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Results: 1 - 15 of 397
View Irwin Cotler Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Irwin Cotler Profile
2015-06-19 11:03 [p.15341]
Mr. Speaker, Iran tragically executes more people per capita than any other country in the world. Moreover, Iran is engaged in a horrific execution binge that has resulted in 120 executions in May alone, while this month has seen an unparalleled wave of executions, with one execution every two hours.
All this is occurring while Iran is otherwise engaged in massive domestic repression, including the criminalization of dissent, the persecution and prosecution of ethnic and religious minorities, violations of women's rights, and the imprisoning of over 1,000 political prisoners.
Regrettably, the nuclear negotiations have not only overshadowed but sanitized this massive domestic repression, as witnessed by the deafening international silence surrounding it. The fact that a country is massively violating the rights of its own people, and lying about it, raises serious questions about the validity and veracity of its nuclear undertakings.
As negotiators seek a legal framework for the nuclear issue, the Iranian regime is in standing violation of its human rights obligations under international law.
It is time to sound the alarm and to hold the regime to account on both the nuclear and human rights concerns, to the benefit of both the international community and the Iranian people themselves.
View Irwin Cotler Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Irwin Cotler Profile
2015-06-19 12:05 [p.15353]
moved for leave to introduce Bill C-701, An Act to establish the Office of the Commissioner for Children and Young Persons in Canada.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce this bill to establish the office of the commissioner for children and young persons. This legislation is inspired by a bill previously introduced by the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie. I thank him for the excellent work he has done to promote the well-being of children and youth in Canada and around the world.
Indeed, the true measure of a nation's standing is how well it cares for its children. Especially after the recent report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission into the experiences of the survivors of Indian residential schools, we understand now more than ever the dire consequences of failing children.
Accordingly, a children's commissioner would advocate for children and examine law and policy with a view to ensuring children's rights and welfare, including their health, their education and simply their sense of being loved.
The legislation is inspired as well by my daughter, who when she was a child herself told me, “Daddy, if you want to know what the real test of human rights is, always ask yourself, at any time, in any situation, in any part of the world: Is what is happening good for children? That's the real test of human rights.”
View Irwin Cotler Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Irwin Cotler Profile
2015-06-19 12:10 [p.15354]
Mr. Speaker, this Parliament has admirably adopted a number of religious and cultural heritage months. Therefore, there have been consultations among the parties and I trust that there will be consent for the following motion: That the House recognize the month of November as Jewish heritage month in recognition of the important contributions of Jewish Canadians to the settlement, development and growth of Canada; the cultural diversity of the Canadian Jewish community; the present significance of the Canadian Jewish community to this country; and the importance of creating opportunities for Canadians to learn more about each other in order to foster greater awareness, cohesion and mutual respect.
View Irwin Cotler Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Irwin Cotler Profile
2015-06-18 10:24 [p.15258]
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to present three separate petitions today.
The first is a petition on behalf of Canadians who are calling on the Government of Canada and members of Parliament to take note of the human rights violations perpetrated in Venezuela by the government of President Nicolás Maduro, including the criminalization of dissent, the shuttering of independent media and the imprisonment of opposition leaders.
The petitioners call upon the Government of Canada to further study the human rights situation in Venezuela, including a mission to conduct first-hand evaluations of the situation there.
This is a particularly timely petition as opposition leader Leopoldo López and former San Cristobal mayor Daniel Ceballos have embarked upon a hunger strike to protest their imprisonment and that of other opponents of the regime.
View Irwin Cotler Profile
Lib. (QC)
Mr. Speaker, the second petition is on behalf of Canadians who wish the government to apologize to Dr. David Shugar for the human and civil rights violations he suffered, including serious damage to his reputation and loss of employment as a result of false accusations that he was a Communist spy in 1946.
The petitioners call on the government to submit a letter of apology to Dr. Shugar who, as a result of these civil rights abuses, and despite being exonerated of all the accusations against him, was summarily dismissed from his position with the federal Department of National Health and Welfare, unable to secure employment and forced to emigrate to Poland where he resides today. He is close to 100 years of age.
