Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Foreign Affairs and International Trade
Issue 12 - Evidence - Meeting of May 9, 2012
OTTAWA, Wednesday, May 9, 2012
The Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade
met this day at 4:15 p.m. to examine and report on Canadian foreign policy
regarding Iran, its implications, and other related matters; and for the
consideration of a draft report on the document entitled: Passport Canada's
Fee-for-Service proposal to Parliament, dated March 2012, pursuant to the
User Fees Act, S.C. 2004, c. 6, sbs. 4(2).
Senator A. Raynell Andreychuk (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Welcome to the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign
Affairs and International Trade. We are to examine and report on Canadian
foreign policy regarding Iran, its implications, and other related matters.
Before I turn to the witnesses, I remind senators that upon completion of
the testimony, we will revert to our other study on user fees, and we will
have a vote on that matter.
Senator Nolin: I have a question on the note we just received from
DFAIT. No, that is fine, I will wait.
The Chair: All right. We will get to that point. We are starting
again our study on Iran. We have before us as individuals, three experts:
two lawyers and one professor. By video conference, we have Ramin
Jahanbegloo, Associate Professor of Political Science from the University of
Toronto; and in person, we have Ali Ehsassi, and Kaveh Shahrooz, both of
whom are lawyers. I understand there is agreement that Mr. Jahanbegloo will
We appreciate short interventions by our witnesses so that we have enough
time for questions from senators. Welcome to the committee.
Ramin Jahanbegloo, Associate Professor of Political Science,
University of Toronto, as an individual: Madam chair and senators, I am
very grateful for this opportunity to appear before you and address a
subject that in my view deserves more attention than it currently receives.
I would like to share my main concerns about the violations of human rights
in Iran and offer you some recommendations.
Let me start by saying that we are witnessing an historic time in the
world, especially as it relates to the changes in the Middle East. Given the
momentous political changes, it is more important that we take a closer look
at the state of democratic advertising and the violation of human rights in
No one familiar with Iranian politics will be foolish enough to argue
that the Islamic Republic of Iran is a normal country with which Canada can
have normal diplomatic, economic and cultural relations. Henry Kissinger
used to say that diplomacy is the art of restraining power, but the only
thing for sure about Iran is that any failure to act repeatedly against
human rights violations in Iran will complicate all future efforts by the
international community to restrain the repressive power of the Islamic
Republic against its own people.
Three years after the disputed presidential elections of 2009, the human
rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran continues to deteriorate
and is in a state of unprecedented crisis. Hardly any group has been spared.
Journalists, lawyers, human rights activities, women's rights activists,
intellectuals, members of minority groups and students are among those
targeted by the paranoid Iranian government. Ordinary citizens are routinely
mistreated. As we sit here today, scores of civic human rights activists are
imprisoned for their efforts to bring change to Iran.
I think that the human rights situation in Iran has never been as grave
and as dangerous as it is today, even for Iranian-Canadians who travel to
Iran and find themselves in prison under charges of being spies and
revolutionaries. Given this reality, I think it is an urgent task and deep
responsibility for the Canadian government to pursue policies that empower
the democratic activism in Iran while disclosing the face of the Iran regime
and penalizing its principal instruments of repression.
The Canadian government has been uniquely courageous in the past in
holding Iran accountable for these gross violations. It can now more
convincingly lead to the international community in responding to the human
rights abuses in Iran by putting pressure on the Iranian regime to curb its
criminal behaviour. Therefore, I am among those in the Iranian community in
Canada who argue that human rights rather than the nuclear issue should be
the focus of Canadian foreign policy.
I will now take the liberty here to recommend to the honourable senators
of this committee the following action. First, human rights sanctions are
useful and effective ways of targeting abusers and communicating
international concerns to the Iranian people. Human rights sanctions are
easier to initiate and have tremendous symbolic effects. The more abusers we
sanction, the more we make transparent the mechanisms of the repression in
Second, the key challenge for Canada, I think, is to connect with the
Iranian civil society. As important as political declarations on Iran may
be, such measures are limited and ineffective. It would be important if
Canada could redouble its efforts to assist Iranian human rights and civil
society activists. In practical terms, that means funding programs that will
enable Iranian dissidents and democrats to communicate with each other
safely. By that I mean access to information, which is very critical,
Internet access and broadcast media. Canadian institutions could help
Iranians by supporting grants to gain access to the Internet as a means to
expand communications and create a cyber force.
Third, Canada should continue to deny admission to senior Iranian
officials and to encourage other countries to follow. This is an important
means of isolating those responsible for abuses and expressing solidarity
with democratic forces. Even if some visits are still allowed in the name of
dialogue, I think the ruling elite should no longer be welcome in Canada and
the Canadian government should be in a position to ensure Canadian citizens
that Iranian leaders and collaborators for the regime will never step foot
Last but not least, as the Canadian government is exploring effective
means of pressure to force the Islamic regime to comply with international
laws and above all recognize the civil rights of its citizens, I think it is
crucial to remember the critical role and the important situation of the
Iranian diaspora in Canada and their need to have contact with their
As such, I take the liberty to add to my recommendations the deep concern
of the Iranian community in Canada in relation with the closing of the
Canadian visa section in Tehran and the numerous cases of rejection of visas
to Iranian students and their families. These measures have made an impact
on the image of Canada as a safe haven for Iranian dissidents. I wish to add
that engaging, informing and helping Iranian youth to understand Canadian
policies and values is part of the important role played by public diplomacy
Thank you all for your attention and concern. I thank you in advance for
the concrete steps that you can take to help the people of Iran realize
their fundamental human rights.
The Chair: Thank you, professor. We will now turn to Mr. Ehsassi.
Ali Ehsassi, Lawyer, as an individual: Honourable senators, thank
you for inviting me here today. I commend the distinguished members of this
committee for undertaking a thorough examination of Canada's foreign policy
regarding Iran and I certainly hope that I can be of assistance.
Iran is a country that has proven difficult to understand at the best of
the times. While the country has always represented an enigma, wide-scale
protests in Iran in 2009, coupled with the cascade of more recent
developments throughout the Middle East region have added further layers of
The international community first took notice of depths of the
unpopularity of the Iranian regime in the summer of 2009. By the admission
of functionaries of the Iranian government itself, over 3 million Iranians
took to the streets of Tehran alone. It is well to emphasize that the size
of such crowds in cities scattered around Iran dwarfed more recent protests
that have occurred throughout the Middle East region.
The cataclysmic events of the summer of 2009 have shaken the very
foundations of the Islamic republic. Since then the international community
and Iranians have had to deal with a regime reeling in paranoia and
cognizant that it suffers from a profound legitimacy crisis. As a
consequence, we have watched Iran steadily morph into a military
dictatorship operating behind the facade of a theocracy. Apart from being
subjected to a thoroughly discredited ideology for over 30 years, Iranians
have had to contend with a regime with an abysmal human rights record, feral
economics and endemic corruption. Other implications have been in Iranian
foreign policy characterized by bluff and bluster, and a concerted effort by
the regime to curtail the dealing of Iranians with the outside world.
