. She is also the author of another book, After Tehran: A Life Reclaimed, published in 2010.
Thank you for appearing before us. I know you have an opening statement, and then we will go to questions. Welcome to the committee.
Marina Nemat, as an individual: Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity.
Let me just give you a little summary. I was born in Tehran in 1965. When I was 13, the Islamic Revolution happened. I was a student in high school at the time. When our math and science were replaced by religious propaganda, I protested, and, as a result, I was arrested at the age of 16, in 1982. I was taken to Evin Prison, along with hundreds and hundreds of other young people.
In the 1980s, we had waves of mass arrests of young people in Iran. When I was arrested, I was taken into an interrogation room. Two men tied me to a bare wooden bed. They took off my socks and my shoes. They handcuffed me. When they handcuffed me, they laughed, because I was 90 pounds, and they realized that my hands would slide out of the cuffs. So they put both of my wrists in one cuff. When it clicked, my right wrist cracked, and the torture had not even begun. Again, remember, I was 16 years old. I was 90 pounds.
When they took off my socks and my shoes, they lashed both of my feet with a length of cable about an inch thick. With every strike of the lash, my nervous system would explode. Then, it would be magically put back together, and I would be wide awake for the next.
They didn't pause to ask me any questions when they were beating me. They just kept beating.
At that point, if the devil appeared and asked me to sell my soul and said he would get me back home to my mom, I would have sold my soul with whipped cream and a cherry on top. I would have done anything to go back home, but that was not an option.
I spent two years in Evin Prison. I'm not going to get into the details, but I think it should suffice to say that I was tortured. I was raped. At night, I would listen to gunshots that ended my friends' lives, and I never knew when it would be my turn.
I'm one of the lucky ones. I'm one of the ones that survived. Many of my friends are buried in mass graves in Iran.
This happened many years ago. I'm 51 years old now. I've been living in Canada since 1991. Many of the people who tortured me are dead, but others have taken their place. In Iran, prisoners are still being tortured, and Iran still has the highest number of executions per capita in the world. People are still being widely mistreated in prisons in Iran. I have lost hope of anyone who directly had a hand in my torture and rape being held accountable, but the fact is that in Iran today there are people who, on a daily basis, torture and abuse prisoners.
I'm one of those people who doesn't believe in invading Iran or any other country for that matter. I'm against putting wide, broad-brush sanctions against any country because usually broad sanctions hurt the people. That is not what I would want ever, at all.
But I'm very familiar with the Magnitsky Act that has put in place very specific, targeted sanctions against Russian officials who have directly had a hand in torture. I would very much like to see the same thing done against Iranian officials who have had a hand in torture, terrorism, prisoner abuse and that sort of thing.
Being part of the prison community, I know there are databases, and it's not difficult at all to get the names of these individuals. I know that many of them have property in Canada. I know that many of them have bank accounts in Canada.
Let me tell you that one of my cellmates one day, on the subway in Toronto, ran into her interrogator. She couldn't breathe. She had a nervous breakdown.
None of us want the interrogators who tortured us to be tortured. None of us want our interrogators and torturers to be executed and mistreated or anything like that in any way, but there needs to be some sort of accountability on the international level. Again, the Magnitsky Act has shown that this is actually possible.
I don't know if we can do this in Canada, but if we can, I would be tremendously grateful. I know that many of my cellmates and the families of those who died in Evin Prison would be tremendously grateful as well.
Good evening, honourable senators. Over the last 10 years, I've had the privilege of appearing before the Senate on a number of occasions on issues relating to terrorism in general and to the Islamic Republic of Iran in particular. I am very grateful to have this opportunity to offer my thoughts on Bill S-219, a bill that speaks to how Canada's bilateral relationship with Iran should be structured.
The contours of this relationship need to be crafted in the context of two defining circumstances: first, Iran's accelerating display of a wide array of malign and alarming behaviours; and second, our federal government's stated desire to re-establish ties with Iran.
Canada was not a party to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the nuclear deal signed between the P5+1 and Iran, but nonetheless shed many of its sanctions under the Special Economic Measures Act after the deal was implemented.
Although expectations were high that the JCPOA would moderate Iran's malevolent activities, this has not been the case. For example, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation for human rights in Iran, Ambassador Ahmed Shaheed, has reported that Iran's human rights abuses have actually increased under President Hassan Rouhani since he took office, including during the post-Iran deal period.
Canada is now left in a quandary over how to balance its interests of re-engagement with its stated values of holding the Iranian regime to account for, in Prime Minister Trudeau's words, "its position of violation of human rights, of nuclear ambitions, and indeed of sponsoring terrorism around the world.''
While there are some compelling reasons to reimpose the full weight of our former sanctions architecture against Iran, my remarks today focus only on what should be done with Canada's remaining sanctions, which were enacted under SEMA strictly in response to Iran's nuclear program.
The first option is simply to remove all outstanding sanctions in a concerted effort to mollify Tehran and enable Canadian companies to benefit fully from whatever corporate opportunities may exist in Iran.
Senators, it must be noted that irrespective of other policy considerations, there should be no illusions regarding the financial and reputational dangers to Canadian businesses looking to enter the Iranian market. Iran has not properly addressed rampant money laundering issues throughout all sectors of its economy, a problem compounded by the systemic, extensive financial corruption throughout government bodies. The Iranian government has shown a propensity to take foreign hostages, putting international interests at risk. An opaque and arbitrary legal system poses threats to businesses involved in litigation.
As well, doing business in Iran invariably means doing business with the regime itself, particularly the Supreme Leader and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, which may actually be in violation of U.S. sanctions. American companies are already contending with this issue. The Financial Services Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives recently held a hearing over concern about an announced multi-billion dollar deal between U.S. aerospace giant Boeing and Iran Air, a government-owned airline that has been complicit in Iran's weapons proliferation, support for terrorism and heinous war effort in Syria.
