Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade
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Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on 
Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Issue No. 18 - Evidence - Meeting of February 16, 2017


OTTAWA, Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, to which was referred Bill S-219, An Act to deter Iran-sponsored terrorism, incitement to hatred, and human rights violations, met this day at 10:30 a.m. to give consideration to the bill; and to study opportunities for strengthening cooperation with Mexico since the tabling, in June 2015, of the committee report entitled North American Neighbours: Maximizing Opportunities and Strengthening Cooperation for a more Prosperous Future.

Senator Percy E. Downe (Deputy Chair) in the chair.

[English]

The Deputy Chair: This is the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade. We are meeting today for the first panel to continue our study on opportunities for strengthening cooperation with Mexico since the tabling in June 2015 of the committee report entitled North American Neighbours: Maximizing Opportunities and Strengthening Cooperation for a more Prosperous Future.

Under this mandate, the committee will hear witnesses today on North American trilateral relations, which are obviously very topical given what's going on, and I'm pleased to welcome back Mr. David Morrison, Assistant Deputy Minister for the Americas at Global Affairs Canada; and Mr. Martin Moen, Director General, North America and Investment at Global Affairs Canada.

Gentlemen, I believe you have opening comments?

[Translation]

David Morrison, Assistant Deputy Minister (Americas), Global Affairs Canada: Honourable senators, I would like first to express my thanks for the invitation to speak to you today.

[English]

Canada and Mexico have enjoyed diplomatic relations for more than 70 years. The renewal of our engagement has been a key priority of the government. Indeed, the relationship between our two countries has recently gained momentum not seen in years.

There have been a range of high-level and productive engagements, and I will give you three examples.

[Translation]

The state visit of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto last June was a clear demonstration of our commitment to an enduring relationship. The agreements signed strengthened institutional linkages in areas such as environment and climate change, safety and security, health and wellness, indigenous affairs, international development, and cultural collaboration. As had also been recommended by this committee, the Prime Minister also announced the lifting of the visa requirement for Mexicans travelling to Canada.

[English]

On December 1, 2016, a year and a half after this committee's 2015 report, visa-free travel for Mexicans became a reality. The visa lift underscores the great importance Canada places on its relationship with Mexico. It is expected to improve Canada's overall competitiveness as a tourism destination and encourage continued growth of air travel between the two countries, benefiting the Canadian tourism and air travel sectors, as well as facilitating business ties and investment.

[Translation]

To follow through on commitments from the state visit and to further advance our common agenda, we also launched a high-level strategic dialogue, led by the foreign affairs minister. The first meeting was held in Mexico City, on October 12, 2016, where Minister Dion met with his counterpart, Mexican Foreign Secretary, Claudia Ruiz Massieu. During that meeting, Mexico agreed to join the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights in the extractive sector. The two countries agreed to establish an annual high-level bilateral dialogue on human rights, which we anticipate will take place in the spring.

Furthermore, Mexico agreed to establish a task force to address issues affecting Canadian investments in Mexico, to help resolve effectively issues that arise in our commercial relationship.

[English]

Thirdly, the Canada-Mexico Partnership annual meeting, which most recently took place in Ottawa on November 23 and 24, 2016, was the most successful and well-attended since the inception of the first meeting 12 years ago. This partnership serves to deepen cooperation on economic issues between Canada and Mexico, including energy, agribusiness, labour mobility, human capital, trade, investment and innovation, environment, mining and forestry.

We are confident that this recent strengthening of the bilateral relationship will facilitate increased cooperation on a range of issues. Let me mention particularly issues that have been of interest to this committee: security and the rule of law, energy, climate change, trade and education.

One of the committee's recommendations from the 2015 report was to explore opportunities for "cooperation on governance, security and rule of law issues of mutual interest, such as law enforcement and judicial capacity building.''

The government considers that strengthening democratic institutions in Mexico and helping Mexico to address its domestic and regional security challenges is in our national interest. Mexico is undergoing a substantive reform of its justice system to allow for better access to justice, more predictability and more transparency. Confidence in the justice system is indispensable for human rights protection and an important component of the rule of law.

During last June's state visit, Canada announced robust new support to assist Mexico with this transition. To date, several projects have been undertaken or are being planned that involve a wide range of stakeholders within the justice system, including the police, lawyers, prosecutors and judges.

The enthusiasm and support from Canada's own judicial sector to undertake these projects has been notable. As an example, the National Judicial Institute started a second project with Mexico in January. This three-year project aims to train Mexican judges in oral arguments, evaluation of evidence and advanced human rights.

[Translation]

The energy sector has also been identified as a potential area for opportunities and cooperation. The Mexican energy reform — expected to attract more than 50 billion U.S. dollars in private investment by 2018 — represents a historic opportunity for companies in the oil and gas sector. Private firms are now allowed to bid for licences in areas like oil exploration and production, and to invest in power generation.

Canada's expertise in oil and gas, as well as in the renewable energy sector, represents significant opportunities for our companies and investors. Furthermore, Canada's recognized expertise in the field of resource development governance is leading to Canada-Mexico cooperation in policy development, education and training. The Government of Alberta and Alberta Energy Regulators have recently signed agreements with their counterparts and three Albertan educational institutions, the Universtiy of Calgary, University of Alberta and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, have partnerships with Mexican institutions to develop skills for the industry.

Minister Carr's recent visit to Mexico with a large delegation of business and indigenous leaders led to several noteworthy energy-related outcomes supporting Canada's trade and investment objectives. This includes the establishment of a working group to promote Canadian firms' participation in Mexico's oil and gas as well as electricity auction processes, as well as the signature of an MOU to further enhance electricity cooperation between our two nations.

[English]

Climate change and the environment are additional areas that also present good opportunities for increased cooperation between Canada and Mexico. At COP 22 in Marrakesh last fall, Canada announced $14 million in funding to reduce short-lived climate pollutants, like methane, through partnerships with Mexico and Chile. We are both committed to meeting our Paris agreement targets, many of which are at the provincial or state level. Cooperation at the sub-national government levels on those issues is indeed important and growing, and I know that's a particular area that previous witnesses have spoken about to this committee.

For example, last September Mexico hosted the second Climate Summit of the Americas on that very theme. Four Canadian premiers attended and committed to set long-term emission reduction and adaptation goals, involving innovative practices that benefit the environment, the economy and society, and making investments that will enable deep emission reductions by 2050.

Turning now to the trade front, I will not repeat the statistics regarding Canada-Mexico bilateral trade as they have already been given to you by the previous speakers. However, it is important to mention that Canada and Mexico are important trading partners and that Canada is the largest foreign investor in Mexico's mining sector.

We agree with your previous witness, Ms. Laura Dawson, that Mexico's growing middle class will offer growing opportunities for Canadian companies and investors.

[Translation]

As was also recognized by your previous witnesses, education is a sector where we believe there is significant potential for growth and enhanced cooperation. Mexico is a priority country under Canada's International Education Strategy. Canada and Mexico agree on the importance of education, research, and innovation as drivers for competitiveness and prosperity for our countries. A number of initiatives were signed during last June's state visit, including a bilateral industrial research mobility agreement between Mitacs, a Canadian national, non-for-profit organization that funds research and training, and Mexico's National Council for Science and Technology. Through Global Affairs Canada's Emerging Leaders of the Americas program, nearly 600 Mexicans have come to Canada for short-term study or research opportunities since 2009.

Universities Canada has identified Mexico as a priority and is exploring a mission of university presidents to Mexico next fall.

[English]

Before ending, let me place the Canada-Mexico relationship in the broader North American context. The election of President Trump has of course brought uncertainty, and we realize that there could be challenges ahead. However, we continue to believe in the potential of North America.

The North American region has a combined population of almost 530 million people and an economy that represents more than one quarter of the world's gross domestic product. Three countries are among each other's largest trading partners and sources of foreign investment. Our combined GDP has more than doubled over the past two decades, rising from US$8 trillion in 1993 to over US$20 trillion today.

Canada, the U.S. and Mexico have long collaborated as continental partners. Shared free market principles, advancements in information technology, regulatory harmonization and simplification, and physical proximity have helped drive trade and investment. The increased movement of trade, capital and labour across shared borders also presents the three countries with common challenges relating to environmental sustainability, natural disasters, pandemics and security risks such as the flow of illicit drugs, transnational crime and terrorism.

