Copyright © 2019 Senator Dennis Patterson.

Speech – 3R, S-219 (An Act to Deter Iran-Sponsored Terrorism)

Hon. Dennis Glen Patterson: Honourable senators, I rise today, during Iran Accountability Week, to speak in support of Bill S-219, An Act to deter Iran-sponsored terrorism, incitement to hatred, and human rights violations.

Honourable senators, this bill was introduced to put in place parameters to guide Canada’s re-engagement with the Government of Iran and to make it clear to Iran what is required of them to further their engagement with Canada.

Some of you may be asking why this is necessary. It is necessary because of the Iranian regime’s consistent sponsorship of terrorism, its incitement to hatred — particularly against the State of Israel, the only liberal democracy in the Middle East — and the systematic violation of fundamental human rights within Iran.

Opponents of this bill believe that, over time, the Iranian regime can be reasoned with. They believe that by engaging with Iran we will empower democratic forces in that country. On that basis, they also argue that the Government of Canada should have an unfettered ability to re-engage with the Government of Iran, suggesting that Canada should re-establish normal diplomatic and economic ties and thereby encourage the Iranian regime to change its policies.

However, I think this approach fundamentally misjudges the nature and character of the Iranian regime, which is, in fact, a theocratic dictatorship; it has been one for well over three decades.

Honourable senators, the ideology of the regime and its ruling clerics has not fundamentally changed in more than 30 years. We can all hope that a revolution from below may overthrow the present regime. However, I believe it is a fallacy to think that the current regime can be reformed by closer engagement.

Even if it can, one of the witnesses at committee, Mr. George Lopez, suggested in his testimony that it would be a 35-year project. So what would that look like? We got a hint of what it would look like last December when the regime decided to crack down on protesters, in spite of Canada’s efforts at re-engagement.

As Senator Wells pointed out in his speech on this bill on December 5, 2017, Canadian officials under the Trudeau government had been engaging with Iran for some time before the December crackdown. They travelled to Iran to engage in talks with Iranian officials last May. In September 2017, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland met at the UN with the Iranian foreign minister. Canadian officials again met with the Iranians in November of last year. In this very place, Senator Harder himself admitted that Canada is engaging with Iran.

What have we gained from this government’s policy of re-engagement so far?

Well, we have gained a harsh and merciless crackdown on Iranian protesters in December, including the jailing of women protesting against wearing the hijab; the highly suspicious death of Iranian-Canadian Kavous Seyed-Emami in a notorious Iranian jail and the detention of his wife; and more than 20 people murdered during the crackdown, with 3,000 reportedly arrested.

What has been the Canadian response to this? Minister Freeland issued a statement: “A Canadian has died,” it said. Subsequently, she issued a tweet expressing her outrage that his widow was barred from leaving the country and demanding that she be allowed to leave. The Prime Minister issued a similar tweet.

Fine words, honourable senators, but what actions resulted? Did they explicitly mention and condemn Iran and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard outright for the imprisonment and killing of a Canadian citizen? No. In order not to offend those in whose hands he died, they simply said, “A Canadian has died,” and then left it in the hands of the Iranian regime to determine for us how that could possibly have happened.

Did the Canadian government cancel any and all further meetings with Iranian officials until the travel ban on Maryam Mombeini, the widow of Kavous Seyed-Emami, is lifted so she can see her children in Canada? No. Instead they are continuing to proceed with the organization of a meeting in Canada this summer. Did the Prime Minister meet in his office with the sons of Ms. Mombeini as he did with Joshua Boyle, or did he conduct a joint press availability with them to demonstrate his solidarity with their plight? Not that I know of.

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The Center for Human Rights in Iran has called Canada’s response highly disappointing. Even more disappointing have been the remarks and actions of Liberal MP Majid Jowhari, who tweeted about the “brave nation of Iran” and referred to the elected government of Iran, to which I would say that it’s elected in the same sense the government of Vladimir Putin in Russia is.

Mr. Jowhari is known among his constituents as a sympathizer with the current regime of Iran, who has met several times with Iranian delegations, including those closely connected to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Honourable senators, I could run through once again the many crimes of Iran, such as its oft-stated and never-repudiated intention to wipe Israel, the only democracy in the region, from the map of the Middle East; and its active collaboration with the Assad regime and Russia in the brutal civil war in that country, including the use of chemical weapons. I could once again mention its many human rights abuses against its own people, especially women, children and the Bahá’í, or its long-standing reputation as the leading sponsor of terrorism and backer of rogue regimes — sponsorships, which according to open sources, is put at $16 billion annually.

