That the House: (a) strongly condemn the current regime in
Iran for its ongoing sponsorship of terrorism around the world,
including instigating violent attacks on the Gaza border; (b)
condemn the recent statements made by Supreme Leader
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei calling for genocide against the Jewish
people; (c) call on the government to (i) abandon its current
plan and immediately cease any and all negotiations or
discussions with the Islamic Republic of Iran to restore
diplomatic relations, (ii) demand that the Iranian Regime
immediately release all Canadians and Canadian permanent
residents who are currently detained in Iran, including Maryam
Mombeini, the widow of Professor Kavous Sayed-Emami, and
Saeed Malekpour, who has been imprisoned since 2008, (iii)
immediately designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps
as a listed terrorist entity under the Criminal Code of Canada;
and (d) stand with the people of Iran and recognize that they,
like all people, have a fundamental right to freedom of
conscience and religion, freedom of thought, belief, opinion,
and expression, including freedom of the press and other forms
of communication, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom
He said: Mr. Speaker, is Canada an indispensable country? Is our voice and influence necessary on the world stage? I believe it is, but in order for Canada's influence to matter, we must stand for something.
Our foreign affairs minister gave a speech about a year ago in which she asserted that Canada was an indispensable country, and yet she has failed to deliver a foreign policy that involves us standing for anything clearly or consistently.
In my motivating remarks for this motion, I am going to start by articulating the principles that we believe should animate Canadian foreign policy and then talk about the situation on the ground in Iran and the wider Middle East. It calls for the particular substantive Canadian response that we are proposing.
At a fundamental level, our party contends that Canada must have a principled foreign policy; that it is a foreign policy that stands for something. What does that mean?
Canada is a special place. We were founded as a free, bicultural society with religious freedom and diversities and with common laws and values. We chose to reconcile our diversity in the unity of one democratic political community from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth.
Out of that founding vision has grown the greatest nation on earth. We are free, prosperous, bold, creative, and kind. Our political culture is characterized by freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. We are diverse but we are great, not just because of our diversity but because of how we live together in the midst of that diversity, how we live out the maximum of St. Augustine, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
That is Canada, an uncommon example of diverse people living together well. We are the exception that proves the rule, evidence that something outside the experience of many people around the world is in fact possible. This is who we are and this is what we seek to preserve here in Canada.
As we develop our foreign policy, we have two paths available to us. We can choose to stand as we are, true to ourselves and our own experience and seek to expand the space for freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law around the world. Or we can demure, speaking of our values as Canadian values but failing to assert that they are also universal human values, perhaps, and highlighting our own failures in the world in a way that gives comfort to human rights abusers elsewhere.
A principled foreign policy is one that seeks to apply our own domestic experience to make the world around us a better place. An unprincipled foreign policy would put a claim in the councils of the world and the approval of other nations ahead of our principles, preferring the appointment of envoys and the taking of photos to actual action on important files.
A principled foreign policy recognizes that the peoples of the world are no less deserving of freedom, democracy, human rights protections, and the rule of law than Canadians. Again, a principled foreign policy seeks to expand the space for these ideas. A serious, principled, strategic Canadian foreign policy that involves doing the right thing even when people are not looking can make a big difference.
Canada is part of most major non-regional international clubs, the G7, the G20, the Commonwealth, the Francophonie, etc. We do not have the natural challenges of being a super power. We do not have the baggage of colonial history beyond our borders. We have a domestic experience of reconciling diversity in a well-functioning federation. We can use our access and our experience to effectively seek the spread of our values around the world.
This is our opportunity, but we also face challenges. Fully projecting our influence requires us to do two things that do not normally come natural to us nationally. It requires us to be proud and it also requires us to be impolite.
It is fashionable among some Liberals today decry the rise of nationalism, without even qualifying or defining that term. Nationalism obviously has many negative manifestations, but nationalism properly oriented is the love of one's country and its natural virtues, a love of one's country that is not incompatible with love and goodwill to all, but a love that is grounded in and starts with one's most immediate community. In order to spread our experience around the world, we must first be proud of that experience and unafraid to speak about our greatness. We should be unapologetic about saying and showing the greatness of our political model. That is the basis on which we will spread it.