Examples of working groups that have been established trilaterally to combat some of these issues include working groups on drug trafficking, violence against indigenous women and girls, and the protection of monarch butterflies. We expect that this kind of close cooperation will continue. There is a fundamental understanding that important issues like security, human and drug trafficking, health pandemics and energy systems integration are best addressed collectively.

Regardless of rhetoric, Canada and many in the United States understand that a secure, stable and prosperous Mexico is indispensable to Canada's own prosperity and security. We consider that it is important for close neighbours to meet regularly to discuss issues on which we agree and also on which we disagree. There is currently a lot of uncertainty, but the lines of communication remain open. The Prime Minister stated in the days following the U.S. election that Canada and Mexico would "work constructively together to advance our interests.''

Sometimes, as with all our partners, our interests will diverge and at other times they will align. The reality is that it is in our individual as well as collective interests to continue collaborating on a wide range of issues. This is why we will continue to foster a strong bilateral relationship with Mexico and a strong commitment to the North American partnership.

[Translation]

Thank you for the opportunity to provide you with an update on the government's agenda in relation to Mexico. I welcome any questions that you may have.

[English]

The Deputy Chair: Thank you, Mr. Morrison, for your presentation. I wonder if you could briefly describe the "snap back'' provision in the visas for Mexico.

Mr. Morrison: As I said, Mexico became visa-free on December 1. We will be and are monitoring the flow of Mexican travellers closely and looking at whether there will be an increase in the number of asylum claimants. It's only been two months, but we're looking at that closely.

The Deputy Chair: What number is not acceptable? Would the government intervene when it goes above a certain number? I'm interested in a discussion about that.

Mr. Morrison: I can't say a certain number other than to say that we are monitoring it closely.

There is a new provision that you will know of called the Electronic Travel Authorization, and it's ever-so-slightly complicated. At the same time as Mexico became visa-free, Mexican citizens wishing to travel to Canada had to go through the Electronic Travel Authorization process. The way that will work in the future is we'll extend eTA to additional countries. Mexico would be a candidate for that.

If you're a candidate for eTA extension, if you have ever had a visa to Canada or the United States and have complied with the laws of those countries in terms of not overstaying, then you would be eligible for visa-free travel. The point is that even if we were to get to a point of visa reimposition with Mexico, trusted travellers would still be able to go both ways.

The Deputy Chair: Correct me if I'm wrong, but were the Mexicans not advised that if 3,500 asylum seekers came in a year, the visa would be reassessed at that point? Did the Canadian government give the Mexicans a number?

Mr. Morrison: I'm not aware of a precise number that was transmitted to the Mexican government. I am aware that the Canadian government had determined a number for itself. I just don't know whether that was conveyed to the Mexicans.

The Deputy Chair: And has that number been made public?

Mr. Morrison: No, it has not.

The Deputy Chair: So 3,500 could be right or wrong. I understand it's right, but you can't confirm or deny it.

Mr. Morrison: I can't confirm.

Senator Ataullahjan: Thank you for your presentation this morning. I want to ask you a question about an article printed in The Globe and Mail yesterday. It said:

Canada and the United States will focus on bilateral negotiations as part of President Donald Trump's pledge to tweak the North American free-trade deal that governs Canadian commerce, leaving Mexico essentially to fend for itself.

The signals coming from Washington are that there will be an American negotiating team dealing with Canada and a separate one for Mexico . . . .

The article cites two views in this regard. Canadian trade lawyer Lawrence Herman believes that it's "a significant achievement for Canada'' because, in his view, Canada must "avoid being embroiled in resolving Mexico's contentious disputes with the Trump administration.''

On the other hand:

. . . John Weekes, a trade lawyer who helped negotiate NAFTA, warned it could backfire if Canada attempts to cut the Mexicans out of trilateral talks.

I would like to know your thoughts on this. Is Mexico being left out of the conversation entirely?

Mr. Morrison: I'll speak a little bit about the overall relationship, and then I'll turn to my colleague Martin Moen, who is our NAFTA expert.

To respond directly to your question, Mexico is most definitely not being left out of the conversation entirely. It's the policy of the Government of Canada to strengthen relations with the United States and with Mexico and trilaterally, and that's reflected in the mandate letters to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of International Trade.

There has been plenty of media speculation recently. Let me just say that I think it's very early days in terms of any renegotiation of NAFTA.

Martin will comment, but it is at least my understanding that the Americans are just now beginning to think about how they would conduct a future NAFTA renegotiation.

Martin Moen, Director General, North America and Investment, Global Affairs Canada: First of all, there are elements of areas that the U.S. administration has publicly identified as being of concern in terms of their relationship with Mexico that are unrelated to trade. I think whether or not those would be dealt with bilaterally or trilaterally would depend on the circumstances.

With regard to NAFTA itself, I would like to stress that there are many decisions in terms of how to proceed that the U.S. administration has not taken. For example, they have not taken the decision as to whether they would proceed to use the formal process of trade promotion authority and notify Congress under that authority and then proceed to do some kind of negotiation that would require congressional approval. They may go that path, but they have not decided.

Much remains undecided. It is early days in this administration.

With regard to the NAFTA itself, it's an agreement that is very flexible in how it treats different issues. At the time of the NAFTA, for example, issues regarding access for sugar were dealt with between the United States and Mexico. Issues relating to trucking were dealt with separately between the U.S. and Mexico, with the U.S. and Canada having very different circumstances in that regard.

Similarly, the energy chapter of the NAFTA has provisions related to proportionality that apply between Canada and the United States but not with Mexico. So there are elements of the agreement that in the past have been dealt with in a bilateral way and then brought under the umbrella. There, of course, are many important elements of the agreement that are fully trilateral.

As to how exactly we would be proceeding, which elements we would be tweaking or whether we'll be adding on, all of these are good questions for us to consider, that we're all thinking about, but we really don't know at this point exactly how the U.S. wishes to proceed.

Of course, as we move into any such modernization of the NAFTA, if that's where we end up going, then of course we would consult widely with Canadians and make sure we have an appropriate approach, both in terms of the specifics of the content and the form regarding what is trilateral, what is bilateral and what is best dealt with in this context or elsewhere.

Senator Ataullahjan: I'm just going by what the Canadian ambassador said — who was present at the meetings between the Canadian Prime Minister and the American President — that if any changes are made, it could be beneficial to Canada and the U.S. That's the reason I'm asking if Mexico is being left out of the conversation. Everyone is talking about what's beneficial for Canada and the U.S., but there is no mention of Mexico. You have already commented, so thank you.

[Translation]

Senator Saint-Germain: Thank you for your presentation, deputy minister. I noted your reference to Canada's commitment to helping Mexico, in particular in its transition to stronger human rights practices. I also noted issues involving cooperation between companies, citizens, and the Canadian and Mexican governments, as regards trade or business practices that do not always meet our standards. This is a very important aspect, in my opinion.

On another matter, there are also irritants for Mexican business people, including matters related to Canadian laws and regulations. You referred to that. I am thinking in particular about the issues related to visas for temporary and seasonal workers. Perhaps you can give an overview of the Canadian government's approach and the action plan it intends to implement in order to eliminate these irritants, which is some cases date back a number of years? Eliminating these irritants could provide for smoother and more positive trade and commerce with Mexico.

[English]

Mr. Morrison: Canada and Mexico trade is about $38 billion a year, and almost all of it passes irritant-free, which is a quantum increase since the coming into being of NAFTA.

There were two major irritants, I would say, going into the state visit in the summer. One was the visa, which was imposed in 2008 or 2009 and quite dramatically reduced the number of Mexicans coming to Canada for all purposes — for vacation and all manner of short stays. On our side, there was an issue of beef access to the Mexican market.

We were able to resolve both of those and announce at the state visit that six months later the visa would be lifted and that as of October 1, Canada would enjoy complete access to the Mexican market for Canadian beef. Both of those things unrolled on schedule.

You mentioned temporary workers. I'm not aware that that is an irritant at all. The Canadian temporary workers program of which Mexico is the largest beneficiary — Jamaica is another large beneficiary — has been cited by the United Nations as a model of managed migration. This is a program by which Mexican workers come up seasonally to work mainly in the agricultural sector in southern Ontario and elsewhere at harvest time. I think the Mexicans would like to have a greater number. I believe the number last year was in the range of 22,000 Mexicans who came up. That's one part of our overall bilateral relationship that we can work on.

