THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL TRADE
OTTAWA, Thursday, February 16, 2017
The Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and
International Trade, to which was referred Bill S-219, An Act to deter
Iran-sponsored terrorism, incitement to hatred, and human rights violations,
met this day at 10:30 a.m. to give consideration to the bill; and to study
opportunities for strengthening cooperation with Mexico since the tabling,
in June 2015, of the committee report entitled North American Neighbours:
Maximizing Opportunities and Strengthening Cooperation for a more Prosperous
Senator Percy E. Downe (Deputy Chair)
in the chair.
The Deputy Chair: This is the Standing Senate
Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade. We are meeting today
for the first panel to continue our study on opportunities for strengthening
cooperation with Mexico since the tabling in June 2015 of the committee
report entitled North American Neighbours: Maximizing Opportunities and
Strengthening Cooperation for a more Prosperous Future.
Under this mandate, the committee will hear witnesses
today on North American trilateral relations, which are obviously very
topical given what's going on, and I'm pleased to welcome back Mr. David
Morrison, Assistant Deputy Minister for the Americas at Global Affairs
Canada; and Mr. Martin Moen, Director General, North America and Investment
at Global Affairs Canada.
Gentlemen, I believe you have opening comments?
David Morrison, Assistant Deputy Minister (Americas),
Global Affairs Canada: Honourable senators, I would like first to
express my thanks for the invitation to speak to you today.
Canada and Mexico have enjoyed diplomatic relations for
more than 70 years. The renewal of our engagement has been a key priority of
the government. Indeed, the relationship between our two countries has
recently gained momentum not seen in years.
There have been a range of high-level and productive
engagements, and I will give you three examples.
The state visit of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto
last June was a clear demonstration of our commitment to an enduring
relationship. The agreements signed strengthened institutional linkages in
areas such as environment and climate change, safety and security, health
and wellness, indigenous affairs, international development, and cultural
collaboration. As had also been recommended by this committee, the Prime
Minister also announced the lifting of the visa requirement for Mexicans
travelling to Canada.
On December 1, 2016, a year and a half after this
committee's 2015 report, visa-free travel for Mexicans became a reality. The
visa lift underscores the great importance Canada places on its relationship
with Mexico. It is expected to improve Canada's overall competitiveness as a
tourism destination and encourage continued growth of air travel between the
two countries, benefiting the Canadian tourism and air travel sectors, as
well as facilitating business ties and investment.
To follow through on commitments from the state visit and
to further advance our common agenda, we also launched a high-level
strategic dialogue, led by the foreign affairs minister. The first meeting
was held in Mexico City, on October 12, 2016, where Minister Dion met with
his counterpart, Mexican Foreign Secretary, Claudia Ruiz Massieu. During
that meeting, Mexico agreed to join the Voluntary Principles on Security and
Human Rights in the extractive sector. The two countries agreed to establish
an annual high-level bilateral dialogue on human rights, which we anticipate
will take place in the spring.
Furthermore, Mexico agreed to establish a task force to
address issues affecting Canadian investments in Mexico, to help resolve
effectively issues that arise in our commercial relationship.
Thirdly, the Canada-Mexico Partnership annual meeting,
which most recently took place in Ottawa on November 23 and 24, 2016, was
the most successful and well-attended since the inception of the first
meeting 12 years ago. This partnership serves to deepen cooperation on
economic issues between Canada and Mexico, including energy, agribusiness,
labour mobility, human capital, trade, investment and innovation,
environment, mining and forestry.
We are confident that this recent strengthening of the
bilateral relationship will facilitate increased cooperation on a range of
issues. Let me mention particularly issues that have been of interest to
this committee: security and the rule of law, energy, climate change, trade
One of the committee's recommendations from the 2015
report was to explore opportunities for "cooperation on governance, security
and rule of law issues of mutual interest, such as law enforcement and
judicial capacity building."
The government considers that strengthening democratic
institutions in Mexico and helping Mexico to address its domestic and
regional security challenges is in our national interest. Mexico is
undergoing a substantive reform of its justice system to allow for better
access to justice, more predictability and more transparency. Confidence in
the justice system is indispensable for human rights protection and an
important component of the rule of law.
During last June's state visit, Canada announced robust
new support to assist Mexico with this transition. To date, several projects
have been undertaken or are being planned that involve a wide range of
stakeholders within the justice system, including the police, lawyers,
prosecutors and judges.
The enthusiasm and support from Canada's own judicial
sector to undertake these projects has been notable. As an example, the
National Judicial Institute started a second project with Mexico in January.
This three-year project aims to train Mexican judges in oral arguments,
evaluation of evidence and advanced human rights.
The energy sector has also been identified as a potential
area for opportunities and cooperation. The Mexican energy reform — expected
to attract more than 50 billion U.S. dollars in private investment by 2018 —
represents a historic opportunity for companies in the oil and gas sector.
Private firms are now allowed to bid for licences in areas like oil
exploration and production, and to invest in power generation.
Canada’s expertise in oil and gas, as well as in the
renewable energy sector, represents significant opportunities for our
companies and investors. Furthermore, Canada’s recognized expertise in the
field of resource development governance is leading to Canada-Mexico
cooperation in policy development, education and training. The Government of
Alberta and Alberta Energy Regulators have recently signed agreements with
their counterparts and three Albertan educational institutions, the
U of Calgary, U of Alberta and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology,
have partnerships with Mexican institutions to develop skills for the
Minister Carr’s recent visit to Mexico with a large
delegation of business and indigenous leaders led to several noteworthy
energy-related outcomes supporting Canada’s trade and investment objectives.
This includes the establishment of a working group to promote Canadian
firms’ participation in Mexico’s oil and gas as well as electricity auction
processes, as well as the signature of an MOU to further enhance electricity
cooperation between our two nations.
Climate change and the environment are additional areas
that also present good opportunities for increased cooperation between
Canada and Mexico. At COP 22 in Marrakesh last fall, Canada announced
$14 million in funding to reduce short-lived climate pollutants, like
methane, through partnerships with Mexico and Chile. We are both committed
to meeting our Paris agreement targets, many of which are at the provincial
or state level. Cooperation at the sub-national government levels on those
issues is indeed important and growing, and I know that's a particular area
that previous witnesses have spoken about to this committee.
For example, last September Mexico hosted the second
Climate Summit of the Americas on that very theme. Four Canadian premiers
attended and committed to set long-term emission reduction and adaptation
goals, involving innovative practices that benefit the environment, the
economy and society, and making investments that will enable deep emission
reductions by 2050.
Turning now to the trade front, I will not repeat the
statistics regarding Canada-Mexico bilateral trade as they have already been
given to you by the previous speakers. However, it is important to mention
that Canada and Mexico are important trading partners and that Canada is the
largest foreign investor in Mexico's mining sector.
We agree with your previous witness, Ms. Laura Dawson,
that Mexico's growing middle class will offer growing opportunities for
Canadian companies and investors.