Consequently, we should be cognizant of the social and economic
implications of these policies. Impervious to the well- being of its
populous, the Iranian regime would like nothing better than to completely
have the international community recoil from dealing with Iran. The
unsettling change at the core of the Iranian regime and the shift in
orientation presents foreign policy makers with daunting challenges. Yet the
principal lesson to be drawn is the need to recognize the divide between the
Iranian government and the Iranians and to exploit the extent possible the
chasm that separates the apparatus of the Islamic republic from the majority
of the Iranian public and fortify civil society toward that endeavour.
While it would be counterproductive to overestimate the extent to which
Canada may influence the events unfolding in Iran, in crafting options we
must invariably choose between instances in which the best means are to act
collectively through multilateral means, while in other instances we should
tailor discreet initiatives toward our own specifications.
Canada is viewed favorably by a majority of Iranians. Unlike many other
countries, we are not saddled by the perception that we have ever engaged in
political machinations in our dealings with Iran. To the contrary, one must
commend Canadian diplomats in Iran for having established a fine tradition
of spearheading worthy cultural initiatives before the tragic death of Ms.
Zahra Kazemi, the most common example, of course, being the Terry Fox Run,
which was held in Tehran for several years. Moreover, Canada is now home to
a sizable and vibrant Iranian community with emotional and intellectual ties
to their country of origin.
Over the course of the past year talk of a possible war has inundated the
news and dominated international headlines. Given our legitimate concerns,
the Canadian government has walked lockstep with its allies. Iran's
acquisition of nuclear technology, after all, is subject to international
norms, and represents a challenge solely amenable to multilateral diplomacy.
The yardstick against which any sanctioned regime must be judged is
whether it targets the Iranian government without, to the extent possible,
indiscriminately punishing the Iranian public at large.
My personal view is that the sanctions introduced to date have been far
too lenient on the top echelons of the Iranian regime and sweeping in their
impact on the Iranian public. By way of example, while the overbite of the
legislation ensnares virtually every Iranian Canadian, only a mere 49 of the
top apparatchiks of the Islamic Republic have been blacklisted under
That having been said, one must accept that the package of international
sanctions adopted against Iran is the product of international policy
coordination. It would be folly to expect Canada not to act in concert with
its closest allies, yet one would hope that, in interpreting the Special
Economic Measures Act, the Canadian government refrains from imposing undue
restrictions on individuals and activities not associated with the Iranian
The more disconcerting development has been the public dimension of
Canadian diplomacy and the manner in which we have communicated our approach
to Iran. While scenes of millions of heroic Iranians demanding their rights
in 2009, and the brutality of the Iranian government that followed, are
etched in the memory of millions of people around the world. One would be
hard pressed to find any evidence that it has impacted Canada's approach to
Iran. Although Canada should be commended for assisting the Human Rights
Commission of the United Nations in its annual assessment of Iran's abysmal
human rights record, the practice was initiated several years prior to 2009.
Far too often we have resorted to megaphone diplomacy and ratcheted up
the rhetoric on the nuclear issue and been more or less silent on other
priorities. While the more nuanced approach would be advisable, this should
not be taken to suggest that our foreign policy establishment should be
anything but bold vis-à-vis Iran, or less than innovative in advancing other
interests. While we are proud on insisting that our foreign policy is guided
by moral equivalency, we must avail ourselves of every opportunity to stand
tall in promoting Canadian values in effectuating a deliberate policy of
emboldening Iranian civil society.
In conclusion, I would be remiss if I did not also emphasize that the
Canadian government in general has not done a very good job of harnessing
the expertise of Iranian Canadians in crafting a sensible, sophisticated and
just approach toward Iran.
To cite one example, for years many Canadians of Iranian origin have been
very vocal in expressing their disdain with our country becoming a safe
haven for the most odious, high-level officials and apparatchiks of the
Iranian regime. When the Canadian media first reported that the former head
of the largest state-owned Iranian bank, Mohammad Reza Khavari had arrived
in Toronto with a Canadian passport in his pocket and settled in the Bridal
Path neighbourhood of Toronto, reaction by the Iranian Canadian community
was swift, with well over 2,000 Iranians signing a petition addressed to the
Minister of Immigration.
Given the bank's involvement in financing international terrorism, I am
sure all Canadians are concerned with Mr. Khavari's presence here in Canada.
To this day, six months later, the Canadian public and media are completely
in the dark as to whether the Canadian government is contemplating any
action on this particular issue.
Another very recent decision that has caught the Iranian-Canadian
community completely by surprise is the announcement that the Canadian
embassy in Tehran will be closing its visa section and relocating to Ankara.
As you can imagine, this will impose a very heavy burden on the relatives of
many Iranian Canadians.
I thank you for this opportunity and look forward to answering any
questions you may have.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Ehsassi.
Now I will turn to Mr. Shahrooz.
Kaveh Shahrooz, Lawyer, as an individual: Honourable senators,
thank you for inviting me to testify today about Canada's Iran policy.
At the outset, allow me to explicitly state the two premises upon which
my argument will rest. The first is that the Iranian government is
unequivocally a brutal tyranny. It is, to varying degrees, a danger to its
region and a potential threat to the international community, but primarily
the Iranian government poses a danger to the Iranian people. Summary
executions, extraterritorial assassinations, torture, rape and gender and
religious apartheid have been a consistent part of the Iranian government's
policy for over 30 years. Such human rights violations peaked with mass
executions in the 1980s and a brutal crackdown on prodemocracy protesters in
Canada has not been unaffected by these human rights violations. The
Iranian government murdered Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian photojournalist, and
continues to imprison a number of Canadian citizens and permanent residents,
like Saeed Malekpour, Hamid Ghassemi-Shall and Hossein Derakhshan,
individuals whose cases Senator Frum has courageously championed.
The second premise is that notwithstanding the brutality of the Iranian
government, military action against Iran over its nuclear program would have
tremendously negative consequences. By many expert accounts, a strike would
only briefly delay Iran's development of nuclear weapons while potentially
resulting in countless civilian casualties. An attack may also lead to
terrifying instability like the kind we saw unfold in Iraq after the U.S.
invasion and holds the very counterproductive possibility of prolonging the
life of the current regime by allowing this government to portray itself as
defender of Iran's sovereignty and, with that portrayal as pretext, to
unleash further internal repression.
In light of these two premises, I submit to you that the most effective
way to bring about a positive change in Iran is adopt the protection of
human rights as the primary driver of Canada's Iran policy. Pursuing human
rights protection for Iranians is not only the morally correct approach, but
it also allows Canada to capitalize on core Canadian foreign policy
Regardless of which party has formed Canada's government, whether it was
Pearson's efforts at ending a war or Diefenbaker's outspoken opposition to
the policy of apartheid, Canada has always been at its foreign policy best
when it has championed the rights of ordinary people across the world to
live with dignity, safety and security.
On that basis, permit me to offer five specific policy suggestions which
I believe would be vital components of a muscular human-rights-focused Iran
policy. First, Canada should use the UN General Assembly and the UN Human
Rights Council as the fora to continue to pressure Iran on its human rights
record. For nine straight years the Canadian government has introduced a
resolution at the UN General Assembly condemning Iran's human rights record.
Last year that resolution garnered record support from nearly 90 countries.
It is critical that Canada continue its leadership of this resolution and
that we expand the language of the resolution to condemn Iran for mass
atrocities in the past 30 years, for which there has been no accountability.