View Irwin Cotler Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Irwin Cotler Profile
2015-06-18 10:26 [p.15259]
Mr. Speaker, the third petition is signed by Canadians who are concerned about the situation of Seyamak Naderi, an Iranian citizen and former political prisoner and resident of camps Ashraf and Liberty, currently living as a refugee claimant in Albania and who is in urgent need of medical care.
The petitioners are concerned about the grave dangers he would suffer if returned to his native Iran. His sister Saeideh, the only member of his family who can provide the needed ongoing care that he requires, is a Canadian citizen seeking his reunification with her here in Canada.
The petitioners call upon the Government of Canada and the House of Commons to do everything in their power to expedite the recognition of Seyamak Naderi as a refugee and reunite him with his sister here in Canada as soon as possible.
View Irwin Cotler Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Irwin Cotler Profile
2015-06-18 15:55 [p.15305]
Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege out of respect for the integrity of Parliament, as you yourself have put it, and I want to join in the commendation to you, your staff, and the clerks for all that has been done. I join in the referencing of that by my predecessor speakers.
I am rising, I must say, somewhat hesitantly because of the lateness of the period, but I am doing so in the hope, as even the House leader mentioned, of the enhancement of the democratic process. In particular, I rise today on a question of privilege related to the government's response to a question on the order paper, Question No. 1229, which became accessible online only on Tuesday. I gave notice to the chair yesterday, and thus I am raising this matter at the earliest opportunity and regret that it is close to the end of our proceedings.
Mr. Speaker, I know that you and your predecessors have often made clear that the Chair is not empowered to adjudicate the quality or accuracy of responses to written questions. Indeed, that is not the issue I am raising, despite the fact that the government's response to Question No. 1229 all but ignored the question it purported to answer.
Indeed, the issue I raise is the violation of a Standing Order of the House, namely, Standing Order 39(1), which clearly states the following in reference to questions on the order paper:
...in putting any such question or in replying to the same no argument or opinion is to be offered, nor any facts stated, except so far as may be necessary to explain the same; and in answering any such question the matter to which the same refers shall not be debated.
This is a Standing Order to which you, Mr. Speaker, have yourself referred on previous occasions, such as on January 29, 2013, when you said, “as Speaker, I have a duty to remind the House that our written question process is intended to be free of argument and debate”, and it is in that context that I rise on this question of privilege.
This point, indeed, is emphasized in the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, which states, on page 522:
The guidelines that apply to the form and content of written questions are also applicable to the answers provided by the government. As such, no argument or opinion is to be given and only the information needed to respond to the question is to be provided in an effort to maintain the process of written questions as an exchange of information rather than an opportunity for debate.
Indeed, the only particular constraint placed by the Standing Orders on the content of responses to order paper questions is that they may not contain opinion or debate, yet the answer I received this week to Question No. 1229 was comprised almost exclusively of opinion and debate.
Hon. members rely on the written question system, and I have been pleased to be able to use it, to obtain the information we need to represent our constituents, to hold the government to account, and to engage subsequently in informed study of legislation and policy. Thus, the violation by the government of Standing Order 39(1), which has become a regrettable pattern, undermines the written question system and impedes the ability of hon. members to do our jobs.
On page 84 of O'Brien and Bosc, a list of instances found by the United Kingdom Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege to constitute contempt specifically includes, “acting in breach of any orders of the House”. Thus, I am asking to regard the government's response to Question No. 1229 as constitutive of contempt of Parliament.
With Question No. 1229, I sought detailed information regarding the funding of programs that facilitate the reintegration of offenders into society after they have served their sentences. The government's response, which, as I say, hardly deals with the question at all, begins, “Mr. Speaker, the government believes”. This construction necessarily leads to a statement of opinion, and the very inclusion of the government's beliefs in response to a written question contravenes the Standing Order. Therefore, the Standing Orders have been violated five words into the response.