In general, you would have taken from my remarks that Canada-Mexico bilateral relations right now are stronger than they've been at any time in recent memory. Obviously, with our third-largest trading partner we're going to have some irritants from time to time, but most of the big ones that I mentioned have indeed been resolved in the recent past.

[Translation]

Senator Saint-Germain: Regarding seasonal workers, there have been various problems related to upholding work contracts. I understand from your reply that this, at least, has improved.

You referred in particular to Canada's commitments to further assisting Mexico as regards its official desire to more fully respect human rights. What type of assistance are you talking about, in practical terms?

[English]

Mr. Morrison: I mentioned a couple of the ways in which we were accompanying Mexico in its transition, and I made reference to one specific project. It's actually quite a dramatic development in Mexico, the reform of the justice system. I mentioned how we're working with police, lawyers, judges and so on.

Mexico had a system until very recently that had no oral arguments, so all of the Mexican court cases took place only on paper. Judges received written submissions and took decisions accordingly. Most other countries long ago went to oral arguments where the people disputing whatever they are disputing, if it's a civil or a criminal matter, actually appear in front of the judge.

That is deemed to be a very significant step in helping Mexico cut down on the high levels of impunity for all sorts of crimes, but including human rights crimes. Canada has provided Mexico with assistance, training for judges and others in this new and, for Mexico, revolutionary way of trying cases. That's just one example.

I mentioned that Canada is a very large investor in Mexico. In the couple of years since Mexico opened up its energy sector, we now have 200 Canadian companies selling into PEMEX, the Mexican state oil company. All of that activity on the commercial front is being accompanied by a stepped-up effort to help Mexico with its transition, including on human rights.

Senator Cordy: My question is a follow-up in relation to human rights violations. I had the privilege — if you can call it "the pleasure'' — to hear some horrid stories of people. It was more a privilege to hear their stories. I met with a number of young women from Mexico who were arrested for no reason other than they were against government policy in Mexico. They told their stories. You mentioned briefly in response to Senator Saint-Germain about the judicial system. Do we use the commonalities that we have with Mexico? Do we use our trade relationship with Mexico to address the human rights violations that are taking place there?

Mr. Morrison: Yes, we certainly do. Let me give you two examples. This is how the business of diplomacy works.

I mentioned in my remarks that one of the outcomes of the state visit in the summer was an agreement to establish what we called a high-level strategic dialogue between Mexico and Canada. The first edition of that dialogue took place in October. I travelled down to Mexico Minister Dion and several others. Human rights in both countries was on the agenda. The outcome of that discussion was an agreement to set up a regular high-level mechanism to talk about human rights in both countries. As I said in my remarks, the first specific dialogue on human rights will take place this spring between the two countries.

Minister Dion met with a group of activists on that trip involved in human rights in Mexico, including a woman who had come up here at the time of the state visit. She was interviewed on CBC Radio and then she went back to Mexico, and her protection was removed. That's a case that our embassy in Mexico is following very closely.

A country like Mexico, which is extraordinarily diverse and has high levels of inequality, is on a journey. The journey has been I think mostly positive. There are now 44 million members of the Mexican middle class. A large number of Mexicans have been pulled out of poverty by that country's growth in recent years. Nevertheless, the levels of criminality, impunity and violence are things that the Mexican government is taking very seriously. We, as a great partner to the Mexican government, do what we can.

Senator Cordy: Mexico would be one country. There are many countries around the world where we disagree with what they are doing with the people in their country, and they commit human rights violations. Is it helpful for Canada to have the doors open to Mexico in this case so that we can actually address some of our concerns?

Mr. Morrison: The government's clear policy is to engage with countries on which we agree and engage with countries on which we don't agree.

I would point out as well that many countries going through transitions have very weak state institutions. So when human rights violations are being committed, it's not necessarily the state that is doing the committing; it is other forces. The great scourge in Mexico, or course, is drug trafficking. There are high levels of corruption. There are police services that are infiltrated by the drug gangs, and human rights abuses are committed as a result. There is no one more aware of this and more committed to changing the equation than the Government of Mexico, but it's a long-term project.

Senator Cordy: Going back to Senator Ataullahjan's question earlier, is Canada having a dialogue behind the scenes about all the possible scenarios with NAFTA and whether or not we do bilateral trade with the United States? You don't have to tell me what your discussions are, but I would feel a bit of comfort if I knew at least you're having that dialogue. If NAFTA becomes no more, do we engage in bilateral trade with Mexico and then bilateral trade with the United States?

Mr. Morrison: If my colleague Martin is looking a little tired these days, it's because he and his trade policy colleagues are literally working around the clock to consider all of those different scenarios. As I tried to say in my remarks and as is evident to anybody following this, we're in a period of great uncertainty. In a period of uncertainty it's prudent to prepare for all eventualities, and that's of course what we are doing.

Senator Woo: I want to go back to the question of travel between Canada and Mexico and get your views on the ampleness of direct air travel between Canada and Mexico, perhaps an update on the expanded services agreement that was put in place quite recently, and whether you have any information on the possibility of more freedom flights, planes coming in from Europe or from Asia that can stop in Canada and continue to Mexico.

Mr. Morrison: So far it's a pretty good news story. Both Air Canada and Aeromexico have indicated they are laying on additional flights. I do believe there has been a recent announcement. I would need to check this, but Aeromexico now has the first direct Calgary to Mexico flight.

I have heard from the embassy that there is lots of additional interest. There is a problem at the Mexican end, at least in Mexico City, that their airport is maxed out. They are building a new airport which will be one of the largest infrastructure projects in coming years in Latin America. Right now, there is not a lot of adequate landing spots.

Obviously Mexico is a big country. There are additional flights to sunspots and charter flights, so I don't know the answer to your fifth freedom question.

Can you speak to that?

Mr. Moen: I don't have an answer to that.

Senator Woo: Am I correct in saying, though, that Canada-Mexico have essentially open skies? So there are unlimited flights, depending on whether airlines are willing to pick them up and the capacity of the airports to handle more flights; is that right?

Mr. Morrison: My understanding it is it's not quite open skies, but we can come back to you on exactly what it is. My understanding is there are reasons it has stopped a little bit short of a full open skies agreement. We can get you that information.

Senator Woo: I would appreciate if you can look into the fifth freedom. Because most of the incremental demand for travel to Mexico via Canada would be coming from other countries' airlines. So we would be captive to just the airlines and Mexico and Canada under the current agreement, but we could really expand it if we have fifth freedom rights.

The Deputy Chair: Thank you, Senator Woo.

When you have the answer to the question, if you could send it to the clerk, she will distribute it to all members of the committee.

Senator Marwah: Given the uncertainty around NAFTA and now TPP, are we doing anything further to enhance our other trade alliances, like the Pacific Alliance, where Mexico always plays such an integral part of other regional alliances? Because it would behoove us to really have something further on many other fronts.

Mr. Morrison: Yes. As you know, Canada is a great trading nation, number one in terms of trade as a percentage of GDP in the G7. I think it's fair to say that Canada is always looking for ways to diversify its trading arrangements.

There will be a meeting in Chile in a month or so, I believe, of the Pacific Alliance, which is this very interesting grouping of Mexico, Columbia, Peru and Chile that came into being in 2011 or 2012. Canada was the first non-Latin observer country. We're the only country with a partnership agreement with the Pacific Alliance.

They are hosting a meeting that Canada will be attending. This is a meeting that is taking stock of trade, including with Asia, in the wake of what has recently happened with the TPP.

Senator Marwah: We are an observer currently, are we not, in the Pacific Alliance?

Mr. Morrison: Yes, we are.

Senator Marwah: Are we planning on moving beyond that to joining?

Mr. Morrison: Not to the best of my knowledge. We are an "observer plus'' in that we're the only observer that has a partnership agreement, but I'm not aware of any plans to become a full member.

It does bear saying, though, that we already have free trade agreements with the four founding members of the Pacific Alliance, as well as the two aspiring members, Costa Rica and Panama.

Mr. Moen: Let me add to that. Certainly over the past while, the government has been pursuing an approach to trade agreements that is very open-minded, looking where possibilities exist, pursuing them and exploring all avenues.

There are different degrees of engagement, of course. The agreement with the European Union and the success earlier this week in moving that forward and through the European Parliament is a very big, important step. There is an openness to exploring trade agreements across the world.