Similarly, Canada should work with like-minded countries and non-Western
countries with clout, like Brazil, India, South Africa and Turkey, to
pressure Iran to permit the Special Rapporteur on Iran to visit the country
and to speak with political prisoners.
Second, unlike the U.S. and the European Union, Canada has not linked any
of its sanctions to human rights violations. It is important that we impose
travel bans and asset freezes for Iranian human rights violators, thus
signalling that Canada will not allow human rights violations to go
unpunished. Closely connected to such sanctions, Canada should consider
amending its State Immunity Act to allow victims of Iran's gross human
rights violations to obtain civil redress here in Canada.
Third, Canada should close its doors to those with significant ties to
the Iranian government and instead welcome Iranian activists fleeing
persecution. As Mr. Ehsassi alluded, in recent months there have been
credible reports that at least one individual who served as a senior
official in the Iranian government and was a key player in a large
embezzlement scandal in Iran was living in one of Toronto's most affluent
At the same time, many democracy activists who have fled Iran continue to
languish in bordering countries, unable to obtain refugee status. Canada
should welcome such activists with open arms and should show agents of the
Iranian government the door.
Fourth, Canada should focus on empowering average Iranian people to
demand their own rights and should win hearts and minds wherever possible. A
critical way of empowering Iranian activists is to provide them with
technology to circumvent barriers to obtaining access to the Internet. Such
a strategy would be consistent with international declarations on Internet
freedom, which Canada has signed.
Winning hearts and minds is tougher, requiring our policy makers to be
cognizant of how Canadian policies are perceived abroad. As both other
speakers have alluded to, just recently Canada decided, for budgetary
reasons, to close its visa office in Tehran. I concede that the actual
effects of this decision will not be known for some time. Regardless of the
actual effect, the perception of this decision among Iranians has been
overwhelmingly negative, leaving Iranians with the impression that Canada is
punishing them for the actions of their government, a government that they
do not support.
Fifth and finally, the members of the Canadian Senate ought to be
commended for speaking out so forcefully in recent months and championing
the cases of a number of Iranian political prisoners. This policy should be
expanded within and beyond the Senate.
I would be happy to provide you with the names of other political
prisoners in Iran whose cases require immediate attention. It is my
understanding that Professor Irwin Cotler, a figure well known to people
here, has begun a political prisoner advocacy group, and I urge every member
of the Senate and House of Commons to join him.
Keeping the spotlight on Iran regarding such an issue is literally a
matter of life and death for a number of prisoners in Iran.
Distinguished senators, I would be happy to discuss any of these
proposals at greater length during the question and answer period. I believe
that these strategies and other creative approaches, if carried out by
Canada and coordinated with other human rights-respecting nations, can lead
to tremendously positive changes in Iran; the kinds of changes that will
hopefully allow us in the not-too-distant future to welcome an "Iranian
The Chair: Thank you.
I have a long list of senators. I will start with our deputy chair,
Senator Downe: Given the size of the list, I will be brief.
I am curious about this official you named who came into Canada six
months ago. Do you have any information on how he obtained a Canadian
passport, and do you have any information on how he was able to transfer to
Canada the money he was accused of stealing? Obviously he transferred it or
he would not have that house in the neighbourhood you named.
Mr. Ehsassi: Thank you for that question. I was intimately
involved in efforts by the Iranian community to liaise with the Canadian
government to arrive at answers to this particular question.
We were first informed this person had arrived in Canada when the
Canadian media broke his story. However, at that particular juncture, as I
said in my opening statements, 2,000 Iranians came together in the span of
two or three days and signed a petition demanding that the Minister of
Immigration look into this matter. I can tell you that for at least four or
five months, the Minister of Immigration did not even acknowledge receipt of
this particular petition or email.
After that happened, we spoke to various parties in Parliament. We spoke
to Mr. Irwin Cotler and Mr. Paul Dewar, and they both had us prepare a
petition that we had read out in Parliament. However, the answer coming back
from government again told us nothing about this particular individual.
Most of the information that we do have about this banker is publicly
available information. For example, his houses — he has several — are
publicly listed, so we were able to obtain that information.
However, as I said, neither the Canadian media nor any member of the
Iranian community has ever been provided any information as to whether this
person has arrived here or not, what year he may have obtained his Canadian
citizenship, whether he remains in the country and whether the government
will ultimately decide to do anything about him.
Senator Downe: You only found out about this through media
reports, so there could be other officials in Canada that we are totally
unaware of, as well.
You or the other witness may have indicated that there are all kinds of
refugees and boarders with no resources to get here. I am particularly
interested: Do you have any information at all how this person was able to
transfer money? The money, I assume, must have been already out of the
country in banks somewhere in Switzerland or elsewhere and then he was
somehow able to get it to Canada. The witnesses had mentioned how we do not
have any restrictions on financial transactions for human rights violators
in Canada, where other countries do have those restrictions. Could you tell
us what those restrictions are?
Mr. Ehsassi: Restrictions on —
Senator Downe: Financial restrictions.
Mr. Shahrooz: I am happy to speak to that, senator. The Special
Economic Measures Act basically prevents any financial institution from
doing business with Iran. Mind you, that act was tightened and strengthened
as of January 2012, so it is quite possible — though I am operating largely
in the dark here — that this individual brought large amounts of money into
the country before the act was tightened.
Going back to your initial question, yes, it is quite possible there are
many figures with ties to the Islamic regime within the country. There is
certainly talk within the Iranian Canadian community that such individuals
are there. The case that Mr. Ehsassi and I alluded to is simply the best
known one. It was the one spoken about most clearly by the Canadian media.
Senator Downe: Is there any pressure on international financial
institutions? If someone shows up from one of these countries with millions
of dollars, obviously stolen, and they go to deposit it, are you aware of
any cases where the banks or financial institutions in Switzerland and
Canada simply question that amount and refuse to accept it?
Mr. Shahrooz: With respect to high-ranking figures in the Iranian
government, I suspect they are sophisticated players and they probably do
not simply show up at a bank with millions of dollars. They likely use a
number of front companies, for example, to move that money into the country.
That is cause for all of us to be worried and cause for our security and
intelligence forces to be on the lockout for these kinds of transactions.
Your question actually leads me to something else: Even though these
figures are able to move large sums of money into the country, there are
quite a number of people with no ties to the regime who are very negatively
affected by these sanctions, whose accounts are being closed by a number of
Canadian banks because of the Special Economic Measures Act. They have no
ties, yet they are being caught by these overly broad regulations.
The Chair: You are aware that there are international mechanisms
on assets and the flow of assets and that Canada has obligations under
various acts to disclose large, significant amounts. Many of those were put
in place originally to catch drug activity and the proceeds of crime. They
apply equally now.
When you say human rights violators, what do you mean? We have some for
terrorists, some for nefarious activity and some now specifically with the
freezing of assets after the collapse of a regime and therefore you get
evidence. We put that legislation in place last year. We had to balance
individuals' rights and opinions of nefarious activity. You need facts, and
the facts are often held in the government that conducted the nefarious
With all of this, what is it you want that we do not have,
internationally or nationally now? You say human rights violators. I am not
quite sure how that would work.