The response goes on to make claims about the importance and efficiency of government measures, but regardless of the accuracy of those claims, they constitute debate and are thus not permitted in the context of an order paper question response.
As private members, if we include a statement of belief in the text of a written question, or if we engage in debate, we are quickly contacted by the private members' business office and instructed to amend the text and limit our inquiry to a request for factual information, which is, of course, the express purpose of the written question system.
In fact, as O'Brien and Bosc note on page 520 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, not only are members barred from including expressions of opinion in our questions, we are prohibited from requesting the government's opinion, and the Clerk of the House “has full authority” to ensure our compliance.
It is the Speaker, however, who is vested with the authority to ensure that the government complies with the Standing Orders when responding to questions, and in fact, if the government includes its opinion in its answer, it is providing material that members are specifically prohibited from seeking, again in violation of Standing Order 39(1).
Briefly, it is important to note that this use or misuse of the written question system is not so much a personal breach on the part, in this instance, of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, who provided the response to Question No. 1229 and for whom I have a great deal of respect, as it is a regrettable pattern on the part of the government in general.
For example, the government's recent response to Question No. 1093 includes the phrase, “The Government of Canada rejects the argument”, and if one is rejecting an argument, one is, by definition, engaging in debate. The response to Question No. 773 again featured the construction, “The government believes”, and the response to Question No. 721 references the government's lack of “desire” to reinstate a particular program.
While the government's desires and beliefs are undoubtedly a matter of interest to Canadians and to hon. members, they do not belong in responses to order paper questions, just as the desires and beliefs of us as private members do not belong in the written questions we pose.
As you noted in your ruling on January 29, 2013, Mr. Speaker:
it is expected under our practice that the integrity of the written question process be maintained by avoiding questions or answers that stray from the underlying principle of information exchange.
I know, and with this I close, that at this late date in the parliamentary calendar, there may not be time for a prima facie finding of contempt to be referred to committee and for such a referral to proceed according to usual practice.
However, I raise this matter, and admittedly regrettably so at this late date in Parliament, but without an option otherwise, because we only received the answers recently, out of concern for the health of our parliamentary process, out of respect for the Standing Orders of this House, and out of concern for, as you yourself have put it, “the integrity of the written question process”, which is an essential tool for us as parliamentarians.
I ask that you protect the integrity of this process by finding that the government's response to Question No. 1229 is in breach of Standing Order 39(1), and I hope that when the House returns in the fall, hon. members from all parties will work together to strengthen parliamentary processes, such as the written question system, which underpin the vitality of our democracy.
View Irwin Cotler Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Irwin Cotler Profile
2015-06-17 14:18 [p.15202]
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of four heroic political prisoners and their respective cases and causes.
They are Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi; Venezuelan democratic leader Leopoldo Lopez; Iranian freedom of religion advocate Ayatollah Boroujerdi, as well as the persecuted leadership of the Baha’i community; and Mauritanian anti-slavery advocate Biram Dah Abeid.
Each political prisoner is a case study of the criminalization of fundamental rights, the deprivation of liberty, and torture in detention. Each is a looking glass into their respective oppressive regimes and their standing violation of international obligations, including obligations to us here in Canada.
We say to these courageous prisoners of conscience that they are not alone. We stand in solidarity with them. Their cause is our cause and we will not relent until their liberty is secured.
View Irwin Cotler Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Irwin Cotler Profile
2015-06-17 16:22 [p.15220]
Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege related to the government's responses to two questions on the order paper, which became accessible only online yesterday. Thus, I am raising this matter at the earliest opportunity.
I know that you and your predecessors—
View Irwin Cotler Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Irwin Cotler Profile
2015-06-12 12:00 [p.15016]
Mr. Speaker, the treatment of blogger Raif Badawi is a violation of Saudi Arabia's obligations to Canada under the convention against torture.
Now that the Saudi supreme court has upheld Raif's cruel sentence, the only possible recourse is a royal pardon. It is up to the Prime Minister to take up Raif's case directly with the Saudi king.