As was also recognized by your previous witnesses,
education is a sector where we believe there is significant potential for
growth and enhanced cooperation. Mexico is a priority country under Canada’s
International Education Strategy. Canada and Mexico agree on the importance
of education, research, and innovation as drivers for competitiveness and
prosperity for our countries. A number of initiatives were signed during
last June’s state visit, including a bilateral industrial research mobility
agreement between Mitacs, a Canadian national, non-for-profit organization
that funds research and training, and Mexico’s National Council for Science
and Technology. Through Global Affairs Canada’s Emerging Leaders of the
Americas program, nearly 600 Mexicans have come to Canada for short-term
study or research opportunities since 2009.
Universities Canada has identified Mexico as a priority
and is exploring a mission of university presidents to Mexico next fall.
Before ending, let me place the Canada-Mexico
relationship in the broader North American context. The election of
President Trump has of course brought uncertainty, and we realize that there
could be challenges ahead. However, we continue to believe in the potential
of North America.
The North American region has a combined population of
almost 530 million people and an economy that represents more than one
quarter of the world's gross domestic product. Three countries are among
each other's largest trading partners and sources of foreign investment. Our
combined GDP has more than doubled over the past two decades, rising from
US$8 trillion in 1993 to over US$20 trillion today.
Canada, the U.S. and Mexico have long collaborated as
continental partners. Shared free market principles, advancements in
information technology, regulatory harmonization and simplification, and
physical proximity have helped drive trade and investment. The increased
movement of trade, capital and labour across shared borders also presents
the three countries with common challenges relating to environmental
sustainability, natural disasters, pandemics and security risks such as the
flow of illicit drugs, transnational crime and terrorism.
Examples of working groups that have been established
trilaterally to combat some of these issues include working groups on drug
trafficking, violence against indigenous women and girls, and the protection
of monarch butterflies. We expect that this kind of close cooperation will
continue. There is a fundamental understanding that important issues like
security, human and drug trafficking, health pandemics and energy systems
integration are best addressed collectively.
Regardless of rhetoric, Canada and many in the United
States understand that a secure, stable and prosperous Mexico is
indispensable to Canada's own prosperity and security. We consider that it
is important for close neighbours to meet regularly to discuss issues on
which we agree and also on which we disagree. There is currently a lot of
uncertainty, but the lines of communication remain open. The Prime Minister
stated in the days following the U.S. election that Canada and Mexico would
"work constructively together to advance our interests."
Sometimes, as with all our partners, our interests will
diverge and at other times they will align. The reality is that it is in our
individual as well as collective interests to continue collaborating on a
wide range of issues. This is why we will continue to foster a strong
bilateral relationship with Mexico and a strong commitment to the North
Thank you for the opportunity to provide you with an
update on the government’s agenda in relation to Mexico. I welcome any
questions that you may have.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you, Mr. Morrison, for your
presentation. I wonder if you could briefly describe the "snap back"
provision in the visas for Mexico.
Mr. Morrison: As I said, Mexico became visa-free on
December 1. We will be and are monitoring the flow of Mexican travellers
closely and looking at whether there will be an increase in the number of
asylum claimants. It's only been two months, but we're looking at that
The Deputy Chair: What number is not acceptable?
Would the government intervene when it goes above a certain number? I'm
interested in a discussion about that.
Mr. Morrison: I can't say a certain number other than
to say that we are monitoring it closely.
There is a new provision that you will know of called the
Electronic Travel Authorization, and it's ever-so-slightly complicated. At
the same time as Mexico became visa-free, Mexican citizens wishing to travel
to Canada had to go through the Electronic Travel Authorization process. The
way that will work in the future is we'll extend eTA to additional
countries. Mexico would be a candidate for that.
If you're a candidate for eTA extension, if you have ever
had a visa to Canada or the United States and have complied with the laws of
those countries in terms of not overstaying, then you would be eligible for
visa-free travel. The point is that even if we were to get to a point of
visa reimposition with Mexico, trusted travellers would still be able to go
The Deputy Chair: Correct me if I'm wrong, but were
the Mexicans not advised that if 3,500 asylum seekers came in a year, the
visa would be reassessed at that point? Did the Canadian government give the
Mexicans a number?
Mr. Morrison: I'm not aware of a precise number that
was transmitted to the Mexican government. I am aware that the Canadian
government had determined a number for itself. I just don't know whether
that was conveyed to the Mexicans.
The Deputy Chair: And has that number been made
Mr. Morrison: No, it has not.
The Deputy Chair: So 3,500 could be right or wrong. I
understand it's right, but you can't confirm or deny it.
Mr. Morrison: I can't confirm.
Senator Ataullahjan: Thank you for your presentation
this morning. I want to ask you a question about an article printed in
The Globe and Mail yesterday. It said:
Canada and the United States will focus on
bilateral negotiations as part of President Donald Trump’s pledge to
tweak the North American free-trade deal that governs Canadian
commerce, leaving Mexico essentially to fend for itself.
The signals coming from Washington are that there
will be an American negotiating team dealing with Canada and a
separate one for Mexico . . . .
The article cites two views in this regard. Canadian
trade lawyer Lawrence Herman believes that it's "a significant achievement
for Canada" because, in his view, Canada must "avoid being embroiled in
resolving Mexico's contentious disputes with the Trump administration."
On the other hand:
. . . John Weekes, a trade lawyer who helped
negotiate NAFTA, warned it could backfire if Canada attempts to cut
the Mexicans out of trilateral talks.
I would like to know your thoughts on this. Is Mexico
being left out of the conversation entirely?
Mr. Morrison: I'll speak a little bit about the
overall relationship, and then I'll turn to my colleague Martin Moen, who is
our NAFTA expert.
To respond directly to your question, Mexico is most
definitely not being left out of the conversation entirely. It's the policy
of the Government of Canada to strengthen relations with the United States
and with Mexico and trilaterally, and that's reflected in the mandate
letters to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of International
There has been plenty of media speculation recently. Let
me just say that I think it's very early days in terms of any renegotiation
Martin will comment, but it is at least my understanding
that the Americans are just now beginning to think about how they would
conduct a future NAFTA renegotiation.
Martin Moen, Director General, North America and
Investment, Global Affairs Canada: First of all, there are elements of
areas that the U.S. administration has publicly identified as being of
concern in terms of their relationship with Mexico that are unrelated to
trade. I think whether or not those would be dealt with bilaterally or
trilaterally would depend on the circumstances.
With regard to NAFTA itself, I would like to stress that
there are many decisions in terms of how to proceed that the U.S.
administration has not taken. For example, they have not taken the decision
as to whether they would proceed to use the formal process of trade
promotion authority and notify Congress under that authority and then
proceed to do some kind of negotiation that would require congressional
approval. They may go that path, but they have not decided.
Much remains undecided. It is early days in this
With regard to the NAFTA itself, it's an agreement that
is very flexible in how it treats different issues. At the time of the
NAFTA, for example, issues regarding access for sugar were dealt with
between the United States and Mexico. Issues relating to trucking were dealt
with separately between the U.S. and Mexico, with the U.S. and Canada having
very different circumstances in that regard.