We certainly value the partnerships we have with the United States and Mexico. NAFTA has served us well, but having a diverse range of trade agreements is definitely in our interest and something worth pursuing.

Senator Bovey: Thank you for the update. As a new member of this committee, I found it very useful. I was really pleased to see you mention cultural collaborations and particularly pleased that you mentioned the educational research bilateral agreements and the fact that a number of university presidents will be in Mexico in the fall.

I am, as others know, very interested in cultural diplomacy. It was interesting to note that the Royal Winnipeg Ballet was in Mexico, coincidentally, as the Minister of Energy was there a few weeks ago. One of the senior dancers of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet is Mexican himself. As we take a look at the role of cultural diplomacy, I would like your thoughts as to what you think its role can be in relations between Canada and Mexico.

I'm also interested in trying to get a handle on what you feel the cultural trade is with Mexico. The most recent figures I have internationally, and they could be wrong, but in 2006, Canada put $11.9 million into the cultural trade program. The result of that was $4.3 billion or maybe closer to $5 billion back into our economy. I would be really interested to know what proportion of that was to Mexico and how you see that can grow.

The history of Canadian artists going down to Mexico and Mexican artists coming to Canada is rich. The cultural exchange in both performing and visual arts is huge. I wonder if you feel that that is being developed to the extent it could be.

Mr. Morrison: Thank you for the question. Many of us in the diplomatic service are big fans of cultural diplomacy because when you have been involved in it up front, you see the magic that it makes in terms of opening doors and building relationships.

Let me answer your question in a couple of ways. First, the Canada 150 project is not just a domestic initiative, although most of it is domestic. There will be a very vibrant international dimension to that, where our missions around the world will be using the occasion of Canada's one hundred fiftieth birthday to do all manner of cultural events.

In addition, the government announced — it was in the platform, but it was also in the last budget — the reinstatement of two cultural diplomacy programs, one of which will help to support Canadian artists and cultural performers travelling abroad. The other will support cultural trade, the kind you mentioned.

That's a tremendous ratio that you've cited for the amount invested in the program and the benefit to the Canadian economy. You asked how much of that was Mexico. I don't know, but what I will say is that the new resources made available under the two programs that I mentioned were hotly contested by the various embassies around the world. They are leading to new positions for people to manage these programs. Embassies and high commissions are quite cleverly getting together. If someone is going down Buenos Aires, they will to try to create a stop in Santiago.

So there will be more cultural diplomacy in the coming period than there has been in the past. From the point of view of my colleagues in the foreign service, that is very welcome news. As I said, it's magic what culture can do when you're trying to build relationships and take them to the next level. Mexico will be one of the most active missions in that regard.

Senator Bovey: I happen to believe that the loss of the cultural attachés hit not just the cultural community hard but did hit an understanding of who and what Canada is in many ways.

Senator Gold: I would like to return to the rule of law initiatives to which you have made mention early on. I applaud, of course, the Canadian Judicial Council's work.

I have a three-part question. Apart from that project, what other projects might fall within that category? How much money is being invested in those projects as part of this initiative? Finally, what the role of law faculties or research centres in the support or accompaniment of the Mexican community in this area?

I think, for example, of work that was done at the Centre de recherche en droit public at the University of Montréal, which I have had the privilege of being associated with for many decades now. It has done important work in Africa, China, and Latin America, educating lawyers, judges, the media, and civil society on rule of law values. I'm wondering what role they might play or could possibly play in assisting Mexico in its journey.

Mr. Morrison: Thanks very much for the question. Let me go from big picture to small picture.

First, we focus a lot on the kind of dialogues that I have already mentioned we have set up. Speaking in terms of security governance and the rule of law, bilateral security consultations take place regularly. Political military talks, which have a security dimension, obviously take place regularly. As a result of the state visit, there will be a new dialogue, which I believe will begin in April, which will be public security — our Department of Public Safety and their equivalent down in Mexico.

In addition to all of that, we have a program focused on the Americas called the Anti-Crime Capacity Building Program, training judges, police forces and so on.

You asked for amounts. There is $10.7 million in bilateral programming in Mexico since 2009, and the program that I mentioned recently was $1.7 million to train judges.

In addition, we have a separate program called the Global Partnership Program that helps countries like Mexico tighten up certain kinds of security to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction. That's a technical program that helps them at their ports and other places where things that we don't want to get into North America might try to get into North America.

On top of all of that, there is what we call the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives, which is an embassy-administered fund that can be responsive, in Mexico City and elsewhere, to human rights groups, LGBTI groups and women's groups that have smaller projects for which they are looking for funding. That fund is in the range of $500,000.

I'm not aware of individual law faculties helping out — I think that was part of your question — except to say that the relationship between Canada and Mexico is such that there are all manner of collaborations that go on every day that the embassy and we, as the government, don't know about because they are just the bread and butter of a very developed relationship between two countries.

Part of Brand Canada, I would say, is exactly the sort of programs that you were talking about from law schools across Canada. I know most about what goes on in the Americas, and I do know that law faculties, and universities in general, have all sorts of twinning and partnership arrangements that help to promote the Canadian way of doing governance. Obviously, Canada is renowned as a country that is well governed and that has figured out a lot of things that other countries continue to struggle with. That's why I say it is a strong part of Brand Canada — very active, actually, in the Caribbean.

Senator Gold: Thank you. I encourage you, though, to consider — and it's not a question of funding universities or law faculties. I'm not carrying a brief for that at all. But I think it's one of the things that we, as Canadians, really can add to the world. Encouragement by the government would, I think, encourage faculties and research centres — who have access to third-party funding, internationally and for initiatives of this kind — perhaps to do more. I think that would redound to the benefit both of Mexican society and, quite frankly, our own.

Senator Ngo: I want to follow up on the questions by Senator Ataullahjan and Senator Cordy. From your point of view, could you tell us the potential consequences of the renegotiation of NAFTA?

Mr. Moen: Like many of the other questions on NAFTA, I think this is difficult to answer with much precision given what we don't know. What we do know about NAFTA, of course, is that it has been a very valuable agreement for Canada, the United States and Mexico. It has, in some areas, been very important in supporting the development of very integrated supply chains.

If you take a look at automobiles, the NAFTA and the access it provides, and the security of access it provides, has allowed for automakers to rationalize production across three countries in ways that allow employment in all three countries.

There are many examples like that. Certainly from Canada's perspective, we think this is an agreement that has benefited all three parties. When we talk with business associations in the United States, with specific companies, with local governments, they all agree about the benefits of NAFTA in these areas.

Of course, as with any agreement, particularly an agreement that has been around for decades, there are elements that might be worth modernizing. There are things that have happened in trade negotiations since then and the world has moved on.

In terms of the assessment of what might happen or might be changed and the impact it would have, it's too early to tell in which direction we're going. I can say that we are doing the internal work on all kinds of possibilities to make sure that whatever it is we are asked to do or whatever is suggested, that we're ready to respond — and not just respond; we have our own ideas of ways the agreement can be improved, facilitated and clarified if we were to get into that kind of a discussion.

Senator Cools: I would like to welcome our witnesses today.

Some years ago I was in Mexico with a delegation. It was a very successful set of meetings; it was one of those exchanges. I had the experience of discovering that the bulk of the illicit drug trade of Mexico is directed towards the United States of America. At that time we were told that the previous year the Mexicans had lost 1,200 policemen to murder by the drug forces and that the Mexican government had arrested or apprehended 250 planes. I found this at the time almost unbelievable, incredible. Has there been any improvement?

At the meeting, one of the very bright, I thought, younger, up-and-coming members raised the issue of the inordinate needs in America for these drugs and what it is in that society that produces these needs that can produce such illegal and criminal activity in Mexico. Maybe this is not your field and you don't know anything about this, but I'm wondering if the situation has improved in any way, if you happen to know. If you don't, I understand.

Mr. Morrison: For example, taking one statistic, the murder rate, you mentioned 1,200 policemen. The murder rate actually did improve quite considerably. I can send you the exact figures. I believe that between about 2010 and 2014, the level of violent crime went down in Mexico, but it began to trend up again in 2014.

The only thing I would add is that it's not just Mexico. If you look at Mexico's southern neighbours in Central America, you are looking at some of the highest levels of violent crime in the world. It's a regional problem. Mexico has borne of brunt of it. Different governments have approached the issue of violence in drug cartels in different ways. But grosso modo, Mexico is in better shape now than it was back in 2008, 2009, 2010.