To be principled is also to be willing to be impolite when the situation calls for it. Are we the sort of country that wants to get along with everyone, or are we willing to risk our relationships, in the case of very bad actors, or risk not having relationships at all, in order to stand up for what is important? I think those suffering persecution around the world who want to see their own country become more like Canada would want us to be as effective as possible and as impolite as necessary in seeking to support and advance their legitimate aspirations.
Canada cannot be both a friend to the oppressor and a friend to the oppressed. We must choose. A timid foreign policy, lacking in sufficient pride and aggressiveness would be a friend to the oppressor. However, a Canada that understands the genesis of our own success, that is proud of what it is, that is bold, blunt, and even impolite when confronting abusers of human rights, would be a friend to those who need it. Surely, this should not be mistaken for a call to isolationism. It is fundamentally the opposite. It is a call to authentically carry ourselves into the councils of the world.
I moved a motion today specifically about Canada's foreign policy towards Iran. This motion calls for a a clear condemnation of the Iranian regime's aggression throughout the Middle East, including the sponsorship of terrorism, and specifically its support for Hamas during recent violent clashes on the Israel border. It calls for a clear condemnation of the Iranian regime's advocacy for a second Holocaust; that is, for the complete destruction of the world's only Jewish state. It calls for a response from the Canadian government to the actions of Iran, the total abandonment of its plan to negotiate the restoration of diplomatic relations with Iran, for aggressive and consistent advocacy for Canadians imprisoned in Iran, and for the designation of the so-called Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist entity under the Criminal Code. Finally, this motion calls for a recognition of the fundamental human rights of the Iranian people.
Some context here is important. The Iranian state is recognized by most nations in the Middle East as a clear and present threat to the security of the region. At a fundamental level, the Iranian regime does not operate like a normal state, accepting the strictures of sovereignty and diplomatic action in this age. It is rather a post-revolutionary state, seeking to spread its theocratic revolutionary doctrine and system through any and all means possible.
While Canada ought to seek the spread of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law through a rules-based order that recognizes the inherent dignity of all human beings, Iran seeks to spread its particular brand of authoritarian theocracy through underhanded support to violent proxies. It seeks to wage war through its proxies against anyone in the way of its quest for complete dominance in the region, especially against Israel and Saudi Arabia.
This present conflict should not be misconstrued as a clash of civilizations or religions. In fact, countries in the region, other Muslim nations, generally see and experience a threat posed by Iran more clearly than do nations in the west. In the region, Iran is using proxies to infiltrate Iraq; it is supporting the Assad regime in Syria, and it is continuing to back Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. It is co-opting and using Houthis in Yemen to destabilize the country and attack Saudi Arabia, and it is supporting violent action by Gaza on Israel's border.
We, and other regional powers, are in something like a new cold war against Iran. The term “cold war” does not seem quite right in light of how hot it actually is. However, the current situation is analogous to the Cold War that we fought against the Soviets, insofar as Iran, a radical post-revolutionary state, is seeking to spread its revolution by backing violent proxies, and in some cases sending direct military aid. It is trying to spread its brand of revolutionary theocracy, and to encircle and undermine the security of those who it defines as its foes.
Of particular concern to Israelis, but also to Syrians, Iranians, Kurds, and other Middle Eastern people, is the attempt by Iran to open up and operationalize a northern corridor from Iran through Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, covering Israel's northern border and stretching to the Mediterranean Sea. This corridor would give Iran the means to ferry weapons and equipment more easily back and forth between its proxies, sending more sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, and opening a second front against Israel from Syria.
Israel has highly sophisticated iron dome and anti-rocket technology. However, that does not eliminate the substantial risk presented by the proliferation of weapons in an Iran-controlled transportation corridor. The previous American administration had sought to constrain Iran's nuclear ambitions in exchange for sanctions relief. This strategy represented a laudable goal, but it did not engage sufficiently with the non-nuclear ways that Iran represents a threat to regional security, and the way that sanctions relief has enabled the regime to invest further in support of its terrorist proxies.
While Israel is a particular target of these northern corridor efforts, we must also recognize how harmful they are to the particular countries in the path of this Iranian regime's aggressive attack corridor. The people of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon have suffered enough already, yet their states and their rights are in different ways undermined by Iranian aggression. The Iranian regime, aided by sanctions relief, is developing greater capacity to undermine regional security through terrorism. It is not just developing capacity, it is repeatedly demonstrating a willingness to use that capacity.