Similarly, the energy chapter of the NAFTA has provisions
related to proportionality that apply between Canada and the United States
but not with Mexico. So there are elements of the agreement that in the past
have been dealt with in a bilateral way and then brought under the umbrella.
There, of course, are many important elements of the agreement that are
As to how exactly we would be proceeding, which elements
we would be tweaking or whether we'll be adding on, all of these are good
questions for us to consider, that we're all thinking about, but we really
don't know at this point exactly how the U.S. wishes to proceed.
Of course, as we move into any such modernization of the
NAFTA, if that's where we end up going, then of course we would consult
widely with Canadians and make sure we have an appropriate approach, both in
terms of the specifics of the content and the form regarding what is
trilateral, what is bilateral and what is best dealt with in this context or
Senator Ataullahjan: I'm just going by what the
Canadian ambassador said — who was present at the meetings between the
Canadian Prime Minister and the American President — that if any changes are
made, it could be beneficial to Canada and the U.S. That's the reason I'm
asking if Mexico is being left out of the conversation. Everyone is talking
about what's beneficial for Canada and the U.S., but there is no mention of
Mexico. You have already commented, so thank you.
Senator Saint-Germain: Thank you for your
presentation, deputy minister. I noted your reference to Canada’s commitment
to helping Mexico, in particular in its transition to stronger human rights
practices. I also noted issues involving cooperation between companies,
citizens, and the Canadian and Mexican governments, as regards trade or
business practices that do not always meet our standards. This is a very
important aspect, in my opinion.
On another matter, there are also irritants for Mexican
business people, including matters related to Canadian laws and regulations.
You referred to that. I am thinking in particular about the issues related
to visas for temporary and seasonal workers. Perhaps you can give an
overview of the Canadian government’s approach and the action plan it
intends to implement in order to eliminate these irritants, which is some
cases date back a number of years? Eliminating these irritants could provide
for smoother and more positive trade and commerce with Mexico.
Mr. Morrison: Canada and Mexico trade is about
$38 billion a year, and almost all of it passes irritant-free, which is a
quantum increase since the coming into being of NAFTA.
There were two major irritants, I would say, going into
the state visit in the summer. One was the visa, which was imposed in 2008
or 2009 and quite dramatically reduced the number of Mexicans coming to
Canada for all purposes — for vacation and all manner of short stays. On our
side, there was an issue of beef access to the Mexican market.
We were able to resolve both of those and announce at the
state visit that six months later the visa would be lifted and that as of
October 1, Canada would enjoy complete access to the Mexican market for
Canadian beef. Both of those things unrolled on schedule.
You mentioned temporary workers. I'm not aware that that
is an irritant at all. The Canadian temporary workers program of which
Mexico is the largest beneficiary — Jamaica is another large beneficiary —
has been cited by the United Nations as a model of managed migration. This
is a program by which Mexican workers come up seasonally to work mainly in
the agricultural sector in southern Ontario and elsewhere at harvest time. I
think the Mexicans would like to have a greater number. I believe the number
last year was in the range of 22,000 Mexicans who came up. That's one part
of our overall bilateral relationship that we can work on.
In general, you would have taken from my remarks that
Canada-Mexico bilateral relations right now are stronger than they've been
at any time in recent memory. Obviously, with our third-largest trading
partner we're going to have some irritants from time to time, but most of
the big ones that I mentioned have indeed been resolved in the recent past.
Senator Saint-Germain: Regarding seasonal workers,
there have been various problems related to upholding work contracts. I
understand from your reply that this, at least, has improved.
You referred in particular to Canada’s commitments to
further assisting Mexico as regards its official desire to more fully
respect human rights. What type of assistance are you talking about, in
Mr. Morrison: I mentioned a couple of the ways in
which we were accompanying Mexico in its transition, and I made reference to
one specific project. It's actually quite a dramatic development in Mexico,
the reform of the justice system. I mentioned how we're working with police,
lawyers, judges and so on.
Mexico had a system until very recently that had no oral
arguments, so all of the Mexican court cases took place only on paper.
Judges received written submissions and took decisions accordingly. Most
other countries long ago went to oral arguments where the people disputing
whatever they are disputing, if it's a civil or a criminal matter, actually
appear in front of the judge.
That is deemed to be a very significant step in helping
Mexico cut down on the high levels of impunity for all sorts of crimes, but
including human rights crimes. Canada has provided Mexico with assistance,
training for judges and others in this new and, for Mexico, revolutionary
way of trying cases. That's just one example.
I mentioned that Canada is a very large investor in
Mexico. In the couple of years since Mexico opened up its energy sector, we
now have 200 Canadian companies selling into PEMEX, the Mexican state oil
company. All of that activity on the commercial front is being accompanied
by a stepped-up effort to help Mexico with its transition, including on
Senator Cordy: My question is a follow-up in relation
to human rights violations. I had the privilege — if you can call it "the
pleasure" — to hear some horrid stories of people. It was more a privilege
to hear their stories. I met with a number of young women from Mexico who
were arrested for no reason other than they were against government policy
in Mexico. They told their stories. You mentioned briefly in response to
Senator Saint-Germain about the judicial system. Do we use the commonalities
that we have with Mexico? Do we use our trade relationship with Mexico to
address the human rights violations that are taking place there?
Mr. Morrison: Yes, we certainly do. Let me give you
two examples. This is how the business of diplomacy works.
I mentioned in my remarks that one of the outcomes of the
state visit in the summer was an agreement to establish what we called a
high-level strategic dialogue between Mexico and Canada. The first edition
of that dialogue took place in October. I travelled down to Mexico Minister
Dion and several others. Human rights in both countries was on the agenda.
The outcome of that discussion was an agreement to set up a regular
high-level mechanism to talk about human rights in both countries. As I said
in my remarks, the first specific dialogue on human rights will take place
this spring between the two countries.
Minister Dion met with a group of activists on that trip
involved in human rights in Mexico, including a woman who had come up here
at the time of the state visit. She was interviewed on CBC Radio and then
she went back to Mexico, and her protection was removed. That's a case that
our embassy in Mexico is following very closely.
A country like Mexico, which is extraordinarily diverse
and has high levels of inequality, is on a journey. The journey has been I
think mostly positive. There are now 44 million members of the Mexican
middle class. A large number of Mexicans have been pulled out of poverty by
that country's growth in recent years. Nevertheless, the levels of
criminality, impunity and violence are things that the Mexican government is
taking very seriously. We, as a great partner to the Mexican government, do
what we can.
Senator Cordy: Mexico would be one country. There are
many countries around the world where we disagree with what they are doing
with the people in their country, and they commit human rights violations.
Is it helpful for Canada to have the doors open to Mexico in this case so
that we can actually address some of our concerns?
Mr. Morrison: The government's clear policy is to
engage with countries on which we agree and engage with countries on which
we don't agree.