Will the Prime Minister ask the king to mark the beginning of Ramadan with a show of compassion and justice by freeing Raif Badawi and reuniting him with his family in Quebec?
View Irwin Cotler Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Irwin Cotler Profile
2015-06-10 19:58 [p.14915]
Mr. Chair, I am pleased to participate in this rather bittersweet retrospective. I want to commend my colleagues on all sides of the House for their reflective and, indeed, moving comments.
I recall fondly my first-ever visit to and encounter with this House. It was 1951. I was 11 years old. My late father took me here to visit the House of Commons. He looked up at the House and said, “Son, this is the Parliament of Canada. This is vox populi, the voice of the people”.
Today such sentiments might invite a certain cynical rejoinder, particularly as one observes the sometimes cacophony of question period or the toxicity in the political arena. Certainly and fortunately, I still retain that great respect and reverence for this institution, which I regard as the centrepiece of our democracy, the cradle, the nurturer for the pursuit of justice.
In this, I am reminded and, indeed, inspired by another set of teachings on the pursuit of justice from my late parents, a blessed memory. For it is my father who taught me before I could understand the profundity of his words. As he put it, the pursuit of justice is equal to all the other commandments combined. As he said, “This, you must teach unto your children”.
It was my mother who, when she heard my father say this, would say to me, “If you want to pursue justice, you have to understand, you have to feel the injustice about you. You have to go in and about your community and beyond, and feel the injustice and combat the injustice. Otherwise, the pursuit of justice remains a theoretical construct”.
As a result of my parents' teachings, I got involved in the two great human rights struggles of the second half of the 20th century, the struggle for human rights in the former Soviet Union and the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. I got involved with those who were the faces and voices of those struggles, and the defence of the political prisoners, Anatoly Sharansky in the former Soviet Union and Nelson Mandela in South Africa.
I got involved in the struggle for peace in the Middle East because as my mother, an authentic peace advocate, would say, “The struggle for peace is bound up in the pursuit of justice”. That same teaching about justice also underpinned my work as minister of justice and attorney general of Canada, as well as my work as an MP.
Indeed, when I was first sworn in as minister, I said at the time that I would be guided in my work by one overarching principle, the pursuit of justice, and I had my father's teachings in my mind, and within that, the promotion and protection of equality, not just as a centrepiece of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms but as an organizing principle for the building of a just society, and for the promotion and protection of human dignity, for the building of a society that was not only just but one that was also compassionate and humane.
These were my guiding principles during almost 16 years that I spent as the member for Mount Royal, a great riding, a rainbow riding, where I grew up and where I have lived for almost 60 years.
Mount Royal is a riding that I love living in. It has been a privilege and pleasure to represent my constituents while engaged in the multi-layered, multi-faceted role and responsibilities of an MP including: first, the MP as ombudsperson for individuals and groups in the riding, petitioning government and Parliament for redress of grievance on behalf of constituents.
In that regard, I have been the beneficiary of a wonderful set of assistants in the riding, including my first head, Sabina Schmidman, Louise O'Neill, Diane Du Sablon, Isabelle Casanova, and Howard Liebman, a former law student of mine who headed up my office for close to 12 years. All of them have served the people of Mount Royal, and even beyond, with understanding, empathy and wisdom and in the process have transformed the lives of people in the riding and beyond.
Second, the MP as a representative of riding-wide concerns. Here, I have been engaged in the whole gamut of cross-cutting concerns that reflect my riding on the domestic front: health, environment, child care, anti-poverty, veterans' affairs, and le devoir de mémoire, the recognition and respect for our heritage. On the international front, we pursued a humanitarian and human rights based foreign policy, in particular, among others, the responsibility to protect.
Third is the MP as policy maker and legislator. Here I was pleased as minister of justice to introduce Canada's first-ever law against human trafficking, the contemporary global slave trade; to craft a civil marriage act anchored in two fundamental principles, the equality principle and freedom of religion; to initiate with the assistance of colleagues from all parties in the justice committee, including the member for Central Nova, now the Minister of Justice, Canada's first-ever inclusive, representative, transparent and accountable appointment process for the Supreme Court, which led to the most gender-equitable Supreme Court in the world, and the appointment of the first-ever aboriginal and visible minority persons to appellate courts; and to review and participate in the reversal of wrongful convictions.
