Canada's Original Think Tank

Third reading of Bill S-219, An Act to deter Iran-sponsored terrorism, incitement to hatred, and human rights violations

Third reading of Bill S-219, An Act to deter Iran-sponsored terrorism, incitement to hatred, and human rights violations

Third reading of Bill S-219, An Act to deter Iran-sponsored terrorism, incitement to hatred, and human rights violations

Hon. Art Eggleton: Honourable senators, I’m rising to speak on Bill S-219, An Act to deter Iran-sponsored terrorism, incitement to hatred, and human rights violations.

There have been many reports of human rights violations, funding terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and inciting hatred, primarily aimed at Israel by Iran. The Canadian government needs to continue to hold Iran to account on these issues. However, I do not believe this bill will move the dial in a positive way on any one of them.

Under the right circumstances, sanctions can work. We saw this in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, between Iran and the permanent five of the Security Council plus Germany. In this instance, a coherent and coordinated sanctions regime brought to bear enough pressure on the Iranian regime to bring them to the bargaining table.

Canada implemented the United Nations Security Council mandated sanctions as well as additional sanctions on Iran in coordination with our partners. It is this type of coordinated multilateral approach that allows sanctions to really affect change in the targeted state.

Unfortunately what this bill aims to accomplish is neither coherent nor is it coordinated. It’s not coherent because it’s such a catch-all. I’ll repeat in this chamber what was said at committee by Richard Nephew of Columbia University, who served former President Obama on his National Security Council at the White House. He said:

. . . this bill requires Iran to make progress on such a great variety of bad acts that it removes the Canadian government’s ability to respond to and reward improvement in any one particular element.

George A. Lopez, Professor Emeritus of Peace Studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, elaborated on this when he said:

Sanctions are more effective when they not only enrage the target but set up a mechanism for engaging the target in bargaining . . . .

Now, this bill will not incentivize Iran to change its behaviour. It is doomed to fail in its objectives from the start.

Furthermore, the items that this bill targets — incitement to hatred, sponsorship of terrorism and human rights violations — happen in more than one country. There are a whole lot of countries out there that we could suggest should be subject to these kinds of things, if we were going to do them in this way. This sends a confusing signal that we’re willing to sanction these actions in one country but not all those others.

Just last week Bill S-226, the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, also known as the Magnitsky Act, received Royal Assent. This act will allow our government to impose sanctions on foreign nationals from any country found responsible for gross violations of internationally recognized human rights. Thus, we can sanction any individual, including Iranians, in response to cases of human rights violations and significant acts of corruption anywhere in the world. I would contend that it is not in the interests of diplomacy to duplicate a law with the intention of singling out one nationality. Nor, honourable senators, would this effort be considered coordinated, meaning that the impact on Iran would likely be minimal.

Canada has a robust and healthy economy that makes it a desirable place to do business with, but it took years of sanctions by the United Nations, the United States and the European Union to get Iran to the table on its nuclear program. I’m afraid that sanctions by Canada alone will not have the kind of economic impact needed to get Iran to negotiate any one of the offences that are highlighted in this bill.

Without the economic heft to put any real pressure on Iran to confront the issues laid out in the bill, we are left with diplomatic means to influence Iran. During the 2014 campaign, then candidate Justin Trudeau said he would restore relations with Iran. As Prime Minister, he has worked toward this goal.

Bill S-219 would undo this work. As Bijan Ahmadi, President of the Iranian-Canadian Congress, told the committee in no uncertain terms, “Make no mistake, if enacted into law this bill will kill any possibility of re-engagement with Iran.” And that would be a shame.

Let me return to what Mr. Nephew said in this regard:

The impact is that if you are not on the ground in the Iran, you lose two things. You lose the ability to have diplomatic presence and the ability to interact with the Iranian government, and you lose the ability, on the second hand, for intelligence collection and the ability to provide informed assessments.

In other words, Canada would be blind in a country it wants to instigate change in.

Engagement is about holding countries to account and advancing Canadian consular cases, because a number of people do get arrested in Iran and we should be there to help them. It also provides for advancing Canada’s human rights goals.

Open and frank dialogue, especially when we disagree, is the best way to effectively address security issues and hold Iran to account on human rights, hate speech and its sponsorship of terrorism. Bill S-219 would rob present and future governments of this ability. It would intrude on the government’s ability to manage foreign affairs. It’s prescriptive, very detailed and reduces the flexibility to react to a changing global environment.

Honourable senators, I believe Canada needs to continue to hold that regime accountable. Regretfully, that is not something this bill will accomplish. Canada needs to be engaged if it is to instigate any positive change in Iran. I believe Bill S-219 will preclude this, and that is why I will be voting against it.

Hon. David Tkachuk: I have a question for Senator Eggleton. Since Bill S-219 does not actually add additional sanctions but only expands the sanctions to include the Iranian revolutionary guard, how will expanding sanctions to the IRGC harm relations with Iran?

Senator Eggleton: Well, I think as the leader of the community in Canada clearly said, it will bring them to an end. This is a very prescriptive bill and it handcuffs the government from being able to deal with the matter as they see fit and in the circumstances that exist at the time. This requires, as it says right in the bill, that you can’t ease these sanctions unless two consecutive annual reports conclude there’s no credible evidence of terrorist activity — and it doesn’t define how you determine that — or incitement to hatred emanating from Iran, and there has been significant progress in Iran in respect to human rights. So for two years, the government is handcuffed from being able to make a move that it sees as a better form of dealing with Iran, engagement with Iran to help promote human rights activities and to promote our concern about people who are imprisoned in that country.

So this is a handcuffing kind of exercise here. It’s very prescriptive, very detailed, and I don’t think it gives the government the kind of flexibility that it needs to be able to deal with the cases.

Senator Tkachuk: I don’t understand how it’s more prescriptive and very detailed. Of course it has to be detailed because in this bill we’re asking not only the government of Iran but the IRGC, the Iranian revolutionary guard —, the Government of Canada has to explain to Parliament what progress has been made on human rights and on their terrorism acts before it adds a further relationship with Iran. How is that more complicated, and how is that more difficult for the government to do?

Senator Eggleton: It’s not as simple as you’re trying to say it is.

Senator Tkachuk: Explain how it’s more complicated.

Senator Eggleton: For two years, you handcuff them from doing what they think is the right thing at that time. Even in the United States, they say that the President may or the President may not, but you’re not saying that here. You’re requiring this kind of reporting for two consecutive years.