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Diplomatic Relations with Iran

Hon. Linda Frum: My question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate.

Leader, earlier this month when Foreign Affairs Minister St├ęphane Dion met in Toronto with a group of 60 Iranian-Canadians to hear their views about re-engagement with Iran, the meeting was carefully stacked with pro-regime advocates rather than a representative sample of Iranian-Canadians. Iranian-Canadians include some of the most tragic victims of the Ayatollah's regime and their grim record of global terrorism and domestic repression.

My question to you, leader, which I hope you'll pass on to the minister, is this: Before he proceeds to re-open diplomatic ties with Iran, will the minister consult with the family of Zahra Kazemi, the Canadian woman tortured and murdered in Evin Prison in 2003? Will the minister consult with the Alberta-based sister of Canadian resident Saeed Malekpour who has languished in Evin Prison since 2008 on trumped up charges? Will the minister consult with the 30,000 Syrian refugees who have sought asylum in Canada who have lost everything they love and possessed to Iran's proxy war against the Syrian people? Will the Minister consult with the Toronto family of Howie Rothman, the Canadian rabbi murdered by an Iranian-sponsored terrorist with an axe blow to the head?

Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): I thank the honourable senator for her question and for her ongoing work in this chamber and outside the chamber on bringing to our attention human rights issues in Iran as was done with the motion earlier this fall.

I will take her question as a representation and bring it to the minister's attention. But I would, in doing so, emphasize to all senators that according diplomatic relations to a country is not an endorsement of a country's human rights record or other policies. In fact, it is a way of engaging a country on a wide range of issues, including issues in which there are differences of views and differences of treatment of human rights. That was one of the advantages, frankly, that Canada enjoyed in Iran until the previous government withdrew diplomatic relations.

I know this because of my time in the Department of Foreign Affairs, and frankly in my discussions with our colleagues in the United States who themselves benefited from the presence of Canadian diplomats in Iran in terms of their understanding of the government of Iran and as we sought with our allies to manage some of the difficult issues that are brought to us through the various engagements of the Government of Iran on global issues.

Senator Frum: Leader, can I also challenge the government to read closely the UN General Assembly Resolution on Human Rights in Iran that Minister Dion welcomed last week. I am troubled by the unprecedented amount of praise for the Iranian regime contained in this resolution. This flies in the face of the fact that Iran continues to be among the worst perpetrators of human rights violations in the world.

Why did Minister Dion not condemn the UN for this undeserved praise for Iran's human rights' record in the recent UN resolution?

Senator Harder: Again, I thank the honourable senator for her question. The comments made by the foreign minister stand on their own merits. I, of course, will, as I indicated earlier, bring to the minister's attention the concerns expressed by the honourable senator.

I again want to repeat that engaging with the Government of Iran is an enlightened policy of the government to ensure we are actively involved with and able to communicate our concerns with the Government of Iran, are able to promote Canadian interests in our engagement with Iran, and are working with our allies who have been so engaged with the nuclear issue in Iran that Canada can participate with our allies in appropriate consultations and strategies.

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