As an MP, again with all-party co-operation, I was able to shepherd through the House Canada's first-ever Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act and, ultimately, as minister, ended up initiating the first-ever prosecution under that act. As an opposition MP, as we have all done, I have sought to make use of the parliamentary instruments at our disposal, such as private members' bills, motions, petitions, order paper questions and the like to help advance the public good.
This leads me to the other several roles of the MP.
The MP as overseer reflects our responsibility as representatives of the public trust and overseers of the public purse to help secure the public good. The MP as public advocate takes up cases and causes and brings them to the attention of Parliament, the government and the people of Canada, for example, to stand in solidarity with political prisoners, to let them know that they are not alone, that we will never relent in our advocacy until we secure their freedom. The MP as communicator participates in press briefings and engages with constituents, stakeholders, NGOs and civil society generally. The MP as educator, as when we meet with students from our riding and others and find that we end up learning from these students and they become our teachers. The MP as global ambassador for Canada, as in our international representations and delegations.
In all of those capacities, I have found that some of our most important and impactful work is a result of cross-party collaboration and co-operation. It has been my pleasure to work with colleagues from all parties in this chamber and in the Senate on matters such as advocating for the release of political prisoners and holding, as we did recently, human rights violators to account, notably during our annual Iran Accountability Week.
In particular, I must highlight the co-operative and constructive work of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Human Rights, which operates almost exclusively by consensus. I trust that my colleagues on that subcommittee will continue that work in the same collegial and serious manner after the next election.
Of course, none of this parliamentary work would have been possible without the commitment and care of those who headed up and guided my parliamentary office: Judith Abitan, Michael Milech, David Grossman, Jacob Binder, Matt Biderman, as well as Charles Feldman, who headed up my office for seven years and whose expertise became indispensable not only to my work but to the effective functioning of Parliament as a whole.
Moreover, as minister, I was privileged to work with exemplary senior officials and civil servants in the Department of Justice, too numerous to mention.
As well, we have all been the beneficiaries of the professional and personable House of Commons personnel, from security guards to technical staff, to pages, to legislative drafters, to House and committee clerks.
In particular, I must also thank my own inspiring party leader, the member for Papineau, the staff in the party leader's office, the party's House leader, the member for Beauséjour, with his irrepressible sense of humour, our exemplary whip, the member for Random—Burin—St. George's, all the people in the House leaders and whip's offices and, indeed, I commend them all for their support, flexibility, patience and good humour, particularly when I am not always onside. I also include my wonderful caucus colleagues. I have had the privilege to serve in the government of the Right Honourable Paul Martin. He was a great prime minister we did not have suficient time to experience. He was the best finance minister the country ever had.
Finally, a word about family, with which I will close, who are first in my heart and mind. I began by speaking about my parents and I will conclude with speaking about the care, contribution and commitment of my wife Ariela, who is in the chamber this evening, and has been in the political trenches with me all these years, though, admittedly, sometimes not on the same side. I thank my children, Michal, Gila, Tanya and Yoni, who have been the source of many a humbling and healthy riposte, my grandchildren, who seem to have inherited that same quality with an even more mocking humour, and my children's spouses. I thank them all for their support and their love. They certainly have mine in return.
For me, Parliament is not just a place where I went to work; it has been my home. My colleagues have become my family. It has been a privilege to serve in this chamber, to serve alongside all my colleagues, to serve the people of Mount Royal and to help in the best way I can to advance the cause of justice for all.
View Irwin Cotler Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Irwin Cotler Profile
2015-06-09 10:10 [p.14782]
moved for leave to introduce Bill C-689, Act to enact the Global Human Rights Accountability Act and to make related amendments to the Special Economic Measures Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I rise to introduce the global Magnitsky human rights accountability act, seconded by the member for Winnipeg North, which would allow for the sanctioning of human rights violators through the imposition of travel bans and asset freezes. The House unanimously endorsed such measures in March. It is deeply disappointing, therefore, that the government still has not moved forward with the necessary corresponding legislation.