Mr. Ehsassi: Thank you for that question. I think there are
several aspects to it.
First, to the extent that I understand it — and I obviously stand to be
corrected — I think that the Americans have been much more vigilant in
actually blacklisting individuals on various legislation that they have. It
is not just the number of individuals that they have blacklisted; as I
understand, the U.S. is actually making a point of demonstrating that it
cares about human rights and is listing on its blacklist individuals who are
perpetrators of human rights violations.
Again, I stand to be corrected, but as far as I understand, all of the
individuals and companies that we have listed are not primarily perpetrators
of human rights violations in Iran; they are people who engage in commercial
activities, which we obviously have an interest in trying to stop. That is
the first part of my response.
The second part also goes to Senator Robichaud's question. As I said, the
Iranian community for several years has been under the impression that there
are high-level functionaries of the Iranian government who hold Canadian
passports. Of course, as you can imagine, it is very difficult for a
community to police itself and to undertake investigative work.
However, to the extent that we have spoken to various politicians, they
always tell us, "Well, if there is any person that you are concerned about,
please do bring that to our attention." Obviously, that is a very
cumbersome and difficult process. In this particular instance, as I
suggested and highlighted, this was brought to our attention by the media.
Essentially, the media provided us with what you would refer to as that "Aha" moment, where we thought we could use this and perhaps see the
bureaucracy demonstrate that it takes these complaints seriously.
As I said, nothing that the government has done so far would suggest to
us that we should be more zealous in our efforts to try to trace people who
may live here, may have Canadian passports and may well wire money out of
the country. It has been very discouraging, if you will.
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: My question goes to Professor
Jahanbegloo. Professor, I am also deeply concerned about human rights
violations in Iran. I am particularly concerned by the growing number of
political prisoners, the consistently high number of executions, including
that of minors, the prevalence of torture, the unfair trials and the huge
bail amounts required, as well as the severe restrictions on freedom of
information, speech, association, belief, education and movement.
This is my question: in your opinion, what has Iran's response been to
international pressures concerning the human rights situation in that
country? Have you seen any improvement?
Mr. Jahanbegloo: Yes. I have not seen any improvement. The last
response we had was at the subcommittee on human rights of the United
Nations. The response was provided by no one else but one of the members of
the Larijani family, very well known in Iran as some of the dignitaries of
the regime. It was a way of dismissing the reports that were put forward by
the rapporteur of the United Nations of Human Rights and also the Canadian
The response coming from the Iranian government for the past 30 years has
been dismissing the reports in a way.
I was a human rights activist for 15 years, and I spent some time in the
sessions of the human rights subcommittee. We had the same problem 20 years
ago, and nothing has changed. I believe we need to have tougher sanctions at
the level of the human rights policies of not only Canada but also other
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: I believe that, since the elections in
Iran, the reformers have been virtually powerless. Most certainly, the
confrontation will be between the elected members that support Khameini and
those who support Ahmadinejad. We know that the president and the supreme
leader have been at war for quite a long time as they both want to control
intelligence services and the Ministry of Petroleum.
I believe there could be a resolution in 2013 during the next
presidential election as Mr. Ahmadinejad will not be able to run for office.
What, in your opinion, is the power relationship between those who support
and those who oppose Ahmadinejad?
Mr. Jahanbegloo: Mr. Ahmadinejad is not so much the problem. The
issue that we did not bring up that should be underlined is the existence of
the Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps, which has economic and political
control. They are in control not only of political decision makers but also
economic decision makers. They are in control of most of the country.
As we saw back in 2009, most of the danger comes from the two repressive
institutions in Iran: one being a paramilitary group close to the supreme
leader and the other being the IRGC, which controls the whole military
issue. Even if Mr. Ahmadinejad were not president tomorrow, he is not really
the man in charge in Iran, especially in the repressive institutions that
violate human rights.
Senator Frum: Gentlemen, thank you for being here and for your
hard work on behalf of Iranian human rights. Mr. Shahrooz, thank you for
your kind comments. I appreciate what you said about our initiatives here. I
agree that there is much more that we can and should do. I know my
colleagues and I feel strongly that we want to do it.
My question is a bit of a follow-up to the chair's line of questioning in
terms of the way that we can keep the bad actors and collaborators out of
Canada. I will ask each of you for your views on listing the IRGC as a
terrorist entity and putting it on the Canadian list.
It is my understanding that virtually every member of the Iranian elite
is a member of the IRGC, so it would be a broad net to capture people. Would
the banker have been a member of the IRGC and would there have been a way to
keep him out if he was a member?
Mr. Shahrooz: That is an excellent question. I am not entirely
sure that this particular person would be caught in such a net. However, it
is important to note that the IRGC is not simply a military force. It is a
large commercial force inside the country. By listing them as a terrorist
organization, you do capture a large part of the apparatus of the Islamic
republic. I believe that would be excellent policy.
All of the Iranian government's activities that are threatening to the
international community and that repress people internally can often be
traced back to the IRGC. It is at the epicenter of the Islamic republic. Its
fingerprints are all over terrorist activities across the world, be it in
Argentina, the recent attacks in Thailand or elsewhere. As Professor
Jahanbegloo noted, the IRGC is in charge of the nuclear file in Iran in
large part. It is the single most important institution in that country.
Listing it as a terrorist organization would go a long way in achieving the
muscular human rights policy that I alluded to in my remarks.
Senator Frum: Mr. Ehsassi, would you care to comment?
Mr. Ehsassi: Yes, of course. You are correct that the IRGC has a
more elevated position within Iranian society over the course of the past
seven years. Since Mr. Ahmadinejad was first elected, various members of the
IRGC have joined cabinet. It was a new dynamic that was unleashed under Mr.
Ahmadinejad's first administration.
In addition to that, as things changed and took a turn for the worse in
2009, all the various political factions in Iran, whether the supreme leader
or President Ahmadinejad, are constantly trying to curry favour with the
IRGC just to bolster their own position within the Iranian political
hierarchy. As a result of that, and you can look at most estimates and
studies that have been undertaken, as Mr. Shahrooz alluded to, it is now
estimated that the IRGC and other military and paramilitary groups control
approximately 50 per cent of the swath of the Iranian economy. What has
happened is they decide what industries they should cherry-pick and what
industries are profitable and they can easily move themselves into that.
Another anecdote that will perhaps assist you in recognizing how integral
and embedded they are in the Iranian administration is that the current
Minister of Petroleum is also a former IRCG member.
I think it would be very much welcome if the entire machinery of IRCG was
blacklisted. This is an organization that provides the backbone for the
Iranian economy, and of course I think it is absolutely imperative that we
recognize that they are heavily involved in providing financing for
international terrorism that the Iranian government undertakes.
With respect to the individual who arrived here, Mr. Khavari, he was not
an IRCG member himself, but the bank at which he was at the helm — which I
should emphasize was the largest state-owned bank in Iran — was very
instrumental in providing funding to Iran's terrorist activities around the
Senator Frum: In his particular case, a blacklisting of the
organization would not have helped?
Mr. Ehsassi: The bank, which he was at the helm of, was
blacklisted. That is not the only means by which we can try to ensnare some
of the Iranian government's top officials.