I would point out as well that many countries going
through transitions have very weak state institutions. So when human rights
violations are being committed, it's not necessarily the state that is doing
the committing; it is other forces. The great scourge in Mexico, or course,
is drug trafficking. There are high levels of corruption. There are police
services that are infiltrated by the drug gangs, and human rights abuses are
committed as a result. There is no one more aware of this and more committed
to changing the equation than the Government of Mexico, but it's a long-term
Senator Cordy: Going back to Senator Ataullahjan's
question earlier, is Canada having a dialogue behind the scenes about all
the possible scenarios with NAFTA and whether or not we do bilateral trade
with the United States? You don't have to tell me what your discussions are,
but I would feel a bit of comfort if I knew at least you're having that
dialogue. If NAFTA becomes no more, do we engage in bilateral trade with
Mexico and then bilateral trade with the United States?
Mr. Morrison: If my colleague Martin is looking a
little tired these days, it's because he and his trade policy colleagues are
literally working around the clock to consider all of those different
scenarios. As I tried to say in my remarks and as is evident to anybody
following this, we're in a period of great uncertainty. In a period of
uncertainty it's prudent to prepare for all eventualities, and that's of
course what we are doing.
Senator Woo: I want to go back to the question of
travel between Canada and Mexico and get your views on the ampleness of
direct air travel between Canada and Mexico, perhaps an update on the
expanded services agreement that was put in place quite recently, and
whether you have any information on the possibility of more freedom flights,
planes coming in from Europe or from Asia that can stop in Canada and
continue to Mexico.
Mr. Morrison: So far it's a pretty good news story.
Both Air Canada and Aeromexico have indicated they are laying on additional
flights. I do believe there has been a recent announcement. I would need to
check this, but Aeromexico now has the first direct Calgary to Mexico
I have heard from the embassy that there is lots of
additional interest. There is a problem at the Mexican end, at least in
Mexico City, that their airport is maxed out. They are building a new
airport which will be one of the largest infrastructure projects in coming
years in Latin America. Right now, there is not a lot of adequate landing
Obviously Mexico is a big country. There are additional
flights to sunspots and charter flights, so I don't know the answer to your
fifth freedom question.
Can you speak to that?
Mr. Moen: I don't have an answer to that.
Senator Woo: Am I correct in saying, though, that
Canada-Mexico have essentially open skies? So there are unlimited flights,
depending on whether airlines are willing to pick them up and the capacity
of the airports to handle more flights; is that right?
Mr. Morrison: My understanding it is it's not quite
open skies, but we can come back to you on exactly what it is. My
understanding is there are reasons it has stopped a little bit short of a
full open skies agreement. We can get you that information.
Senator Woo: I would appreciate if you can look into
the fifth freedom. Because most of the incremental demand for travel to
Mexico via Canada would be coming from other countries' airlines. So we
would be captive to just the airlines and Mexico and Canada under the
current agreement, but we could really expand it if we have fifth freedom
The Deputy Chair: Thank you, Senator Woo.
When you have the answer to the question, if you could
send it to the clerk, she will distribute it to all members of the
Senator Marwah: Given the uncertainty around NAFTA
and now TPP, are we doing anything further to enhance our other trade
alliances, like the Pacific Alliance, where Mexico always plays such an
integral part of other regional alliances? Because it would behoove us to
really have something further on many other fronts.
Mr. Morrison: Yes. As you know, Canada is a great
trading nation, number one in terms of trade as a percentage of GDP in the
G7. I think it's fair to say that Canada is always looking for ways to
diversify its trading arrangements.
There will be a meeting in Chile in a month or so, I
believe, of the Pacific Alliance, which is this very interesting grouping of
Mexico, Columbia, Peru and Chile that came into being in 2011 or 2012.
Canada was the first non-Latin observer country. We're the only country with
a partnership agreement with the Pacific Alliance.
They are hosting a meeting that Canada will be attending.
This is a meeting that is taking stock of trade, including with Asia, in the
wake of what has recently happened with the TPP.
Senator Marwah: We are an observer currently, are we
not, in the Pacific Alliance?
Mr. Morrison: Yes, we are.
Senator Marwah: Are we planning on moving beyond that
Mr. Morrison: Not to the best of my knowledge. We are
an "observer plus" in that we're the only observer that has a partnership
agreement, but I'm not aware of any plans to become a full member.
It does bear saying, though, that we already have free
trade agreements with the four founding members of the Pacific Alliance, as
well as the two aspiring members, Costa Rica and Panama.
Mr. Moen: Let me add to that. Certainly over the past
while, the government has been pursuing an approach to trade agreements that
is very open-minded, looking where possibilities exist, pursuing them and
exploring all avenues.
There are different degrees of engagement, of course. The
agreement with the European Union and the success earlier this week in
moving that forward and through the European Parliament is a very big,
important step. There is an openness to exploring trade agreements across
We certainly value the partnerships we have with the
United States and Mexico. NAFTA has served us well, but having a diverse
range of trade agreements is definitely in our interest and something worth
Senator Bovey: Thank you for the update. As a new
member of this committee, I found it very useful. I was really pleased to
see you mention cultural collaborations and particularly pleased that you
mentioned the educational research bilateral agreements and the fact that a
number of university presidents will be in Mexico in the fall.
I am, as others know, very interested in cultural
diplomacy. It was interesting to note that the Royal Winnipeg Ballet was in
Mexico, coincidentally, as the Minister of Energy was there a few weeks ago.
One of the senior dancers of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet is Mexican himself.
As we take a look at the role of cultural diplomacy, I would like your
thoughts as to what you think its role can be in relations between Canada
I'm also interested in trying to get a handle on what you
feel the cultural trade is with Mexico. The most recent figures I have
internationally, and they could be wrong, but in 2006, Canada put
$11.9 million into the cultural trade program. The result of that was
$4.3 billion or maybe closer to $5 billion back into our economy. I would be
really interested to know what proportion of that was to Mexico and how you
see that can grow.
The history of Canadian artists going down to Mexico and
Mexican artists coming to Canada is rich. The cultural exchange in both
performing and visual arts is huge. I wonder if you feel that that is being
developed to the extent it could be.
Mr. Morrison: Thank you for the question. Many of us
in the diplomatic service are big fans of cultural diplomacy because when
you have been involved in it up front, you see the magic that it makes in
terms of opening doors and building relationships.
Let me answer your question in a couple of ways. First,
the Canada 150 project is not just a domestic initiative, although most of
it is domestic. There will be a very vibrant international dimension to
that, where our missions around the world will be using the occasion of
Canada's one hundred fiftieth birthday to do all manner of cultural events.
In addition, the government announced — it was in the
platform, but it was also in the last budget — the reinstatement of two
cultural diplomacy programs, one of which will help to support Canadian
artists and cultural performers travelling abroad. The other will support
cultural trade, the kind you mentioned.