Senator Cools: That's very good news. Thank you. I sincerely believe that if there's any way that we can assist, promote or support, I think we should do it. When I say "we,'' I mean Canada.

The Deputy Chair: On behalf of the committee, I would like to thank the witnesses.

Mr. Morrison, if you would be kind enough to pass on to the Minister of Foreign Affairs' office that when she appears before us I will be asking her for the number on the "snap back'' on the Mexican visas, given that the Prime Minister said in the mandate letter to her:

We have also committed to set a higher bar for openness and transparency in government. It is time to shine more light on government to ensure it remains focused on the people it serves. Government and its information should be open by default. If we want Canadians to trust the government, we need a government that trusts Canadians.

Given that context, I think Canadians deserve to know if the number is 3,500 before we reinforce visas in Mexico, or higher, or whatever it is. I will be asking the minister for that number when she appears before us.

As a public servant, I won't put you on the spot, but if you would relay that to her office, I would appreciate it so she can be prepared to answer when she comes.

Colleagues, we will now continue with our study on Bill S-219, An Act to deter Iran-sponsored terrorism, incitement to hatred, and human rights violations.

We have as witnesses today the Honourable Irwin Cotler, former Minister of Justice and member of Parliament and well-known human rights activist; and from the Iran Democratic Association, we have Shahram Golestaneh.

I understand both of you have brief presentations and then I'm sure the senators will have questions. Please proceed.

Shahram Golestaneh, Iran Democratic Association: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'm delighted to appear before this committee to participate in the discussion on Bill S-219. My presentation focuses on some aspects of the bill that we believe are important considerations with respect to Canadian values, security and global affairs.

I have been privileged and have the honour of working with the Honourable Irwin Cotler, a distinguished scholar with vast knowledge of both Canadian and international law, who has a relentless pursuit of justice in the global arena.

Bill S-219 is a step in the right direction. Although in my presentation I will be emphasizing the role of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, on all areas of concern in the bill, in my written submissions I touched briefly on perpetrators and enablers of gross violations of human rights in Iran, which is also part of the bill.

Many of those perpetrators are currently holding high government positions within the Iranian regime.

It is the significance of the Iranian regime threats and its actions in all these areas addressed here that makes it worth considering and enacting the bill.

Article 151 of the regime's Constitution specifies the duties of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as protecting the revolution and its accomplishments. In other words, the IRGC is the backbone of the apparatus established to preserve the dictatorship, which itself rests on three pillars. The first is suppression within Iran; the second is export of terrorism and fundamentalism throughout the world; and the third is the program to manufacture a nuclear bomb and nuclear-capable missiles to threaten other countries.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the Iranian regime was overtly engaged in terrorism around the globe that targeted Iranian dissidents such as Dr. Kazem Rajavi in Geneva, Mohammad Hossein Naghdi in Rome, Shapour Bakhtiar in Paris, leaders of the Kurdistan Democratic Party in Berlin, Ghassemlou in Vienna, and the list goes on. It equally targeted citizens of other countries, including the bombing of the American marines in Beirut, Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, the Jewish AMIA Center in Buenos Aires, and many more.

In the same period, 450 acts of terrorism were registered to have been carried out by the Iranian regime that spans from countries like Pakistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Yemen, Syria to Switzerland, France, Germany, Italy, Austria, the U.S. and Argentina. The IRGC played a critical role in planning and conducting these acts of terrorism.

However, in recent years there was a shift to use and employ foreign nationals and foreign entities for terrorist operations around the globe. Two days ago, the National Council of Resistance of Iran — the main Iranian opposition group which is credited for exposing Iran's clandestine nuclear activities, including the existence of the Natanz and Arak nuclear facilities back in 2002 — disclosed valuable information about the IRGC's training centres across Iran mostly designed for foreign nationals.

I would encourage honourable senators to study this report that I have prepared as it relates to this bill.

The newly disclosed information also identified some of the key commanders of the IRGC.

The NCRI noted that Iran's recruitment of foreign nationals has been on the rise at least since 2012 and that the IRGC training facilities have grown accordingly. According to the report, this expansion has been explicitly endorsed by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei who visited the Quds Force training centres last year, an incident that the NCRI views as underscoring Khamenei's reliance on the IRGC to advance the regime's agenda and objectives.

It goes without saying that there is no distinction between the IRGC and the Quds Force, either in the Iranian Constitution or in the national budget.

In addition to being a potent and lethal terrorist force, the IRGC is also a conglomerate financial powerhouse, answerable to no one but the Supreme Leader and outside of any regular oversight about its spending and budget. Close to 70 per cent of Iran's economy is tied to the IRGC and its affiliated front companies. They span from controlling exports and imports, narcotics shipments and exports, to shipments of arms and ammunition to inflame regional conflicts.

In concluding my remarks, I want to touch upon some narratives that I have seen those opposing the bill have used.

One, JCPOA proved diplomacy works. My argument is that those who now say JCPOA was the result of diplomacy, including the Iranian regime's officials, were the ones who for many years denied that Iran had any nuclear capability, denied they were after the nuclear bomb, and they were arguing the sanctions were counterproductive and would not yield any results.

I believe no fair-minded person these days would argue that if it was not for the pressure of the sanctions we would not have even this agreement. I still reserve my judgment on the shortcomings of the JCPOA.

Two, dual national Iranian-Canadians would be hurt by the bill as it hinders re-engagement with Iran. This is one of the narratives I have heard. Unless my reading of the bill is wrong, the only people who would suffer from the passing of this bill would be those identified as gross violators of human rights, inciters to hatred and genocide, and those engaged in spreading terrorism. I believe that Canadians at large and by that virtue the vast majority of Canadians of Iranian descent who have come to this land to be free of oppression and intimidation will welcome such restrictions on such individuals.

Third, we do not want to see another devastating war. I just can't swallow why a small dose of justice-seeking measures in full compliance with international law and our value system equates to war. No one wants war. In order to avoid it, we must stand firm in bringing to justice perpetrators of crimes against humanity. More than half a century after the Holocaust, we are still bringing perpetrators of those crimes and even accessories to those crimes to justice, as we should. No one can argue that this measure will hurt Canadians of German descent, and even if it does, that is still the right thing to do for our future generations and this marvelous land of freedom and human rights. Thank you.

The Deputy Chair: Thank you for your presentation.

Mr. Cotler, please.

Hon. Irwin Cotler, P.C., Founder and Chair, Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights: I'm pleased to appear here with my colleague Shahram on Bill S-219, An Act to deter Iran-sponsored terrorism, incitement to hatred, and human rights violations.

Mr. Chairman, as you and other members of the committee will recall, I had occasion on December 14, 2016, to appear here regarding Bill S-226, which dealt with sanctioning persons responsible for gross violations of internationally recognized human rights and which, on the human rights issue, dovetails with this legislation and helps to underpin it.

My basic theme today is that we are witnessing and have continued to witness for some time the toxic conversion of five distinct yet interrelated threats in Khamenei's Iran, and I use the term "Khamenei's Iran'' because I want to distinguish that from the people and public in Iran who are otherwise the targets of mass domestic repression. So my remarks are directed with respect to accountability regarding Khamenei's Iran and those engaged in the violations that I will address, and at the same time in order to protect the people of Iran.

These threats include, number one, the nuclear threat, which now warrants monitoring in the light of the JCPOA, the comprehensive nuclear agreement, to ensure compliance with it.

Two, Iran state sponsorship of international terrorism. As the U.S. State Department report on international terrorism has documented year after year, Iran remains the leading state sponsor of international terrorism, and its terrorist footprint is global. It isn't only in the Middle East. It is in Latin America, in Africa, in Asia, in Europe and the like.

Third is incitement to hatred. I note that your bill references incitement to hatred, but I would also reference incitement to genocide, which is a standing violation of the genocide convention. Where state parties to the genocide convention, like Canada, have a legal obligation to address and redress such state-sanctioned incitement to genocide, it's not simply a policy option; it is an obligation that flows from our being a state party to the genocide convention. I might add Iran also being a state party to the genocide convention has the obligation not to engage in such state- sanctioned incitement to genocide.

A fourth threat is the massive human rights obligations which regrettably have increased and intensified under what is characterized as the moderate regime of Mr. Rouhani, and have even intensified, as reports have recently documented, since the conclusion of the nuclear agreement.