Senator Frum: Professor, can I get you on the record about whether
or not you agree with the idea of putting them on the list?
Mr. Jahanbegloo: I absolutely agree with my colleagues. I think
that listing IRGC as a terrorist organization would be a right move in the
right direction. I need to add, as my colleagues did, that IRGC is not only
a terrorist group, it is not just a military group, it is not only an
economic institution and financial institution, but they also have prisons
and have been torturing people.
Very strangely, there was a case which was not mentioned by my friends
and myself, and this was brought up a few years ago in Toronto, that had to
do with one of the members of the Larijani family too. It happened that one
of my colleagues at York University realized there was a cultural centre
created by the name of Center for Iranian Studies around the Sheppard area
in Toronto. This was actually a cultural front for some of these groups, and
when the news broke in the Canadian media, we realized that the house where
this centre was based was bought by one of the brothers of the Larijani
family. Eight Iranian-Canadian professors signed a petition, and as result,
their website went down and they stopped their operation, they stopped their
activities. This was a good example of understanding how the money got into
Canada and what use they were making of it by using it in a cultural front.
To add to what my colleague said, I think that IRGC money could come
indirectly into this country and be used — I do not have any proof of that —
eventually in different activities, and we have to be very careful and very
vigilant about this.
Senator Robichaud: How well are the members of the force known? If
we were to use restrictions, how many could be affected by that, or are
there members that are not openly known? You say it is a force, but it is
also involved in business transactions, and just about everything goes on
Mr. Ehsassi: Well, as you can imagine, the system in Iran is very
opaque, but at the very least, should we determine that it would be a good
idea to list individuals or the IRCG itself, I think, with the assistance of
numerous experts, you can identify the very top echelons of the
organization. I do not believe that would pose a huge challenge.
The Chair: Those who have been listed by Canada, are they, by and
large, part of the guard?
Mr. Ehsassi: Yes, I believe the top echelons of the organization
have been listed, maybe the top five or six officials; but obviously this is
an organization with roots running throughout the country, so we could
perhaps do better on that particular front.
The Chair: Thank you.
Senator Nolin: I want to thank all three of you for appearing this
afternoon. I would like to change the focus of the discussion somewhat. Our
discussions have focused mainly on events in Iran. I would like us to look
at the Iranian diaspora in Canada. Clearly, unless I am mistaken, all three
of you are part of it.
According to the most recent statistics, over 120,000 individuals of
Iranian origin live in Canada. First of all, I would like to have a clearer
understanding of where these individuals live. I gather, from the notes we
have been given, that most of these people of Iranian descent are
first-generation Canadians; obviously, this is probably not your case, but
basically, I would like to understand who these Iranians living in Canada
are. And I will certainly have other, more specific questions for you when I
have heard your responses. My question goes to all three witnesses.
Mr. Shahrooz: That is an excellent question, senator. In order to
set correct Canadian policy, it is incredibly important for us to understand
more about the Iranian-Canadian diaspora. That diaspora can certainly be a
link to information about the country.
With respect to the Iranian-Canadian community, I think your figure is
120,000. That is roughly the number I have seen. I think, by and large, the
Iranian community lives in Toronto. There are pockets of Iranians living
everywhere in the country — Vancouver and Montreal being the other major
centres — but I think Toronto is really the hub of Iranian-Canadian life,
largely in northern Toronto.
The wave of immigration to Canada from Iran started in or around 1979
immediately after the revolution, and it has come in waves. Basically, every
time there was a wave of repression directed at a particular group, members
of that religious or political group found their way into Canada. If you
look at Toronto's Iranian-Canadian community, you will find a wide variety
of political opinions, religious groups and views on the Islamic Republic.
However, by and large, they are very concerned about what is happening in
their country back home. My guess is, and perhaps my sample is somewhat
skewed by the circles in which I move, by and large they oppose the Iranian
government. We saw that in 2009 with the number of Iranian-Canadians who
came out to protest and the numbers that were willing to sign the petition
against this individual that we have been talking about.
Issues related to Iran are of great interest to them, and they are
worried that Canadian policy may negatively affect them, even though they
have no ties to the Islamic Republic and are, in fact, deeply opposed to it
and are willing to take steps to oppose the government. They are worried
that missteps by Canadian lawmakers would affect them negatively and would
affect their family and friends back home.
Senator Nolin: I would like to get back to the relationship
between the Iranian community in Canada and their families in Iran. With
your help professor, I would like to look at whether a professional
relationship exists between Iranian academics in Canada and academics in
Iran; in other words, are there any contacts between Iranian and Canadian
Mr. Jahanbegloo: Yes. I will add to what my colleague said. I
think the Iranian-Canadian community is one of the most educated communities
in Canada. Unlike in Europe and the United States, there have been several
waves of immigration to Canada. This is a very young and educated community.
It has been very prolific and successful in business and academic and
artistic life. There are many Iranian-Canadians who are well known in
In addition, in answer to your question, I do believe that since the
academic community inside Iran is very much repressed and finds itself a
dissident community, there have been a lot of contacts between academics in
Iran and Canadian academics. This has helped a lot. I insisted on having
grants and creating cyber forums to promote contacts that we already have to
encourage democratization in Iran.
Senator Nolin: Are there many Iranian students in Canada?
Mr. Jahanbegloo: Yes, there are many Iranian students studying in
I need to add, in answer to a previous question, that among my students
at the University of Toronto there have been many second-generation
Iranians, Iranian-Canadians. They grew up in Canada and most of them speak
both Farsi and English fluently, which is an important asset.
Senator Nolin: Mr. Shahrooz, I would like to get back to the
relationship between the Canadian-Iranian community and their family members
still living in Iran.
Because the Iranian population living in Iran probably faces certain
financial problems, are there money transfers or some other aid from the
Canadian-Iranian community to their families or to the Iranian people living
in Iran? And if so, what is the extent of that aid?
Mr. Shahrooz: It is my understanding that some remittance payments
go to Iran from Iranian-Canadians, but it is getting increasingly difficult
to do that. The Special Economic Measures Act, about which I have spoken a
couple of times, has tightened the noose around any financial activity.
There is a carve-out in that law that allows for non- commercial payments of
up to $40,000, which is helpful and allows these types of aid payments to go
back, but it still makes life very difficult.
For example, if you are trying to conduct some sort of business or if you
have property in Iran, and you want to send the money here, or if you want
to send an amount beyond that, it is incredibly difficult to do. As I said,
oftentimes financial institutions in Canada take it upon themselves to close
bank accounts, even if the balance is below that threshold, which makes life
hard for people who want to get a mortgage or do other everyday things.
Senator Nolin: Do you have a specific recommendation that we
should put in our report?
Mr. Shahrooz: I think that the $40,000 threshold could be
increased. There has to be a study of the kind of commercial activity that
happens. Beyond that, unfortunately, I cannot give you anything more
specific. We have to look at the type of money that goes back and forth to
ensure that we capture the right transactions and we allow people to send
money back to their families in order to help them.
