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 start.
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 Iran.
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 Iran.
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 in Canada.
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 relatives.
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 in Canada.
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 complexity.
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 Canadian legislation.
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 government.
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 2009.
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 strengths.
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 neighbourhoods.
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 spring."
The Chair: Thank you.
I have a long list of senators. I will start with our deputy chair, Senator Downe.
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 activity.
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 government.
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 countries.
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 region.
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 there.
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 universities?
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 Canadian society.
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 Canada.
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 round.
Senator Johnson: It is nice to have you here. Thank you for coming.
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 decade?
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 time.
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 Turkey.
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 wrong though.
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 terrorist group.
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 list.
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 nations, either.
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 abilities.
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 it.
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 study?
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 increasingly so.
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 name.
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 studies.
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.
Other than that, this meeting is now adjourned.
(The committee adjourned.)