Terror victims may also complicate matters for Western businesses looking to profit in Iran. Lawyers representing hundreds of families of victims of Iran-sponsored terrorism have told Boeing that it would place liens on any airplanes slated for Iran to ensure that unsatisfied court judgments in favour of the victims are paid out. Canadian companies can expect similar legal treatment.
So let us therefore proceed on the premise that the benefits of doing business in Iran are limited. But even if they weren't, while Canadian corporate interests undeniably matter, they cannot be summarily divorced from our national security interests and our commitment to human rights.
Eliminating our sanctions as Iranian violations continue to accelerate would only incentivize Iran to continue on its dangerous track. Canada should, therefore, use its remaining sanctions to help contain the regime's appetite for aggression, to support the liberal democratic forces within that country, and ultimately to set some expectations for Tehran's conduct that would enable the Canada-Iran relationship to strengthen and improve.
Returning then to our question of what to do with these remaining sanctions, Canada has several other options.
Some have argued that Ottawa simply should maintain the sanctions as a way of addressing the evidence suggesting that Iran is already violating the terms of the nuclear agreement. For instance, Germany's domestic intelligence agency issued a report this past June, noting that Iran's "illegal proliferation-sensitive procurement activities'' in Germany reached a "quantitatively high level, particularly with regard to items which can be used in the field of nuclear technology and Iran's ambitious missile technology program.''
A third possibility would entail maintaining or dismantling SEMA sanctions related to Iran's nuclear program as the government deems appropriate while imposing new and tough sanctions for non-nuclear misbehaviour, such as Iran's human rights violations.
The fourth option is encapsulated in this bill, namely, for Canada to tie the elimination of existing sanctions to demands that the regime cease its terrorist activities, end its calls for the destruction of Israel, and put a halt to its vast system of domestic repression. This would be similar to the approach taken by the United States in reaching an arms- control agreement with the Soviet Union in 1975, which linked security, economic and human rights issues.
According to the provisions of Bill S-219, the existing sanctions under SEMA cannot be eased or lessened unless two consecutive years pass in which there is no credible evidence of terrorist activity or support of terrorism emanating from Iran, there's no credible evidence of incidents of incitement to hatred emanating from Iran, and Iran has made significant progress in respect of human rights. Let me briefly address these three criteria.
First, terrorism. Iran is widely acknowledged as the globe's pre-eminent sponsor of terror and is listed as such by Canada and the United States. The Islamic Republic has been implicated in terrorist attacks in Beirut; Berlin; Buenos Aires; Burgas, Bulgaria; as well as the failed plots to bomb JFK airport in 2007 and a restaurant in Washington, D.C. in 2011.
Moreover, the Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force, Hamas and Hezbollah, all listed terrorist entities in Canada, continue to receive critical support and direction from Iran. Even President Obama, who doggedly pursued the nuclear agreement with Iran, has been emphatic that the regime continues to sponsor terrorism. Thus, in the United States, while many nuclear sanctions have been waived, Iran's designation as a state sponsor of terror remains intact.
The second arena is Iran's incitement to hatred, which the bill defines as any public comment that incites hatred or contempt against an identifiable group or a member state of the United Nations. It is meant to counter the dehumanizing language the regime employs against minority groups in Iran, such as the Bahá'i, as well as the calls to eliminate the Jewish state of Israel and its Jewish inhabitants. The latter actually constitutes a crime under the genocide convention, and as former Attorney General Irwin Cotler has written, combatting Iranian incitement is a legal responsibility which Canada, as a state party to the genocide convention, has an obligation to enforce. It is noteworthy that the convention prohibits the crime of incitement itself, whether or not genocide actually follows.
The third condition for the lessening of sanctions under Bill S-219 is an improvement in Iran's respect for human rights. Honourable senators, Iran's domestic repression is shocking. The regime crushes pro-democracy uprisings; tortures inmates as they enter the prison system with methods including the surgical removal of eyes, hand amputations and flogging. It boasts the world's highest per capita rate of executions generally and of children in particular. It sentences girls as young as nine to death for minor criminal acts, and it persecutes members of the LGBT community and religious and ethnic minorities. We know all too well the regime's propensity to arrest Canadians for crimes like insulting the sanctity of Islam and insulting Iran's Supreme Leader or, in Homa Hoodfar's case, for dabbling in feminism.
I would be remiss not to mention that while the public discourse in the West frequently discusses the Kremlin's support of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, both media and government officials have tended to overlook Tehran's role as Assad's top foreign sponsor. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all matters of foreign policy, and the IRGC, which executes the Syrian file, have both gone to great lengths to preserve Assad.
In the past five years, the Islamic Republic's support has greased the cogs of Assad's death machine, enabling him to commit war crimes and atrocities that have claimed the lives of nearly half a million people and displaced half of the country, creating the worse humanitarian crisis of the 21st century.
To reiterate, Iran continues to invest massive amounts of money in terrorist organizations across the globe to torture and execute members of Iran's gay community and to imprison dual nationals of countries like Canada that have sought a new beginning with the regime.
Bill S-219 offers a concrete balance and well-calibrated program for balancing Canada's concerns with Iranian behaviour and its objective of re-engagement. It keeps intact the few remaining sanctions that we have against Iran until the regime meets some basic standards of appropriate conduct. It enables Canada to re-engage with Iran, while excluding some of their worst human rights abusers from capitalizing on our openness and goodwill.
Canada's commitment to human rights and to combatting terrorism needs to be part of the fabric of our formal relationship with Iran, not just part of our rhetoric. I believe that Bill S-219 helps to advance the government's own interests and stated positions on rebuilding its relationship with Iran, and I strongly urge you to support this bill.
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