That's a tremendous ratio that you've cited for the
amount invested in the program and the benefit to the Canadian economy. You
asked how much of that was Mexico. I don't know, but what I will say is that
the new resources made available under the two programs that I mentioned
were hotly contested by the various embassies around the world. They are
leading to new positions for people to manage these programs. Embassies and
high commissions are quite cleverly getting together. If someone is going
down Buenos Aires, they will to try to create a stop in Santiago.
So there will be more cultural diplomacy in the coming
period than there has been in the past. From the point of view of my
colleagues in the foreign service, that is very welcome news. As I said,
it's magic what culture can do when you're trying to build relationships and
take them to the next level. Mexico will be one of the most active missions
in that regard.
Senator Bovey: I happen to believe that the loss of
the cultural attachés hit not just the cultural community hard but did hit
an understanding of who and what Canada is in many ways.
Senator Gold: I would like to return to the rule of
law initiatives to which you have made mention early on. I applaud, of
course, the Canadian Judicial Council's work.
I have a three-part question. Apart from that project,
what other projects might fall within that category? How much money is being
invested in those projects as part of this initiative? Finally, what the
role of law faculties or research centres in the support or accompaniment of
the Mexican community in this area?
I think, for example, of work that was done at the Centre
de recherche en droit public at the University of Montréal, which I have had
the privilege of being associated with for many decades now. It has done
important work in Africa, China, and Latin America, educating lawyers,
judges, the media, and civil society on rule of law values. I'm wondering
what role they might play or could possibly play in assisting Mexico in its
Mr. Morrison: Thanks very much for the question. Let
me go from big picture to small picture.
First, we focus a lot on the kind of dialogues that I
have already mentioned we have set up. Speaking in terms of security
governance and the rule of law, bilateral security consultations take place
regularly. Political military talks, which have a security dimension,
obviously take place regularly. As a result of the state visit, there will
be a new dialogue, which I believe will begin in April, which will be public
security — our Department of Public Safety and their equivalent down in
In addition to all of that, we have a program focused on
the Americas called the Anti-Crime Capacity Building Program, training
judges, police forces and so on.
You asked for amounts. There is $10.7 million in
bilateral programming in Mexico since 2009, and the program that I mentioned
recently was $1.7 million to train judges.
In addition, we have a separate program called the Global
Partnership Program that helps countries like Mexico tighten up certain
kinds of security to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
That's a technical program that helps them at their ports and other places
where things that we don't want to get into North America might try to get
into North America.
On top of all of that, there is what we call the Canada
Fund for Local Initiatives, which is an embassy-administered fund that can
be responsive, in Mexico City and elsewhere, to human rights groups, LGBTI
groups and women's groups that have smaller projects for which they are
looking for funding. That fund is in the range of $500,000.
I'm not aware of individual law faculties helping out — I
think that was part of your question — except to say that the relationship
between Canada and Mexico is such that there are all manner of
collaborations that go on every day that the embassy and we, as the
government, don't know about because they are just the bread and butter of a
very developed relationship between two countries.
Part of Brand Canada, I would say, is exactly the sort of
programs that you were talking about from law schools across Canada. I know
most about what goes on in the Americas, and I do know that law faculties,
and universities in general, have all sorts of twinning and partnership
arrangements that help to promote the Canadian way of doing governance.
Obviously, Canada is renowned as a country that is well governed and that
has figured out a lot of things that other countries continue to struggle
with. That's why I say it is a strong part of Brand Canada — very active,
actually, in the Caribbean.
Senator Gold: Thank you. I encourage you, though, to
consider — and it's not a question of funding universities or law faculties.
I'm not carrying a brief for that at all. But I think it's one of the things
that we, as Canadians, really can add to the world. Encouragement by the
government would, I think, encourage faculties and research centres — who
have access to third-party funding, internationally and for initiatives of
this kind — perhaps to do more. I think that would redound to the benefit
both of Mexican society and, quite frankly, our own.
Senator Ngo: I want to follow up on the questions by
Senator Ataullahjan and Senator Cordy. From your point of view, could you
tell us the potential consequences of the renegotiation of NAFTA?
Mr. Moen: Like many of the other questions on NAFTA,
I think this is difficult to answer with much precision given what we don't
know. What we do know about NAFTA, of course, is that it has been a very
valuable agreement for Canada, the United States and Mexico. It has, in some
areas, been very important in supporting the development of very integrated
If you take a look at automobiles, the NAFTA and the
access it provides, and the security of access it provides, has allowed for
automakers to rationalize production across three countries in ways that
allow employment in all three countries.
There are many examples like that. Certainly from
Canada's perspective, we think this is an agreement that has benefited all
three parties. When we talk with business associations in the United States,
with specific companies, with local governments, they all agree about the
benefits of NAFTA in these areas.
Of course, as with any agreement, particularly an
agreement that has been around for decades, there are elements that might be
worth modernizing. There are things that have happened in trade negotiations
since then and the world has moved on.
In terms of the assessment of what might happen or might
be changed and the impact it would have, it's too early to tell in which
direction we're going. I can say that we are doing the internal work on all
kinds of possibilities to make sure that whatever it is we are asked to do
or whatever is suggested, that we're ready to respond — and not just
respond; we have our own ideas of ways the agreement can be improved,
facilitated and clarified if we were to get into that kind of a discussion.
Senator Cools: I would like to welcome our witnesses
Some years ago I was in Mexico with a delegation. It was
a very successful set of meetings; it was one of those exchanges. I had the
experience of discovering that the bulk of the illicit drug trade of Mexico
is directed towards the United States of America. At that time we were told
that the previous year the Mexicans had lost 1,200 policemen to murder by
the drug forces and that the Mexican government had arrested or apprehended
250 planes. I found this at the time almost unbelievable, incredible. Has
there been any improvement?
At the meeting, one of the very bright, I thought,
younger, up-and-coming members raised the issue of the inordinate needs in
America for these drugs and what it is in that society that produces these
needs that can produce such illegal and criminal activity in Mexico. Maybe
this is not your field and you don't know anything about this, but I'm
wondering if the situation has improved in any way, if you happen to know.
If you don't, I understand.
Mr. Morrison: For example, taking one statistic, the
murder rate, you mentioned 1,200 policemen. The murder rate actually did
improve quite considerably. I can send you the exact figures. I believe that
between about 2010 and 2014, the level of violent crime went down in Mexico,
but it began to trend up again in 2014.
The only thing I would add is that it's not just Mexico.
If you look at Mexico's southern neighbours in Central America, you are
looking at some of the highest levels of violent crime in the world. It's a
regional problem. Mexico has borne of brunt of it. Different governments
have approached the issue of violence in drug cartels in different ways. But
grosso modo, Mexico is in better shape now than it was back in 2008,
Senator Cools: That's very good news. Thank you. I
sincerely believe that if there's any way that we can assist, promote or
support, I think we should do it. When I say "we," I mean Canada.
The Deputy Chair: On behalf of the committee, I would
like to thank the witnesses.