But we all agree on the sins of Iran. What I want to make clear is that the approach of engagement with Iran without preconditions has failed us in the past. We know it is failing now because of the brutal December crackdown on protesters, and it is almost certain to fail in the future. As George A. Lopez has said, 35 years is how long it might take to bring Iran back into the fold.

I understand that every journey begins with the first step, but how many necks will have been stepped on along this 35-year journey by this criminal Iranian regime as Canada holds its hand? Is that the role we want to play in the process?

What is left to us? I am going to read you from the testimony of George A. Lopez, a witness who appeared before the Foreign Affairs Committee on March 1, 2017, and one whom the critics are fond of quoting. In his testimony, he said:

When people critique sanctions as being effective, they often suggest that it’s because they were designed in a flawed way, they didn’t go after the correct human rights actors, or that there are likely to be implemented with only a half-hearted approach as a government turns its back on certain business entities that want to continue contact in that country under sanctions. I don’t detect any of those weaknesses in the bill you shared with me, Bill S-219. I think you’re right on in terms of thinking about how you document, monitor and continue to point to the specific violators within the Iranian government on sanctions and terrorism issues.

Now let me read from the testimony of Richard Nephew, another witness that Senator Woo and others have quoted — selectively, in my view — in making their arguments against this bill. On February 15, 2017, in response to a senator questioning the ineffectiveness of Canada going it alone with sanctions, Nephew said:

I think it is certainly true that sanctions are more effective as multinational instruments that have a lot of partners and coalitions behind them. . . .

That said, I don’t want to minimize the effect that leadership can also have here too. It’s certainly true that it’s better to go together, but if there are important international leaders who are prepared to make certain stances clear about human rights, for instance, and their unwillingness to do business for human rights purposes or out of concern for human rights, that can allow for a leadership role that’s outsized to the practical economic implication.

Elsewhere, Nephew said:

My view is there is a role Canada can play in terms of shining a spotlight on bad acts, and that’s why parts of the bill could be reformed and adjusted to help drive that leadership home without compromising Canada’s ability to interact with the Iranians.

No attention was paid by the critics of the bill to the aspects of the Lopez and Nephew testimony I just cited, yet to me they are everything.

I submit to you that Bill S-219 provides the basis for a more credible and appropriate Canadian policy going forward than the one the Trudeau government is currently pursuing. Canada can lead. It can serve as an example to the broader international community, as we did with apartheid in South Africa all those years ago.

Remember that Canada acted alone then, too. It began with Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, who, as was described in the recent book Master of Persuasion, led the efforts that saw apartheid South Africa withdraw from the Commonwealth. Having been a lawyer for the disenfranchised in Canada prior to becoming Prime Minister, Diefenbaker’s championing of Black South Africans came from his gut, the book states, and that is why he had no hesitation in splitting with and even angering the prime ministers of traditional Canadian allies: Britain, New Zealand and Australia.

Mr. Diefenbaker’s action, asserts the book’s author, Fen Osler Hampson, marked the beginning of international pressure on the apartheid regime. The end of this oppressive regime came with Brian Mulroney, who made the eradication of apartheid in South Africa his top foreign policy priority.

More important, Hampson points out, he stood against the bureaucrats at what was then known as External Affairs. He stood against the Canadian business community and against the previous Trudeau government, all of whom agreed that apartheid was detestable but which never wavered in their support of full economic and diplomatic relations with South Africa. Does that sound familiar to you?

Familiar to you, too, I’m sure, is the day in 1990 when the hero of the anti-apartheid movement, Nelson Mandela, when finally freed, spoke to the Canadian Parliament. In addressing Mr. Mulroney, he said:

One recalls the momentous time of our transition and remembers the people involved both within and outside South Africa. As prime minister of Canada and within the Commonwealth, you provided strong and principled leadership in the battle against apartheid.

Honourable senators, now is the time for strong and principled leadership regarding the oppressive regime in Iran. Now is the time to choose. Do we want to provide a light in the window for all those who suffer under that regime, or do we want to line our pockets with business deals as they continue to crack down on their citizens?

We can debate with each other here in the Senate all we like, but there’s no debating with history. Bill S-219 is a beacon. It is the light in the window. It is the right approach for Canada and for history.

Now, colleagues, you need to decide what side of history you want to be on. I urge all of you to support this initiative and vote for Bill S-219 today.