Fifth, though not addressed directly in your bill, there is the increasing regional belligerent aggression of Iran. I'm referring to its aggression particularly in Syria, but also in Lebanon and through Hezbollah and the like threatening the independence and integrity of Lebanon, which becomes at issue in Iraq, thereby destabilizing Iraq and Yemen and thereby creating regional conflicts.

While it is not directly addressed in the threats that you identify in your bill, what I have just said about the regional belligerent aggression can be subsumed both under terrorist activities and human rights violations, but it may warrant a distinguishable address.

Finally, there's the panoply of illicit behaviour that accrues from the unlawful testing of ballistic missiles, which has been of particular concern of late, violations of arms embargoes as in the transfer of arms to Hezbollah, a terrorist organization under Canadian law, American law, European Union and the like, and the international money laundering and narcotics trafficking that have their own destabilizing aspects and which link up with the terrorist networks as well. All of this constitutes what has been called the Iran threat network, the ITN, warranting action by the international community, including Canada.

Accordingly, Bill S-219 provides what I would call a modest framework for such action dealing with the three major threats of the Iranian threat network. It is important to emphasize that they are in standing violation of international norms and international agreements to which Canada and Iran are both state parties. In other words, if Iran engages in international terrorism, then it is violating a network of international treaties and agreements, including when it is engaged in international terrorism that ends up targeting diplomats, as it has, and this engages the whole network of diplomatic immunity, treaties and the like.

If it involves incitement to genocide, then, as I said, it's a standing violation of the genocide convention and a breach of the obligations to us as a state party not to engage in such incitement.

If it engages in major human rights violations, it is in violation of major international treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or the treaty on torture. Again, these are treaties where we are both state parties.

In a word, we are obliged as a state party to these treaties, let alone as a responsible member of the international community, to enforce these international norms, to sanction these violators, and to combat the culture of impunity that purports to immunize violators from accountability.

One of the mistaken and I would say disturbing narratives that is continuously propagated — and, again, I'm saying by Khamenei's Iran — is that after the Iran nuclear agreement we are, to use their words, in a post-sanctions universe, in other words that there is no longer any need for sanctions because Iran has effectively been relieved of any need for sanctions now that it is a party, with the P5+1, to the nuclear agreement.

That somehow in a post-nuclear agreement sanctions regarding even non-nuclear violations are to be construed as violations of the nuclear agreement, even though Iran insisted with respect to the nuclear agreement that it should not relate to any other violations of a non-nuclear nature, a narrative that both fosters and sustains a culture of impunity, is to turn the logic and undertakings of the nuclear agreement on its head.

The fact that the nuclear agreement did not deal with the other threats that I mentioned, and those in your bill, does not and should not immunize or remove these threats from being sanctioned. On the contrary, it is reason alone for these other threats to be sanctioned precisely because they were not included in the nuclear agreement. Even if we are, for the sake of argument, in a post-sanctions universe regarding the nuclear agreement, then a fortiori we have to ensure that we are all the more vigilant with the non-nuclear threats, with the Iran threat network, as I mentioned, which is in standing violation of the international norms, lest under this false narrative we as a country, let alone the international community, become complicit in a culture of impunity and immunity and absence of any accountability for human rights violators and, thereby, we default on our own obligations.

Accordingly, while I was an MP I introduced a private member's bill in 2009, the Iran Accountability Bill, to hold Iran to account for the Iranian threat network, as I mentioned, and which is referenced in your bill. At the time, prior to the nuclear agreement, I called for a nuclear agreement and the negotiation of one so at least that threat would be addressed, and that clearly was one of the most compelling of threats.

As I said then and reaffirm today, we need to address the comprehensiveness of the Iranian fivefold threat, which constitutes a standing threat to international peace, security, human rights and particularly to the people of Iran.

This led to the study and report by our own foreign affairs subcommittee on human rights, which was referenced in your bill; the establishment of an Iran accountability week, whose centrepiece was addressing human rights violations in Iran; a global Iranian political prison advocacy project where members of Parliament, both in the house and the Senate, took up the case and cause of political prisoners — and I note that in your bill you call for the release of political prisoners — and which led to my own representation of Iranian political prisoners, including the leadership of the Bahá'í Ayatollah Borujerdi, a leading cleric in Iran who has tragically been imprisoned and tortured for advocating nothing other than freedom of religion and belief in Iran.

Now as I am meeting before you, we are in the ninth year of the imprisonment and the torture and detention of Saeed Malekpour, a permanent Canadian resident on the path to citizenship who was arrested when he went to visit his ill father, detained, convicted on trumped up charges, tortured in detention, and the like. Just 10 days ago in Toronto an evening was held, largely in the presence of the Iranian-Canadian community, to call for his release.

If I may just conclude on this point, as an MP no other issue involved me more than the Iranian issue because of the fivefold threat, because of the particularity of the human rights violations, because it engaged us so much as a state party, and because of the global spectrum of its fallout with respect to the totality of its threats.

As I said in 2009, but which may bear repetition today, my bill "targets the regime of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in Iran, and not the great civilization of Iran — and the peoples of Iran — who are increasingly the object of the regime's domestic repression.'' One cannot emphasize that enough.

I close, Mr. Chairman, with one other point regarding the false narrative. There is a suggestion, and I have seen it in testimony before this committee, or the implicit inference arising from it, that if we adopt something such as this Senate bill, then this will prejudice or preclude engagement with Iran, or that if we engage with Iran somehow we can only do so in a way that does not involve this bill. I want to say that there is no contradiction between engaging with Iran, which I have always supported, and supporting this bill. When we speak about engaging with Iran, we're not talking only about engaging with the Government of Iran. That is the formal dimension of that engagement. We are talking about engaging on behalf of the peoples of Iran, those who are the targets of mass domestic repression. Nor can engagement with Iran somehow relieve us of our international responsibilities to enforce international norms and treaties any more than non-engagement would allow us to, because as a responsible actor of the international community, we have a responsibility to enforce international human rights norms, to combat the culture of impunity, to be a responsible actor in the international community, and to do so on behalf of the peoples of Iran with whom we will be engaging, along with our engagement with the Government of Iran.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

The Deputy Chair: Thank you very much.

Colleagues, we have a very long list. I would ask people wherever possible to keep their questions short and the answers as short as possible as well.

Senator Saint-Germain, please.

[Translation]

Senator Saint-Germain: You are both very convincing and the situation in Iran is clearly unacceptable and cannot be tolerated. You stressed the situation in Iran and of course everyone shares your view.

My concern pertains to the actual effectiveness of the bill as opposed to a merely symbolic value. More specifically, the requirement that Canada's minister publish an annual report makes him accountable for that report. Knowing how Imam Khameni's executive committee operates, I wonder how a minister could prepare a report that is sufficiently documented to be credible.

Do you have any suggestions? You said that this was a stage, a step in the right direction. What other steps do you think could be taken in order for Canada's action to be effective?

[English]

Mr. Golestaneh: In terms of being symbolic, I don't think that it's symbolic. I believe actually it has consequential effects on our relations, not only with Iran, but also as a leader on human rights and combatting impunity worldwide.

When we had the case of Ms. Zahra Kazemi, who was murdered in Iran, I remember there was hesitation of making Iran accountable for their acts. Eventually when Canada took the case and introduced, in 2003, annual UN resolutions against human rights violations, other countries followed suit. This has been our argument since then and at that time, that if we take the lead, other countries will follow suit because this is reasonable. It is based on international law. It is combating the culture of impunity and will have an effect on the gross violators of human rights and other things.

With respect to specific measures, I hope Mr. Cotler would have better answers about the mechanism of how to enforce the bill or ask the minister how to collect that information. We used to have that. There used to be annual consultation with the NGO community generally speaking, not about Iran but about all countries around the globe, by Foreign Affairs. That was abandoned many years ago, but that would also be a venue to deal with the Iranian people and with Iranians in the diaspora, to provide valuable information. As I presented in my argument about the IRGC, the same argument can be made about what is happening inside the country about human rights abuses and about incidents of incitement to genocide and hatred.

But in terms of specific measures, if Mr. Cotler has any oversight on that, I don't know.