Senator Nolin: Thank you. I will submit my name for the second
Senator Johnson: It is nice to have you here. Thank you for
I would like to follow up on trade, because the Canadian Department of
Foreign Affairs said that we exported about $126 million to Iran in 2011 and
imported $34 million. Our largest exports were food, agri-food,
pharmaceuticals and metal-based products, and our imports were mostly
vegetables, food products and textiles. According to the department,
bilateral investment is negligible with essentially no Iranian investment in
Canada. As a result of the current circumstances, trade data with Iran shows
an irregular picture. Would you like to comment on the status of our
commercial relationship with Iran today? How has it changed over the past
Mr. Jahanbegloo: I think Mr. Shahrooz is better placed than I to
answer that, but I will say that I know that trade relations between Canada
and Iran have been directly related to Canada's foreign policy on the human
rights situation in Iran.
About 10 years ago, trade was much higher and because of the Kazemi case,
my own case of going to prison in 2006 and the cases of other
Iranian-Canadians, trade between Canada and Iran decreased because we did
not have true representation of the Canadian government in Iran. The
situation deteriorated in 2009. We should take into consideration.
Mr. Shahrooz: I do not have much to add. The control engagement
policy that is in place prevents a great deal of trade from happening. The
concern really is one that we have talked about at some length, that is,
that payments from family members going back to Iran are being caught by the
sanctions and individuals who have ties to the government are somehow able
to evade the measures in place.
Senator Johnson: It was a question asked for those reasons.
Two months ago, Canada imposed further sanctions under the Special
Economics Measures Act, according to our Department of Foreign Affairs.
These measures imposed an asset freeze and prohibited dealings with three
individuals and five additional entities of proliferation concern.
We were talking about sanctions. Give this, how do Canada's sanctions
compare to those of the U.S., the European Union and other allies, and can
our sanctions be strengthened again in this respect?
Mr. Shahrooz: Mr. Ehsassi alluded to this earlier. U.S. and EU
sanctions are in some respects tougher than Canadian sanctions, and that is
because they have a human rights component. The U.S. has specifically named
a number of individuals for human rights violations, as has the EU recently,
and those individuals are subject to having their assets frozen and are
prevented from travelling.
The other element that is different about U.S. sanctions, as far as I
know, is that Canadian sanctions are focused only on individuals inside
Canada or Canadians abroad. The U.S. sanctions go beyond that. Even if you
are outside the U.S. and you are not American but you do trade with Iran,
often times you are prevented from doing business with the United States. We
do not have that component here in Canada.
For example, I know that in recent months the state of New York passed
regulations saying that if an energy company, for example, does business
with Iran, it is not permitted to bid on contracts with New York State. We
do not have anything in parallel to that in Canada, as far as I know.
Mr. Ehsassi: I had an opportunity to look at bilateral trade
figures seven or eight years ago when the incident with Ms. Kazemi happened.
At that particular juncture back in 2005, bilateral trade was around $370
million. However, that figure was an anomaly, the reason being in that year
we sold a large shipment of wheat to Iran. As you indicated, the figures we
see today hover around 150 million, and seem to be the norm for quite some
This ties in with the question that Senator Nolin asked. One of the
things we could do in assisting Iranian-Canadians and business interests is
to provide guidelines as to how these various regimes come together. There
is no doubt in my mind that all these sanctions — which are obviously very
complicated — have had a chilling effect on what is and is not allowed. In
preparing to come here before you today, I had an opportunity to look at the
transcript of other experts you had spoken. Unbeknownst to me, the only bank
that has a compliance officer is the Bank of Montreal. All other banks find
it to be too problematic to go through the thicket of regulations which
could ensnare them.
I have heard from numerous people that they are unable to engage any
Canadian bank to assist them with financial transactions. Even if our regime
works as it currently stands, and let us say someone receives exemptions for
medical equipment, they have a very difficult time to find financial
institutions here in Canada that would accept their letter of credit or
things of that nature. Any guidelines that could be provided to the various
banks would go a very long way, I presume.
Senator Robichaud: Mr. Shahrooz, in one of your recommendations,
you mention that we should welcome Iranian activists with open arms. Are you
suggesting that we are reluctant to accept them in Canada?
Secondly, how can these activists further their fellow citizens' cause if
they are living outside the country, for example, in Canada?
Mr. Shahrooz: It is my understanding that there are a number of
Iranian activists languishing in various places; Turkey for the most part.
Of the various refugee accepting countries, Canada has had probably the most
welcoming approach to Iranian refugees. However, by and large there are
still large numbers that for administrative or other reasons — perhaps there
are limits to the number of refugees that we are willing to accept —
continue to stay there without resources and generally without status. They
tend to be ill treated and left vulnerable and without protection.
If we were to welcome them here, it would have an immensely positive
effect. It would allow Iranian activists to form better networks and bring
greater information to bodies like this one, letting us know what is exactly
happening inside that country. A lot of these young activists are talented
at organizing and would be able to give us ideas about how to destabilize
the Iranian government to ensure the Iranian government does not continue
its policy of repression.
The Chair: To follow up, you say these people are by and large in
Mr. Shahrooz: That is my understanding, yes.
The Chair: We have moved our services for immigration and other
purposes to Ankara. Will this be a good move for them? You were arguing we
should not have moved it out of Iran. However, those that would have the
mobility, capability and the need to qualify for refugee status seem to be
in Turkey. Would our services there not be a good move?
Mr. Shahrooz: My understanding is these are different processes
and I am not an expert on this. The move to Turkey has been the processing
of temporary visas for tourists and students. The refugee policy is
different and largely unaffected by this decision, I believe. I could be
The Chair: Refugee, per se, if it is trapped under the UN, but
anyone who wishes to come to Canada would get services from the same source,
I think. I hope our researchers will look into exactly whether it is a
limited move. I understood we actually shut down our processing service in
Iran and moved it to Ankara to have all the services that anyone would want
to apply for any purpose in Canada, except through the refugee process
controlled by the United Nations.
In any event, I think we should clarify it and you can read the record as
we move on.
Senator D. Smith: Thank you, chair. I have raised this before, but
on the subject of listing, the item that I find the most frustrating is that
in terms of expatriate Iranians in Canada, the group that seems to speak for
more than any other group is the Iran Democratic Association. They send some
people over every year to the big rally in Paris where there are groups who
are opposed to the current regime and want to let their views be known. On
two occasions I have attended those conferences and you never hear anything
talked about other than two things: democratic principles and human rights.
Yet, the biggest single group on that list of people who are fighting for
democratic principles and human rights is listed here in Canada as a
Now, I think this actually happened a little over 20 years ago, right at
the beginning of Clinton regime when he was trying to get a dialogue going
with the administration there and did this because of things that had
happened years earlier. The same thing happened in the U.K. and the EEC, but
they went to work and it was taken off both in the U.K. by the House of
Lords and also in the EEC. However, we seem to be leaving the status quo
there and yet I have never heard anything discussed other than human rights
and democratic principles. Why that continues is beyond me. Are you familiar
with this situation and do you have any comment on the points I have made?
Mr. Shahrooz: I am certainly familiar with the group you are
referring to; Mujahedeen is the group. My understanding is they have been
engaged in practices that could possibly have changed. It is my
understanding they have engaged in practices that were deemed to violate
human rights and there have been Human Rights Watch reports about their
activities. By and large in media reports, one often hears them as behaving
in a cult-like fashion. I am not an expert on their activities, but it is
just generally a group that has to be viewed with some degree of skepticism.