Mr. Morrison, if you would be kind enough to pass on to
the Minister of Foreign Affairs' office that when she appears before us I
will be asking her for the number on the "snap back" on the Mexican visas,
given that the Prime Minister said in the mandate letter to her:
We have also committed to set a higher bar for
openness and transparency in government. It is time to shine more
light on government to ensure it remains focused on the people it
serves. Government and its information should be open by default. If
we want Canadians to trust the government, we need a government that
Given that context, I think Canadians deserve to know if
the number is 3,500 before we reinforce visas in Mexico, or higher, or
whatever it is. I will be asking the minister for that number when she
appears before us.
As a public servant, I won't put you on the spot, but if
you would relay that to her office, I would appreciate it so she can be
prepared to answer when she comes.
Colleagues, we will now continue with our study on Bill
S-219, An Act to deter Iran-sponsored terrorism, incitement to hatred, and
human rights violations.
We have as witnesses today the Honourable Irwin Cotler,
former Minister of Justice and member of Parliament and well-known human
rights activist; and from the Iran Democratic Association, we have Shahram
I understand both of you have brief presentations and
then I'm sure the senators will have questions. Please proceed.
Shahram Golestaneh, Iran Democratic Association:
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
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
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
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
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 Deputy Chair: Thank you for your presentation.
Mr. Cotler, please.
Hon. Irwin Cotler, 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
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
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
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
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.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you very much.
Colleagues, we have a very long list. I would ask people
wherever possible to keep their questions short and the answers as short as
possible as well.
Senator St. Germain, please.
Senator Saint-Germain: You are both very convincing
and the situation in Iran is clearly unacceptable and cannot be tolerated.
You stressed the situation in Iran and of course everyone shares your view.
My concern pertains to the actual effectiveness of the
bill as opposed to a merely symbolic value. More specifically, the
requirement that Canada’s minister publish an annual report makes him
accountable for that report. Knowing how Imam Khameni’s executive committee
operates, I wonder how a minister could prepare a report that is
sufficiently documented to be credible.
Do you have any suggestions? You said that this was a
stage, a step in the right direction. What other steps do you think could be
taken in order for Canada’s action to be effective?
Mr. Golestaneh: In terms of being symbolic, I don't
think that it's symbolic. I believe actually it has consequential effects on
our relations, not only with Iran, but also as a leader on human rights and
combatting impunity worldwide.
When we had the case of Ms. Zahra Kazemi, who was
murdered in Iran, I remember there was hesitation of making Iran accountable
for their acts. Eventually when Canada took the case and introduced, in
2003, annual UN resolutions against human rights violations, other countries
followed suit. This has been our argument since then and at that time, that
if we take the lead, other countries will follow suit because this is
reasonable. It is based on international law. It is combating the culture of
impunity and will have an effect on the gross violators of human rights and
With respect to specific measures, I hope Mr. Cotler
would have better answers about the mechanism of how to enforce the bill or
ask the minister how to collect that information. We used to have that.
There used to be annual consultation with the NGO community generally
speaking, not about Iran but about all countries around the globe, by
Foreign Affairs. That was abandoned many years ago, but that would also be a
venue to deal with the Iranian people and with Iranians in the diaspora, to
provide valuable information. As I presented in my argument about the IRGC,
the same argument can be made about what is happening inside the country
about human rights abuses and about incidents of incitement to genocide and
But in terms of specific measures, if Mr. Cotler has any
oversight on that, I don't know.
Mr. Cotler: The last point is very important. It is
incumbent on us to state our demands to ensure that the bill achieves its
objectives. The preamble to Bill S-219 begins as follows:
Whereas the Charter of the United Nations and
customary international law impose on all nations the responsibility
to promote and protect human rights as a mutual obligation of all
members of the international community and as an obligation of a
state towards its citizens;
I think this indicates it is not simply a symbolic
measure, but as I was suggesting in my testimony, it is an obligation that
we have as a responsible actor in the international community. There are
specific things we can do. Take the things in the act itself, for example,
the matter of incitement to hatred and to genocide. It's not well known, but
it is something that we can document. The 21st century began on January 3,
2000, with the Supreme Leader of Iran. This is for Ahmadinejad, to whom this
is always attributed. With the Supreme Leader of Iran saying, "There can be
no solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict without the annihilation of the
Jewish people." He didn't even use the euphemism, as it is usually done, of
the Zionist regime.
It has continued after Ahmadinejad, to whom was
attributed all this incitement, about the obligation, as Khamenei put it, to
remove this cancerous tumour, Israel, from the Middle East.
Even more so, it was just documented yesterday in a
report that emerged from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs that the
incitement to hate and genocide has, regrettably and tragically, even
increased since the nuclear agreement, where one would have hoped that at
least the agreement would have had an abatement on that incitement; in fact,
the incitement has continued.
The recent testing of ballistic missiles in Iran itself —
arguably a violation of UN Security Council resolutions in that regard —
were accompanied by banners on the ballistic missiles saying in Hebrew as
well as in Persian, "Death to Israel."
So I think that one role that Canada could play is to
provide independent, open-source documentation and testimony with respect to
the manner in which Khamenei's Iran is in standing violation of the
prohibition against the incitement to genocide in the genocide convention.
Again, we can use Supreme Court jurisprudence because we
have, through our Supreme Court, set down the most compelling principle, and
now precedent, with respect to how to sanction incitement to hatred and
genocide when the Supreme Court set forth in its judgment in 2005 that the
very incitement to genocide constitutes the crime, whether or not acts of
So we have the ability from an evidentiary point of view
to set forth the documentary record regarding incitement to genocide, and
from a legal or juridical point of view to set forth the remedies to combat
it, one of them being — no state party has done it, though I believe it's an
obligation under the genocide convention — to institute an interstate
complaint against Iran before the International Court of Justice, as Iran is
also a state party to the genocide convention, for its standing violations
of that convention.
I'm using the matter of incitement to genocide as a case
study of where Canada can provide an independent evidentiary and juridical
basis for the international community to be able to act based on the record
that we put forward.
The Deputy Chair: Colleagues, we have a long list. As
interesting as the answers are, we have to keep them shorter and the
questions as short as possible, as I know you always do.
Senator Ngo: Thank you for your presentations here
Last week the Iranian Canadian Congress mentioned a very
slow but promising improvement in steps taken by modern factions in Iran
towards improving human rights conditions in the country. They also
mentioned that unfortunately, many times these small steps are being
Could you share with us your thoughts about that
perspective on this? Could you provide us also with examples of recent human
rights abuses that have been committed by the regime?
Mr. Golestaneh: Yes. I'll try to be, as the chair
said, brief on this.
Unfortunately, we have not seen any improvement in the
human rights situation in Iran. This is factual. Look at the number of
executions since January 1, 2017. Yesterday we had a mass execution of 12
Now, there is infighting within different factions of the
regime. There is no question about that. The infighting is real. It has
nothing to do with moderation. Indeed, everything that we have discussed
here is already institutionalized in the Iranian Constitution. The export of
so-called revolution, which I call the export of fundamentalism and
terrorism, is enshrined in the Iranian Constitution. If Mr. Rouhani or
anyone else comes forward and says we have to abandon that and change the
Constitution, I guess everyone would welcome that. These are not the types
of things we are seeing.