[Translation]

Mr. Cotler: The last point is very important. It is incumbent on us to state our demands to ensure that the bill achieves its objectives. The preamble to Bill S-219 begins as follows:

Whereas the Charter of the United Nations and customary international law impose on all nations the responsibility to promote and protect human rights as a mutual obligation of all members of the international community and as an obligation of a state towards its citizens;

[English]

I think this indicates it is not simply a symbolic measure, but as I was suggesting in my testimony, it is an obligation that we have as a responsible actor in the international community. There are specific things we can do. Take the things in the act itself, for example, the matter of incitement to hatred and to genocide. It's not well known, but it is something that we can document. The 21st century began on January 3, 2000, with the Supreme Leader of Iran. This is for Ahmadinejad, to whom this is always attributed. With the Supreme Leader of Iran saying, "There can be no solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict without the annihilation of the Jewish people.'' He didn't even use the euphemism, as it is usually done, of the Zionist regime.

It has continued after Ahmadinejad, to whom was attributed all this incitement, about the obligation, as Khamenei put it, to remove this cancerous tumour, Israel, from the Middle East.

Even more so, it was just documented yesterday in a report that emerged from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs that the incitement to hate and genocide has, regrettably and tragically, even increased since the nuclear agreement, where one would have hoped that at least the agreement would have had an abatement on that incitement; in fact, the incitement has continued.

The recent testing of ballistic missiles in Iran itself — arguably a violation of UN Security Council resolutions in that regard — were accompanied by banners on the ballistic missiles saying in Hebrew as well as in Persian, "Death to Israel.''

So I think that one role that Canada could play is to provide independent, open-source documentation and testimony with respect to the manner in which Khamenei's Iran is in standing violation of the prohibition against the incitement to genocide in the genocide convention.

Again, we can use Supreme Court jurisprudence because we have, through our Supreme Court, set down the most compelling principle, and now precedent, with respect to how to sanction incitement to hatred and genocide when the Supreme Court set forth in its judgment in 2005 that the very incitement to genocide constitutes the crime, whether or not acts of genocide follow.

So we have the ability from an evidentiary point of view to set forth the documentary record regarding incitement to genocide, and from a legal or juridical point of view to set forth the remedies to combat it, one of them being — no state party has done it, though I believe it's an obligation under the genocide convention — to institute an interstate complaint against Iran before the International Court of Justice, as Iran is also a state party to the genocide convention, for its standing violations of that convention.

I'm using the matter of incitement to genocide as a case study of where Canada can provide an independent evidentiary and juridical basis for the international community to be able to act based on the record that we put forward.

The Deputy Chair: Colleagues, we have a long list. As interesting as the answers are, we have to keep them shorter and the questions as short as possible, as I know you always do.

Senator Ngo: Thank you for your presentations here today.

Last week the Iranian Canadian Congress mentioned a very slow but promising improvement in steps taken by modern factions in Iran towards improving human rights conditions in the country. They also mentioned that unfortunately, many times these small steps are being ignored.

Could you share with us your thoughts about that perspective on this? Could you provide us also with examples of recent human rights abuses that have been committed by the regime?

Mr. Golestaneh: Yes. I'll try to be, as the chair said, brief on this.

Unfortunately, we have not seen any improvement in the human rights situation in Iran. This is factual. Look at the number of executions since January 1, 2017. Yesterday we had a mass execution of 12 people.

Now, there is infighting within different factions of the regime. There is no question about that. The infighting is real. It has nothing to do with moderation. Indeed, everything that we have discussed here is already institutionalized in the Iranian Constitution. The export of so-called revolution, which I call the export of fundamentalism and terrorism, is enshrined in the Iranian Constitution. If Mr. Rouhani or anyone else comes forward and says we have to abandon that and change the Constitution, I guess everyone would welcome that. These are not the types of things we are seeing.

What is emanating from Iran is actually — missile tests was one aspect. It was also a test to see the international resolve of how they deal with Iran. Unfortunately, we haven't seen much by way of condemnation, except from the U.S., but not even from Europe to the extent we really hoped to see.

In terms of human rights, unfortunately, again, the vast majority in the international community has been silent because the narrative that Iran has used in order to do these things was that anything you do to us, including sanctions, is a violation of the JCPOA. Those are completely separate issues. So I would argue against that statement; unfortunately we have not seen any major improvement.

The litmus test is very simple. I actually witnessed that session. One of the honourable senators asked, "Are there any preconditions for even engagement in Iran?'' I would say definitely. All of these things we are discussing in this bill can be preconditions for things like that. The mass violation of human rights: You stop the executions for instance; put a moratorium on that. That would be one thing. You return the body of Zahra Kazemi back to Canada, as her family wished. That would be a precondition. You release political prisoners in Iran. That would be a precondition. You stop incitement to genocide. These are all the things that can be done. Unfortunately, we haven't seen from any factions of the regime any of those things happening.

Senator Downe: Colleagues, as you know, the rules state we have to adjourn at 12:30. I will start a second round list, if we have time get to that. I'll ask everybody restrict themselves to one question.

Senator Housakos: I have a follow-up question to the topic you just touched upon, which is preconditions, requirements and benchmarks set before engaging in dialogue. Quite frankly, I'm skeptical, looking at the path Iran continues to take and based on the enlightening testimony you have provided us today.

Why should we be optimistic that dialogue will have an end result? What would be the time frame? Where do we set the benchmarks where there are dates, and they are not meeting those preconditions? As we speak, there are not meeting many of those preconditions.

Second, our former colleague Mr. Cotler pointed out that there are two ways to engage Iran; that is, to engage the regime and the people. Can you distinguish exactly what methodology you would use to bypass the regime and engage the Iranian people?

Mr. Cotler: I want to say, parenthetically, because when I was quoting a Supreme Court judgment on the matter of holding those who incite genocide to account, I didn't mention the name of the case. It is the Mugesera case in 2005. That's just for the record.

On the matter of the question that was put, it relates to the question right now. That has to do with whether human rights violations, as has been suggested in previous witness testimony, have abated in Iran, particularly since the signing of the nuclear agreement. I wish that were so, but the record discloses exactly the opposite. You don't need to take my word for it; just look at the reports of the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Iran, Mr. Ahmed Shaheed who appeared before the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Human Rights to give testimony. Look at the witness testimony of Iranian-Canadians themselves. There are NGO reports from Human Rights Watch International. Look at the indicators.

I'll close with this and then relate to Senator Housakos question on governing the people.

Shahram mentioned the issue of executions. Iran executes more people per capita than any other country in the world. In January 2017, they have been executing a person every nine hours. Since Rouhani came to power, the rate of executions has dramatically increased in Iran, and this includes the targeting of juveniles, minorities and the like.

Second, as mentioned in Mr. Shaheed's report, is torture and detention.

Third is what I would call the criminalization of innocents, where people are imprisoned not for what they do but for who they are: human rights defenders, members of minorities and the like. Right now, there are more than a thousand political prisoners in Iran. Therefore, I'm delighted this legislation calls for release.

Fourth has to do with the targeting of religious and ethnic minorities. Let me mention the Bahá'í as a case study. Their situation has worsened, not improved.

Similarly, with regard to targeting dual-nationals, that has increased, not lessened.

I can go on. I have written elsewhere about 12 indicators that demonstrate that the situation re human rights in Iran has worsened.

When we engage with Iran, we are going to send a signal to the people of Iran that we are with them; that we stand in solidarity with them; and that we will not relent until the political prisoners are released and until Iran ceases and desists from torture and detention. As we engage with Iran, we will continue to hold the regime accountable, not because that is the purpose of engagement, but because the obligation of both Iran and us as members of the international community is to cease and desist. We will seek to combat the culture of impunity in Iran from which and as a result of which the people of Iran are among its victims.

Senator Cordy: Thank you both for providing insight into what is happening in Iran. When we're developing legislation, we want to make sure that it's practical and not just going to be something that just sits on a shelf.

Following up on Senator Saint-Germain's question is the obligation on the part of the minister to provide an annual report to Parliament on the abuses taking place in Iran. I think you did an excellent job, Mr. Cotler, of differentiating between the people of Iran and the regime within Iran. The people of Iran are the ones we really want to help.

But when I look at the annual report and the list in section 3 of all the people, among others the officials of Iran, that have to be contacted and receive information from them — or officials from organizations within the country. ECO would be an example of the execution of a man under Khamenei's orders. They don't even report within Iran.

The minister, with this bill, would have an obligation to get this information. What are the practicalities of any minister being able to gain access to information that would be credible to present to the Parliament in Canada?