They often say they are interested in human rights, but their history shows
we must view them carefully. I take no position on whether or not they
should be on the terrorist list.
Senator D. Smith: The umbrella group is not on the terrorist list,
but when you get into specifics I have never heard a compelling case. When I
went to the courts in the U.K. and the EEC there was not any, and the ruling
was to take them off the listing.
Mr. Ehsassi: You alluded to the fact that we seem to be lagging on
the issue. However, I think it is interesting to note that the U.S.
administration is also lagging. By most estimates they were supposed to make
a determination approximately a year ago as to whether it would be a good
idea or bad for the Mujahedeen to be listed. However, they have helped the
process in abeyance. The reason is that a lot of people do take issue with
this particular organization. Apart from what Mr. Shahrooz said, the manner
in which this organization operates does not inspire any confidence and that
it would be a democratic process.
However, as you can imagine there are allegations and counter
allegations. For that have same reason, this has proven to be a very
difficult issue for the U.S. administration to make a determination
regarding. Having said that, yes, the EU has taken them off their terrorist
Senator D. Smith: As well as the U.K.
Mr. Ehsassi: That is correct.
Senator Mahovlich: What additional sanctions by the international
community are required and what is the timeline for the impact?
Mr. Shahrooz: I think the additional sanctions are the ones that I
have been consistently speaking about, namely, linking any sanctions regimes
that we have with human rights sanctions. It is not enough to talk about the
nuclear file. If you look at Canada's sanctions regime, everything goes back
to the nuclear issue. I think it is important that we move beyond that. It
is important that we look at human right sanctions to capture people who
might not otherwise be captured and also for the symbolic value. That is, to
let the Iranian government know that we are aware of what they are doing and
that we find it unacceptable.
Senator Mahovlich: This is the largest impact we can have?
Mr. Shahrooz: I think the economic sanctions that currently exist
are far-reaching. I am not a sanctions expert, but I think this is probably
as far as you can go without harming the Iranian population any more than
they are currently being harmed.
The Chair: To talk about the nuclear file practically, the debate
is this: When is the capability changed from a non- military use? Or, to put
it the other way around, when is it a peaceful use and when does it become a
military use? It can be debated; there may be a difference of opinion.
When you say "sanctions on human rights," as a lawyer — and I have two
lawyers in front of me so I will address you — I find that is the dilemma.
When do you put it beyond the regime itself? We have talked about the fact
that the guard should be listed or not and that individuals who have high
positions in the government of the day can be listed. How do you go beyond
that? You keep saying "human rights." What mechanism is there to get at
human rights violators other than the regime and the individuals within the
regime and then we must be very careful that we do not hurt those that could
be trapped — that is the unintended consequences of the average citizen.
From a legal perspective, what would you wish the Canadian government to
do other than more listing and more attention to the regime in the sense of
saying, "Your actions are inappropriate and they can be taken up at the
Human Rights Council and at the UN?" What else are you suggesting by using
that term "human rights"?
Mr. Shahrooz: By and large, that captures what I mean by "human
rights." "Designated persons," for example under the Special Economic
Measures Act, should be expanded to include individuals who are not captured
currently by looking at the nuclear file. Their assets should be frozen and
they should not be permitted to travel to Canada. We should work with
like-minded countries to ensure they are not welcome in any of those
Mr. Ehsassi: I take a different approach — not that I disagree
with Mr. Shahrooz, but he has highlighted a number of specific means by
which we can promote human rights.
I do have problems with the manner in which we have communicated our
policy with respect to Iran. It is absolutely imperative that we come to a
resolution on this nuclear issue. There is no question about that. It is an
issue which is of grave significance to international peace and security.
However, never in our communication of this particular problem have we
recognized the dire straits that Iranians are in.
If I could compare that with the American approach, they have been
responsible for consistently coupling their concern about nuclear weapons
with highlighting how terrible the human rights situation in Iran is. In
addition to that, I think they have been much more responsible in reaching
out to Iranians in Iran and to Iranian Americans. I say that because the way
they have framed this particular issue not only couples those two concerns,
but both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have on
numerous occasions appeared on Persian language media outlets and explained
that not only are they concerned about nuclear weapons but also human rights
remains very much a grave concern to them.
My concern is that if we do want to embolden civil society in Iran, we
cannot strictly talk about nuclear weapons. We have to demonstrate that we
do care and that we will stand tall and support them to the best of our
The Chair: It is basically the messaging, you are saying. What do
you think we can do with civil society with the repressive regime that
controls so much? How can we impact them, as Canadians, from here in a way
that Europe, being very close; and the Americans, being stronger; have not
been able to? In other words, it is a frustration of all countries that we
want to reach out to the good forces in Iran to support the people there. I
do not think Canada has been any different. It is a question of how to do
We have three experts from the diaspora. What else can we do that would
not jeopardize their livelihood and their lives? I have been involved with
the community there. Every time the UN tries to go in with a rapporteur,
those who reach out to the rapporteur are jailed and tortured. It is not as
easy as saying that we are reaching the civilians because those civilians
become extremely vulnerable when we do. Our methodology is to reach with
NGOs, and so on. It is less and less of a capability from the outside to
influence the inside.
We did hear witnesses say that there is a lot of generation within that
society. It is well educated and that is not the route we should be going.
We should continue to put our efforts in condemnation of the regime and
aspects of it, but not to make civil society any more vulnerable than it is
now. How do you react to that?
Mr. Shahrooz: I think that is absolutely right. I think we should
be focusing on getting our message out. One of the things I mentioned in my
opening remarks was providing, as much as possible, Internet technology to
activists inside the country. Those would allow the activists to circumvent
the barriers that the Iranian government puts up. I think the Iranian
activists would appreciate it and understand where it is coming from. Other
countries have taken those steps. That is something we should be doing. That
message would get across quickly and it would help us address the safety and
security concerns that you mentioned, senator.
Mr. Ehsassi: If I could add to that, in addition to the Internet,
another instrument that has been used by both the British government and the
U.S. government is beaming television programs and radio stations into Iran.
I think it is absolutely critical that we do not sever our ties with
Iranians because, as you can imagine, they are dealing with a police state
which is constantly feeding them propaganda.
I would not for a second suggest that we provide funding for any Canadian
stations. However, looking at it more creatively, you may be interested to
know that there is actually a Canadian-owned radio station in California
that has a difficult time sending out its signals to Iran. The programming
is in Persian.
One of the things that the government may very well want to consider to
stop the Iranian government from trying to cut off this radio station
beaming news to Iran may be to engage in a bit of a tit for tat with the
Iranian government. As I understand it, the Iranian government is
consistently jamming our radio and television stations; however, they beam
into living rooms here in Canada. There are several Iranian state-owned
radio organizations. I would hazard to guess that if we were difficult on
them, then they will obviously understand they cannot take liberties and
will back off in trying to block this Canadian-owned radio station.
The Chair: Thank you. The suggestion that you have made is very
helpful to our study.
Senator Downe: You mentioned in your earlier testimony about the
narrow effects of the sanctions that Canada has. There are only 49, I
believe is the number you said, on the list. Do you know how that compares
to other countries? For example, how many would be on the list in the U.S.
or in Europe?