A principled Canadian foreign policy would seek to join with our allies to counter Iranian aggression by doing all we can to prevent the regime from accessing the resources it needs to complete its strategic design, undermining other countries' sovereignty, and using them to attack our partners. The spread of Iranian regime-backed terrorism and instability throughout the region requires the clear and steadfast opposition of all free nations whose foreign policy is informed by principle.
I would like to turn now specifically to the situation in Gaza, and the role that Iran is playing. I recently had the opportunity to join members of the Canada-Palestine Parliamentary friendship group on a trip to the West Bank to observe the situation and engage in dialogue with the Palestinian leadership, civil society, and people. Palestinians are a warm and hospitable people. They deserve the same things that all of us do. I do not always agree with our hosts in the West Bank, but they profess a commitment to recognizing Israel's right to exist, and the pursuit of a peaceful two-state solution, including hard compromises on both sides. Conservatives in Canada seek the establishment of a free, democratic, rights-respecting, pluralistic, rule of law-based Palestinian state, living in peace with, and enjoying close co-operation with the Jewish state of Israel.
The situation in the West Bank under the Palestinian authority stands in marked contrast to the situation in Gaza. Gaza is fully controlled by Hamas, a terrorist entity which countenances no negotiation or peace with Israel. Some people have called Gaza an open-air prison. If that is the case, then Hamas is the jailer. Hamas's charter says the following, “Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement.” Then later, “There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.” That is from the Hamas charter.
Lest there be any doubt of what they mean by the word “Jihad” in this context, the charter says later:
The day that enemies usurp part of Moslem land, Jihad becomes the individual duty of every Moslem. In face of the Jews' usurpation of Palestine, it is compulsory that the banner of Jihad be raised. To do this requires the diffusion of Islamic consciousness among the masses, both on the regional, Arab and Islamic levels. It is necessary to instill the spirit of Jihad in the heart of the nation so that they would confront the enemies and join the ranks of the fighters.
No wonder there is such kinship between Hamas and the Iranian regime. Iran and Hamas are dedicated to the destruction of Israel, in effect to the bringing about of a second holocaust. The Hamas charter contains similar language to the recent tweet of Iran's supreme leader, who said, “Israel is a malignant cancerous tumor in the West Asian region that has to be removed and eradicated: it is possible and it will happen.” This statement should clearly be understood as incitement to genocide. Insofar as the tweet specifically references the so-called “Great Return March”, we should understand that this march on Israel's border is part of the mechanism that Hamas and Iran see for effecting the second holocaust that they desire.
The Palestinian people are the first victims of Hamas, and of the Iranian regime in this case, because they regard the Palestinian people as mere chess pieces in their cynical game against Israel. Hamas has used a series of tactics for targeting Israel, trying to inflict maximum suffering on Israelis, but with no concern for the associated cost to Palestinian people. The costs of this ongoing violence have included lost aid, collateral damage, and direct repression.
Hamas launches rockets into Israel, although these rockets can often be effectively countered with Israel's iron dome technology. Hamas uses aid and building materials to try to construct tunnels into Israel through which to launch attacks. Hamas has repurposed kites given as aid, intended to bring some joy to the children of Gaza, but that are repurposed into tools for setting fire to forests and fields in Israel. Hamas has organized marches on the border, combining civilians and militants, as they always do, but specifically with the intention of infiltrating and violently attacking Israel. The name of the event , “Great Return March”, should make rather obvious that the intention is not to protest at the border, but rather to violently cross it.
When it comes to issues involving international peace and security, as well as advancing Canada's vital trade interests, Canada's Conservatives seek co-operation with the government whenever and wherever possible. However, we will not deign to criticize substantial wrongs by the government, which are at odds with our values and interests. The government's response to the so-called Great Return March has focused solely on criticizing Israel's response to it. We desire for multi-party unity and support for Israel's right to exist and defend itself, but Israel becomes an issue of partisan disagreement when this government makes statements that single Israel out and fail to identify the real instigators of violence in the region. We will not, in the name of so-called non-partisanship, demure to criticize the government when it fails to properly support our close allies.
Aside from the supreme leader's tweet, the Iranian role in these events should be eminently clear. The Palestinian ambassador to France has specifically identified the role of Iran in fomenting and supporting these protests in Gaza.