Mr. Cotler: There are open sources. In fact, Mr. Golestaneh has access to some of those sources. When we had Iran accountability week, he appeared before us as one of the witness and shared that type of documented information.

The UN special rapporteur for human rights in Iran has in the year 2016 issued reports in March, May and September. These fulsome and comprehensive reports document the human rights violations in Iran with respect to each of the indicators that are in your report and some of the others even that are not.

So I think that the report, while it only asks that the minister publish an annual report on Iran-sponsored terrorism and human rights violations, could even be more inclusive by using the reports of the United Nations. I mentioned the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, but other rapporteurs on each of the thematic procedures have also made inquiries in that regard. The European Union collects information. The U.S. has ongoing congressional hearings, both in the house and in the Senate that are documenting each of those three themes that I mentioned, although less so in most cases on the matter of incitement to hatred.

We can make a particular contribution in that regard as well as on the terrorism and human rights.

The people of Iran are themselves sources of that information, though admittedly they have to be careful about the manner in which that information emerges, lest they themselves become imprisoned for being the sources of that information. But some of that information does emerge from former political prisoners and the like.

This week I'll be going to Geneva for a summit on rights and democracy, which is spotlighting the case and cause of political prisoners. Among the political prisoners, or the families of political prisoners, will be former political prisoners from Iran, who will be giving testimony.

So there are a lot of open sources and I think Canada can play a distinguishable and distinguished role in documenting that information and coming up with juridical remedies, the whole in accordance with your bill.

Senator Ataullahjan: I thank you for your presentation. There is a possibility of a power vacuum arising upon the death of the Supreme Leader, with a possibility, maybe, of a takeover by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard. I'm particularly interested in Qassem Suleimani, who is a very popular commander of the Quds Force.

My question to you, Mr. Golestaneh, is this: What role would he play? The feeling is he is due for a promotion and might become the head of the IRGC, so I would like to ask about the political influence of the IRGC. Would the succession of power in Iran be influenced by its political relationship with the West, as well as the type of legislation we're contemplating in Bill S-219?

Mr. Golestaneh: I'm glad you brought this issue up. Regarding Qassem Suleimani, this is also a follow-up on the question that the honourable senator asked about how we get the information.

Some of those sources of information are very open, including the commanding chain in the IRGC, the Quds Force and Qassem Suleimani, who has been named specifically in many UN and U.S. reports and even the pre-nuclear negotiations with Iran. He has been sanctioned, but unfortunately we are seeing him now travelling freely to Iraq, Syria and Russia, holding hands with officials in these countries and commanding, on the battleground, operations against civilians. We have seen the resulting disaster in Syria and in Iraq.

Qassem Suleimani is the commander of the extra-territorial force of the IRGC, called the Quds Force. I also have to stress that the IRGC itself was formed shortly after the revolution as a countermeasure to the Iranian army, or the potential for any coup by the Iranian army, by then-Supreme Leader Khomeini. But during the whole Iran and Iraq war, one of the slogans for the IRGC, and also for the army, was that the road to Quds — which is the equivalent to Jerusalem — the road to Jerusalem passes through Karbala. This was enshrined and institutionalized as being the benchmark for having a Shiite Crescent method; so, having Iran, Iraq and Syria, and then going to Jerusalem.

When you say he is a popular commander, he is a known commander. He is notorious, actually, as a commander. I wouldn't use the word "popular''; I would use the word "notorious.''

Senator Ataullahjan: Amongst the IRGC, yes.

Mr. Golestaneh: There are many factions even within the IRGC. The thing is all of them work directly under the command of the Supreme Leader. As I mentioned in my presentation, even with their budget, they are not answerable to anyone, even within the Iranian Constitution that, by itself, has its own goal. They are not answerable to anyone but the Supreme Leader.

When I say it's more than a military force, it controls 70 per cent of Iran's economy, like the Khatam-al Anbiya, which is the main conglomerate for most of the defence construction, missile testing and construction in the country. We can appreciate that when we talk about sanctions or non-nuclear sanctions, it directly affects the IRGC.

Qassem Suleimani has been a key commander of the Quds Force and a key person in the whole operation in Iraq and Syria. However, he is not the only one. Since 2003, all of Iran's ambassadors to Iraq were commanders of the IRGC. The current Iranian ambassador, Irij Masjidi, who was named a few days before the new U.S. administration was sworn in, is also a key commander of the Quds Force. But none of them are in denial that these people are Quds Force commanders and IRGC commanders.

So we have open sources providing information to the minister of how to designate the IRGC and how to deal with the portion of the bill that deal with that, let alone other things that Mr. Cotler provided on open sources about gross violations of human rights.

One of the key things I want to emphasize, as he also emphasized, regarding the Iranians themselves — when I say Iranian, I mean the Iranian opposition — you can interact with many groups from the Iranian diaspora and you can get information that would be corroborated. I wouldn't say to take anyone's word for granted, but it can be corroborated by the UN and other open sources.

Senator Marwah: It is a privilege to meet you, Mr. Cotler. You have a remarkable record of public service.

I have a question that Mr. Golestaneh raised where you said in your comments that this bill would receive support from — I don't know the exact adjective you used — a lot of Iranian-Canadians. But last week, we heard from the Iranian Canadian Congress who, at least, gave us the impression that this is not in the best interest of Iranian- Canadians. That left us with the impression that they did represent a large number, if not the majority, of Iranian- Canadians. My question is: Who are we to believe?

The second question related to that is how do you balance the interests of Iranian-Canadians who feel that this is not in their best interests towards Canada's role — and it's a very important one — to advance the human rights and the anti-terrorist agenda in Iraq? How do you balance the two?

Mr. Golestaneh: First, it is my personal belief that what Canada can, will and has to do should not take into consideration which specific group to please or not to please, including us.

Senator Marwah: That's not the question. The question is: Do Iranian-Canadians support this bill?

Mr. Golestaneh: Absolutely. The vast majority of Iranian-Canadians would support the perpetrators of crimes against humanity being sanctioned, as well as those who are responsible for their coming to Canada to be free of oppression and intimidation. There will be sanctions, and they don't see their torturers here on the streets in Canada. Absolutely.

This is a benchmark, but in my remarks I also indicated that, arguably, even if it was not the case, that still would have been the right thing to do. Justice is not a matter of who we please and who we do not please. Justice is a matter of international law and obligations that we have to follow.

That said, the vast majority of Iranian-Canadians would absolutely support that the IRGC, the gross violators of human rights and the inciters of genocide and hatred would be sanctioned.

Mr. Cotler: As someone who has also read the testimony before committee, there would be some concern from some Iranian-Canadians, and I would assure them that the sanctions should be sanctions which target the human rights violators and are not drafted in such a general way as to somehow prejudicially affect the Iranian people. The whole purpose is to protect the Iranian people from human rights violators, so we are targeting the human rights violators. I know Marina Nemat made that point in her testimony.

The second thing is that the Iranian Canadian Congress — and this is where some of the inference may have been drawn — somehow assumed or brought up the argument that an adoption of this bill would be counter to engaging with Iran, or that this would be an argument to be used against engaging with Iran. I said that that's turning the issue on its head because we have to take the issue of engaging with Iran as a given. It is just that when we speak about engaging with Iran, we have to have an inclusive approach to that engagement. We are not just engaging with a government; we are engaging with the people. And when we engage, we are doing so to hold the violators to account on behalf of the people, where we work in concert with the government — because they are still the government — to see that they in fact live up to the international obligations that they have assumed as state parties to the international treaties.

You have something in your bill that I think can act as an incentive. It provides, and I will end with this, that:

. . . Canada's current sanctions regime against Iran cannot be eased unless two consecutive annual reports conclude that there is no credible evidence of terrorist activity or incitement to hatred emanating from Iran and that there has been significant progress in Iran with respect to human rights;

That's to incentivize the Iranian government to in fact comply with this legislation and thereby improve the situation for all concerned.

The Deputy Chair: Colleagues, I regret to inform you the time allocated for the Senate for the meeting has ended. I have asked the clerk to add those that did not have an opportunity to ask a question today to be the first two names on our next hearing, where we will be discussing Bill S-219 again. Unfortunately, it won't be with the same witnesses, but there will be others.

On behalf of the committee, I would like to thank the witnesses for their time today, as we know how busy they are.

(The committee adjourned.)