Magnitsky sanctions, which have been recommended by legislatures across Europe and implemented by the United States, are named for Moscow lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who uncovered the largest corporate tax fraud in Russian history before being detained, tortured, and murdered in prison in 2009. Not only have the Russian officials complicit in that criminality escaped punishment, but many of them have, in fact, been rewarded by Vladimir Putin's regime.
It is therefore up to Canada and other members of the international community to impose tangible consequences on the perpetrators and on human rights violators generally by blocking their ability to travel and trade and launder their assets around the world. I would urge the government to either take over my bill or pass similar legislation on its own, both out of respect for the will of the House and out of solidarity with the victims of human rights violations and those who struggle valiantly on their behalf in Russia and around the world.
View Irwin Cotler Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Irwin Cotler Profile
2015-05-29 11:01 [p.14339]
Mr. Speaker, the Burundian diaspora in Canada, members of which are in the gallery today, is alarmed by the political and humanitarian crisis in Burundi.
Ever since President Nkurunziza declared his intention to run for a third term, with no regard for the Constitution, the country has been rocked by demonstrations and a violent campaign of repression perpetrated by the police and armed militia.
Opposition members, human rights advocates and journalists have been targeted, and the leader of an opposition party was assassinated on Saturday.
In Burundi, there are currently more than 100,000 refugees, as well as hundreds injured and dozens dead. A number of countries and international organizations have already cut off their financial aid to the Burundian government and are calling for the election to be postponed.
Canada must fast-track family reunification and immigration applications, stop deportations to Burundi, and join in the efforts of the international community to ensure that human rights are being respected in Burundi.
View Irwin Cotler Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Irwin Cotler Profile
2015-05-26 14:14 [p.14173]
Mr. Speaker, 10 years ago Parliament and Canada at large were in the midst of an intense yet generally dignified and democratic discussion about the recognition of same-sex marriage. Appellate courts began upholding the constitutionality of same-sex marriage, and as the minister of justice in 2004, I referred the matter to the Supreme Court. The court heard from some 27 intervenors before unanimously affirming that same-sex marriage was consistent with the Constitution, and I was proud to draft and introduce the Civil Marriage Act in February 2005.
It took effect 10 years ago this summer, enshrining two fundamental charter rights: the equality rights of same-sex couples and the fundamental principle of freedom of religion.
At the time, Canada was only the fourth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, and the first outside of Europe. Today, with the recent addition of Ireland, same-sex marriage is recognized in some 20 countries, with more to come.
This year, as we mark the 10th anniversary of the Civil Marriage Act as well as the 30th anniversary of the charter's equality rights provisions, we can be proud of Canadian leadership in matters of equality, freedom, justice, and human rights.
View Irwin Cotler Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Irwin Cotler Profile
2015-05-08 11:11 [p.13651]
Mr. Speaker, today is the 70th anniversary of VE Day, a special and poignant moment of remembrance and reminder, of celebration and tribute, which we marked in a ceremony of remembrance at the cenotaph in my riding in Côte Saint-Luc. We remembered those who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we may live in freedom and peace.
We were reminded of the values that they sought to protect and preserve, and that underpin our freedom and democracy today. I recalled the words of my father on my fifth birthday that VE Day. As he put it, the VE Day marked the end of two wars: the Nazi war against the allies and the Nazi war against the Jews.
We celebrated Canada's role in the liberation of the Netherlands in the presence of the Dutch Consul General, and we paid tribute to the veterans among us.
My riding is privileged to have one of the largest percentage of veterans in the country, and when they returned from the horrors of the war, they rebuilt their lives as they rebuilt our communities. Indeed, my riding, like so many across Canada, is full of facilities and institutions built by veterans.
Thanks to them, we can look to the future with hope. May the values that inspired them inspire us all.
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