Mr. Shahrooz: I think the numbers came from you.
Mr. Ehsassi: I am actually not aware. I could not possibly tell
you. My apologies for that.
Mr. Shahrooz: I could not tell you with any exact sense either. My
sense is that the U.S. list is larger simply because of the fact that they
also have a human rights component, which we do not have. I think they
capture individuals not captured by the Canadian list.
Senator Downe: I will ask a more specific question. The banker we
referred to earlier who came here six months ago, would that person have
been allowed into the United States under their current rules?
Mr. Ehsassi: I think that would be a difficult determination. I
would think that yes, he would have made it there in the first place, yes.
Senator Nolin: I will be brief; I want to thank the researcher who
provided me with some data on Iranian students living in Canada. But before
we look at these numbers, I need to understand something. Is it difficult
for a young student or a young Iranian to leave Iran and come to Canada to
Mr. Shahrooz: Senator, there are difficulties for a student who
wishes to come here. We have seen problems. We have talked a bit about
getting a visa, for example. Even when the visa office was in Iran, it was
incredibly difficult. It was a very timely process. It was difficult for
students to actually obtain that visa on time to be able to come here.
It is similarly difficult for students that come here. Oftentimes they
rely on their parents back home to send them money. As we have talked about
at length, it is increasingly difficult to do that. A lot of financial
institutions are not willing to accommodate those kinds of transfers, even
if they fall below the $40,000 threshold. With those structural problems in
place, it is difficult for Iranian students to come here and study, and
Senator Nolin: Maybe you can help me understand this situation. On
December 1, 2001, there were 670 Iranian students, temporary residents who
were here in Canada to study. On December 1, 10 years later, 2010, there
were 3,247. It tripled in proportion to the global number of students as
temporary residents. If it has been so difficult, why is there such an
increase? I am trying to understand. What are those young Iranian students
studying in Canada doing here? Are they studying? What is their intent? Are
they politically involved in Canada? What are their objectives? Are they
only here to study, or are they here to do something else? That is what I am
trying to understand.
Mr. Shahrooz: That is an excellent question. It is a large number,
so it is hard to say exactly —
Senator Nolin: I was surprised to see it. Thanks to our research
staff. I was surprised to see those numbers.
Mr. Shahrooz: Given the number, it is difficult to say exactly
what they are doing. Obviously some of them are here to study. They probably
represent the entire political spectrum.
As to why that number has grown, I can only hazard a guess. My sense is
that doors are closing on Iranian students and Iranians generally everywhere
in the world, and Canada may be one of the few places that still allows them
to come. My only sense from talking to people in the community and talking
to friends and relatives back home is that there are structural problems in
place that make it difficult for students to come here. That number has
grown, but there may be other explanations for it.
Senator Nolin: I will ask the professor. Listening to Mr.
Shahrooz's testimony, we have heard that Toronto is probably the main
location of those Iranian students. Professor, you probably know them all by
The Chair: Senator Nolin's question is not about how easy it is to
get to Canada but how difficult it is to get out of Iran.
Senator Nolin: My question is what are the obstacles to them
coming here and why is there such an increase in proportion?
The Chair: Is the Iranian government putting up any impediments
for people leaving, I think is part of the question as well. Professor,
perhaps you have something to add.
Senator Nolin: You probably know some of them.
Mr. Jahanbegloo: I do believe that the increase has to do with the
fact that between 2001 and 2010, first, you had the green movement and the
presidential election of 2009, and in between these years, there have been
new measures. The Iranian universities are putting a lot of oppression on
students. Many students have been thrown out of the universities.
The fact that you find many of these students coming to Canada or trying
to come to Canada is mainly because they were either put out of the
universities in Iran or they find themselves in a very difficult and
insecure situation because of their political engagements during the
presidential elections of 2009. I think the number is even more than that. I
know many students who are waiting to come to Canada to continue their
Senator Nolin: Maybe we should explore that one day. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you. I think we have come to the end of our time.
I would like to thank Professor Jahanbegloo, Mr. Ehsassi and Mr. Shahrooz
for taking our debate into new directions and providing new information.
Obviously there are more questions we will have to pursue. We will continue
our study. If there are any pieces of information that any of you have or
reflections you want to add, please do so in written form to our clerk. We
would continue this dialogue if we can.
I am going to excuse our witnesses, and we can turn to our next item,
which will be the consideration of the document entitled Passport Canada's
Fee-for-Service Proposal to Parliament, dated March 2012, pursuant to the
User Fees Act, 2004, c. 6, subsection 4(2). We had asked for further
information before we were going to deal with the user fee issue, and we did
receive that. It has been distributed in both official languages. Are we
ready now to deal with the proposal? Do I see agreement?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: I am looking for a motion that the committee recommend
to the Senate —
Senator Nolin: Before you entertain a motion, I just want to thank
the clerk for sending us the answers from DFAIT to the numerous questions we
had on those consular fees.
I do not think the limpidity and clarity of such a document is an example
of a good document. It is almost contradictory. I am not even sure that
Treasury Board would understand the meaning of that whole document but,
nevertheless, thank you very much for providing us with such an answer.
The Chair: The document to me proves that there is another
modality they are using rather than the ones they were using before.
Second, the question — and I have gotten the answer — is that the
consular fee portion is subject to the DFAIT Act, and should the changes be
coming there, they are also subject to the User Fees Act, but it is at a
different time and a different process. Before us is really just Passport
Canada's Fee-for-Service proposal.
I think all of the information we got was helpful to me and I hope it was
to other senators.
Senator Nolin: It took me three readings to understand the meaning
of that document. I am not even sure the writer understood at the end what
he was writing. I think it was helpful.
The Chair: Yes.
Senator Robichaud: I will not ask any further questions because I
do not want answers like the last ones.
The Chair: Thank you for that. The clerk has indicated that, if
there were a proposal, it would be that the committee recommend to the
Senate to approve the document entitled Passport Canada's Fee-for-Service
proposal to Parliament, dated March 2012, pursuant to the User Fees Act.
Is there anyone who would propose such a motion?
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: So moved.
The Chair: Any further discussion? I am looking at Senator
Robichaud and he is getting very anxious. Are we ready for the motion?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Anyone to the contrary? The motion passes. Honourable
senators, following our study of the document, Passport Canada's
Fee-for-Service proposal, I will be reporting this to the Senate.
I should say that it was unusual in all the years that I have been here
that we have actually had the referral to this committee. It has gone to
other committees, and I think it is probably a good practice that if the
subject matter touches our committee, it should come here. It should not
always be financial things to Finance. It gives us the opportunity to learn,
but I also think we have had the background on foreign affairs and the
passport issues before us in different forms. This is the first time we have
had the finances. I think it was a good exercise and a good learning
experience and I thank all senators for contributing.
As I indicated, we are targeting the Brazil report next week. We will
continue the Iranian study. I thought that the munitions, landmines bill,
Bill S-10, would be coming to us. We have tentatively booked the minister,
and I have been trying to protect his time next week because he is difficult
to get a hold of. I am hoping that we will be targeting that legislation. We
will have to wait until we receive it. There are also a few other bills in
the House of Commons making their way here.
Our process will be continuing the Iranian study and waiting for
legislation, and that should take us through the next number of weeks.