What is emanating from Iran is actually — missile tests
was one aspect. It was also a test to see the international resolve of how
they deal with Iran. Unfortunately, we haven't seen much by way of
condemnation, except from the U.S., but not even from Europe to the extent
we really hoped to see.
In terms of human rights, unfortunately, again, the vast
majority in the international community has been silent because the
narrative that Iran has used in order to do these things was that anything
you do to us, including sanctions, is a violation of the JCPOA. Those are
completely separate issues. So I would argue against that statement;
unfortunately we have not seen any major improvement.
The litmus test is very simple. I actually witnessed that
session. One of the honourable senators asked, "Are there any preconditions
for even engagement in Iran?" I would say definitely. All of these things we
are discussing in this bill can be preconditions for things like that. The
mass violation of human rights: You stop the executions for instance; put a
moratorium on that. That would be one thing. You return the body of Zahra
Kazemi back to Canada, as her family wished. That would be a precondition.
You release political prisoners in Iran. That would be a precondition. You
stop incitement to genocide. These are all the things that can be done.
Unfortunately, we haven't seen from any factions of the regime any of those
Senator Downe: Colleagues, as you know, the rules
state we have to adjourn at 12:30. I will start a second round list, if we
have time get to that. I'll ask everybody restrict themselves to one
Senator Housakos: I have a follow-up question to the
topic you just touched upon, which is preconditions, requirements and
benchmarks set before engaging in dialogue. Quite frankly, I'm skeptical,
looking at the path Iran continues to take and based on the enlightening
testimony you have provided us today.
Why should we be optimistic that dialogue will have an
end result? What would be the time frame? Where do we set the benchmarks
where there are dates, and they are not meeting those preconditions? As we
speak, there are not meeting many of those preconditions.
Second, our former colleague Mr. Cotler pointed out that
there are two ways to engage Iran; that is, to engage the regime and the
people. Can you distinguish exactly what methodology you would use to bypass
the regime and engage the Iranian people?
Mr. Cotler: I want to say, parenthetically, because
when I was quoting a Supreme Court judgment on the matter of holding those
who incite genocide to account, I didn't mention the name of the case. It is
the Mugesera case in 2005. That's just for the record.
On the matter of the question that was put, it relates to
the question right now. That has to do with whether human rights violations,
as has been suggested in previous witness testimony, have abated in Iran,
particularly since the signing of the nuclear agreement. I wish that were
so, but the record discloses exactly the opposite. You don't need to take my
word for it; just look at the reports of the UN special rapporteur for human
rights in Iran, Mr. Ahmed Shaheed who appeared before the Foreign Affairs
Subcommittee on International Human Rights to give testimony. Look at the
witness testimony of Iranian-Canadians themselves. There are NGO reports
from Human Rights Watch International. Look at the indicators.
I'll close with this and then relate to Senator Housakos
question on governing the people.
Shahram mentioned the issue of executions. Iran executes
more people per capita than any other country in the world. In January 2017,
they have been executing a person every nine hours. Since Rouhani came to
power, the rate of executions has dramatically increased in Iran, and this
includes the targeting of juveniles, minorities and the like.
Second, as mentioned in Mr. Shaheed's report, is torture
Third is what I would call the criminalization of
innocents, where people are imprisoned not for what they do but for who they
are: human rights defenders, members of minorities and the like. Right now,
there are more than a thousand political prisoners in Iran. Therefore, I'm
delighted this legislation calls for release.
Fourth has to do with the targeting of religious and
ethnic minorities. Let me mention the Bahá'í as a case study. Their
situation has worsened, not improved.
Similarly, with regard to targeting dual-nationals, that
has increased, not lessened.
I can go on. I have written elsewhere about 12 indicators
that demonstrate that the situation re human rights in Iran has worsened.
When we engage with Iran, we are going to send a signal
to the people of Iran that we are with them; that we stand in solidarity
with them; and that we will not relent until the political prisoners are
released and until Iran ceases and desists from torture and detention. As we
engage with Iran, we will continue to hold the regime accountable, not
because that is the purpose of engagement, but because the obligation of
both Iran and us as members of the international community is to cease and
desist. We will seek to combat the culture of impunity in Iran from which
and as a result of which the people of Iran are among its victims.
Senator Cordy: Thank you both for providing insight
into what is happening in Iran. When we're developing legislation, we want
to make sure that it's practical and not just going to be something that
just sits on a shelf.
Following up on Senator Saint-Germain's question is the
obligation on the part of the minister to provide an annual report to
Parliament on the abuses taking place in Iran. I think you did an excellent
job, Mr. Cotler, of differentiating between the people of Iran and the
regime within Iran. The people of Iran are the ones we really want to help.
But when I look at the annual report and the list in
section 3 of all the people, among others the officials of Iran, that have
to be contacted and receive information from them — or officials from
organizations within the country. ECO would be an example of the execution
of a man under Khamenei's orders. They don't even report within Iran.
The minister, with this bill, would have an obligation to
get this information. What are the practicalities of any minister being able
to gain access to information that would be credible to present to the
Parliament in Canada?
Mr. Cotler: There are open sources. In fact,
Mr. Golestaneh has access to some of those sources. When we had Iran
accountability week, he appeared before us as one of the witness and shared
that type of documented information.
The UN special rapporteur for human rights in Iran has in
the year 2016 issued reports in March, May and September. These fulsome and
comprehensive reports document the human rights violations in Iran with
respect to each of the indicators that are in your report and some of the
others even that are not.
So I think that the report, while it only asks that the
minister publish an annual report on Iran-sponsored terrorism and human
rights violations, could even be more inclusive by using the reports of the
United Nations. I mentioned the UN special rapporteur on human rights in
Iran, but other rapporteurs on each of the thematic procedures have also
made inquiries in that regard. The European Union collects information. The
U.S. has ongoing congressional hearings, both in the house and in the Senate
that are documenting each of those three themes that I mentioned, although
less so in most cases on the matter of incitement to hatred.
We can make a particular contribution in that regard as
well as on the terrorism and human rights.
The people of Iran are themselves sources of that
information, though admittedly they have to be careful about the manner in
which that information emerges, lest they themselves become imprisoned for
being the sources of that information. But some of that information does
emerge from former political prisoners and the like.
This week I'll be going to Geneva for a summit on rights
and democracy, which is spotlighting the case and cause of political
prisoners. Among the political prisoners, or the families of political
prisoners, will be former political prisoners from Iran, who will be giving
So there are a lot of open sources and I think Canada can
play a distinguishable and distinguished role in documenting that
information and coming up with juridical remedies, the whole in accordance
with your bill.
Senator Ataullahjan: I thank you for your
presentation. There is a possibility of a power vacuum arising upon the
death of the Supreme Leader, with a possibility, maybe, of a takeover by the
Islamic Revolutionary Guard. I'm particularly interested in Qassem
Suleimani, who is a very popular commander of the Quds Force.