Iran and Hamas seek a second holocaust. My grandmother was a survivor of the first Holocaust, and she instilled in us the necessary sensibility towards those who threaten violence against the Jewish people. It is a sensibility rooted in that historic memory. When people say they are trying to kill us, believe that they mean it and stop them before it is too late. Never expect critics around the world to have the same commitment to our security that we do. Israel will not wait until it is too late to respond to Iran, and neither should we.
Our motion calls on the government not to seek resumption of diplomatic relations with Iran, and further to list the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist entity. I would like to turn now in particular to the importance of those measures.
The question of diplomatic ties with Iran is an important one, but one which is often misconstrued in terms of its actual impact. In cases where Canada does not have a diplomatic presence, we work to advance our interests and support Canadians in other ways. Everyone understands that there are workarounds and back channels that exist as part of international diplomacy.
Diplomatic relations are not merely a question about whether or not we have an ability to talk to each other. It is also a question of the status of our relationship and the degree to which we believe that mutual access to each other should be automatic. Should Iranian agents have the freedom to come to Canada easily and inevitably to work clandestinely to intimidate members of their own community and share intelligence back home? Should Iranian authorities be able to threaten Canadian diplomatic staff and property in Iran, as we have seen happen in other cases with nations that have disputes with Iran? Should we reward Iran's threats of genocide and instigation of violence in the region with an upgrading of relations?
It would have to be out of either willful blindness or in clear spite of our values and interests for us to pursue the reopening of diplomatic relations with Iran at a time like this. Pressing the reset button arbitrarily in the midst of worsening regime behaviour sends a perverse message about our intensity and our resolve to advance the things that we consider important. Rewarding bad behaviour is appeasement. It has never worked, and it will never work. Organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah which enjoy Iranian support and share its designs are rightly listed as terrorist organizations.
The government trumpets the importance of dialogue with extreme bad actors like the Iranian state, and yet accepts, in the listing of Hamas and Hezbollah, the principle that there are some people we should not be talking to, whose actions put them beyond the pale of even the legitimacy that comes with discussion, and that we are safer drawing a clear line in the sand. Insofar as we take this approach with Hamas and Hezbollah, it follows naturally and reasonably that we take the same approach with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The IRGC is almost certainly responsible, at a practical level, for more violence and mayhem than these organizations, and it shares values, objectives, and tactics with them.
What makes it different, of course, is an apparent link with a state, but it functions with a level of autonomy and independence that could well justify its recognition as a non-state actor. In any event, there is nothing in Canadian law to prevent the listing of state entities as terrorist entities, if in fact they are. It would be perverse to contend that we should sanction non-state entities involved in terrorism while seeking greater diplomatic ties with state entities that do the same thing.
Our motion concludes with an affirmation of the fundamental human rights of the Iranian people.
In the midst of efforts by the Iranian government to spread violence and terror throughout the region, the Iranian people have stood up and said no. A powerful protest movement broke out this past December and January, with protestors demanding political change and the emergence of a government that protects their rights and is on their side. Slogans included "Not Gaza, Not Lebanon, I give my life for Iran", and also "Death to the dictator". In other words, protestors were specifically and knowingly repudiating the grand design of their regime, and even calling for an end to the regime itself. In the midst of significant violence and repression, these protesters were a portrait of courage.
Some in the west will often cover Iranian politics as some legitimate contest between regime moderates and regime hard-liners, but the more important cleavage is between the supreme leader who holds all of the political power, and the people who seek more than simply the moderation of their environment, the gilding of their cage. They seek fundamental change.
In the midst of this, a Liberal MP referred to the Iranian government as "elected". I know many people in the community and the democracy movement found that offensive.
Political change in Iran is the most important and reachable strategic objective for us in the region. It would, in a moment, dramatically reduce the security threats posed to Israel and our other allies. It would open up a space for opportunity and prosperity. By weakening Hamas and Hezbollah, it would be a particular blessing to the people of Palestine and Lebanon. It would significantly increase the prospects of peace between Israel and Palestine, between Israel and Lebanon, in Syria, and in Yemen.
Most importantly, it would mark the extension of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law to over 80 million people who do not presently enjoy it.
We, here in this House, today, have the power to do something about this, to constrain and isolate the Iranian regime, to support the Iranian people, and to work towards the perhaps imminent objective of a free Iran. In this struggle, our experience matters; our voice is indispensable.