My question to you, Mr. Golestaneh, is this: What role
would he play? The feeling is he is due for a promotion and might become the
head of the IRGC, so I would like to ask about the political influence of
the IRGC. Would the succession of power in Iran be influenced by its
political relationship with the West, as well as the type of legislation
we're contemplating in Bill S-219?
Mr. Golestaneh: I'm glad you brought this issue up.
Regarding Qassem Suleimani, this is also a follow-up on the question that
the honourable senator asked about how we get the information.
Some of those sources of information are very open,
including the commanding chain in the IRGC, the Quds Force and Qassem
Suleimani, who has been named specifically in many UN and U.S. reports and
even the pre-nuclear negotiations with Iran. He has been sanctioned, but
unfortunately we are seeing him now travelling freely to Iraq, Syria and
Russia, holding hands with officials in these countries and commanding, on
the battleground, operations against civilians. We have seen the resulting
disaster in Syria and in Iraq.
Qassem Suleimani is the commander of the
extra-territorial force of the IRGC, called the Quds Force. I also have to
stress that the IRGC itself was formed shortly after the revolution as a
countermeasure to the Iranian army, or the potential for any coup by the
Iranian army, by then-Supreme Leader Khomeini. But during the whole Iran and
Iraq war, one of the slogans for the IRGC, and also for the army, was that
the road to Quds — which is the equivalent to Jerusalem — the road to
Jerusalem passes through Karbala. This was enshrined and institutionalized
as being the benchmark for having a Shiite Crescent method; so, having Iran,
Iraq and Syria, and then going to Jerusalem.
When you say he is a popular commander, he is a known
commander. He is notorious, actually, as a commander. I wouldn't use the
word "popular"; I would use the word "notorious."
Senator Ataullahjan: Amongst the IRGC, yes.
Mr. Golestaneh: There are many factions even within
the IRGC. The thing is all of them work directly under the command of the
Supreme Leader. As I mentioned in my presentation, even with their budget,
they are not answerable to anyone, even within the Iranian Constitution
that, by itself, has its own goal. They are not answerable to anyone but the
When I say it's more than a military force, it controls
70 per cent of Iran's economy, like the Khatam-al Anbiya, which is the main
conglomerate for most of the defence construction, missile testing and
construction in the country. We can appreciate that when we talk about
sanctions or non-nuclear sanctions, it directly affects the IRGC.
Qassem Suleimani has been a key commander of the Quds
Force and a key person in the whole operation in Iraq and Syria. However, he
is not the only one. Since 2003, all of Iran's ambassadors to Iraq were
commanders of the IRGC. The current Iranian ambassador, Irij Masjidi, who
was named a few days before the new U.S. administration was sworn in, is
also a key commander of the Quds Force. But none of them are in denial that
these people are Quds Force commanders and IRGC commanders.
So we have open sources providing information to the
minister of how to designate the IRGC and how to deal with the portion of
the bill that deal with that, let alone other things that Mr. Cotler
provided on open sources about gross violations of human rights.
One of the key things I want to emphasize, as he also
emphasized, regarding the Iranians themselves — when I say Iranian, I mean
the Iranian opposition — you can interact with many groups from the Iranian
diaspora and you can get information that would be corroborated. I wouldn't
say to take anyone's word for granted, but it can be corroborated by the UN
and other open sources.
Senator Marwah: It is a privilege to meet you, Mr.
Cotler. You have a remarkable record of public service.
I have a question that Mr. Golestaneh raised where you
said in your comments that this bill would receive support from — I don't
know the exact adjective you used — a lot of Iranian-Canadians. But last
week, we heard from the Iranian Canadian Congress who, at least, gave us the
impression that this is not in the best interest of Iranian-Canadians. That
left us with the impression that they did represent a large number, if not
the majority, of Iranian-Canadians. My question is: Who are we to believe?
The second question related to that is how do you balance
the interests of Iranian-Canadians who feel that this is not in their best
interests towards Canada's role — and it's a very important one — to advance
the human rights and the anti-terrorist agenda in Iraq? How do you balance
Mr. Golestaneh: First, it is my personal belief that
what Canada can, will and has to do should not take into consideration which
specific group to please or not to please, including us.
Senator Marwah: That's not the question. The question
is: Do Iranian-Canadians support this bill?
Mr. Golestaneh: Absolutely. The vast majority of
Iranian-Canadians would support the perpetrators of crimes against humanity
being sanctioned, as well as those who are responsible for their coming to
Canada to be free of oppression and intimidation. There will be sanctions,
and they don't see their torturers here on the streets in Canada.
This is a benchmark, but in my remarks I also indicated
that, arguably, even if it was not the case, that still would have been the
right thing to do. Justice is not a matter of who we please and who we do
not please. Justice is a matter of international law and obligations that we
have to follow.
That said, the vast majority of Iranian-Canadians would
absolutely support that the IRGC, the gross violators of human rights and
the inciters of genocide and hatred would be sanctioned.
Mr. Cotler: As someone who has also read the
testimony before committee, there would be some concern from some
Iranian-Canadians, and I would assure them that the sanctions should be
sanctions which target the human rights violators and are not drafted in
such a general way as to somehow prejudicially affect the Iranian people.
The whole purpose is to protect the Iranian people from human rights
violators, so we are targeting the human rights violators. I know Marina
Nemat made that point in her testimony.
The second thing is that the Iranian Canadian Congress —
and this is where some of the inference may have been drawn — somehow
assumed or brought up the argument that an adoption of this bill would be
counter to engaging with Iran, or that this would be an argument to be used
against engaging with Iran. I said that that's turning the issue on its head
because we have to take the issue of engaging with Iran as a given. It is
just that when we speak about engaging with Iran, we have to have an
inclusive approach to that engagement. We are not just engaging with a
government; we are engaging with the people. And when we engage, we are
doing so to hold the violators to account on behalf of the people, where we
work in concert with the government — because they are still the government
— to see that they in fact live up to the international obligations that
they have assumed as state parties to the international treaties.
You have something in your bill that I think can act as
an incentive. It provides, and I will end with this, that:
. . . Canada's current sanctions regime against
Iran cannot be eased unless two consecutive annual reports conclude
that there is no credible evidence of terrorist activity
or incitement to hatred emanating from Iran and that there has been
significant progress in Iran with respect to human rights;
That's to incentivize the Iranian government to in fact
comply with this legislation and thereby improve the situation for all
The Deputy Chair: Colleagues, I regret to inform you
the time allocated for the Senate for the meeting has ended. I have asked
the clerk to add those that did not have an opportunity to ask a question
today to be the first two names on our next hearing, where we will be
discussing Bill S-219 again. Unfortunately, it won't be with the same
witnesses, but there will be others.
On behalf of the committee, I would like to thank the
witnesses for their time today, as we know how busy they are.
(The committee adjourned.)