The Opposition Conservatives slammed the governing Liberals for failing to fully hold Iran accountable during Iran Accountability Week.
As parliamentarians marked the annual event, hosted by the Conservative caucus, Tory spokespeople said the government was moving too fast to normalize relations with Iran.
“The government should stop what it is doing,” foreign affairs critic Tony Clement told The CJN, referring to reports the government is in discussions with Iran about restoring diplomatic relations. Not only would it be impossible to protect diplomatic offices in Iran – some have been firebombed by government-supported thugs – but Iran continues to pose a danger to its people and those in the region, he said.
It continues to oppress its own population, is “a disruptive force in the Middle East,” continues to sponsor terrorism and “it is state policy to seek the destruction of Israel,” Clement said.
Iran Accountability Week was held on Parliament Hill from May 2 to 6 to highlight human rights abuses in the Islamic state. An initiative of former Liberal MP and justice minister Irwin Cotler, the all-party program aims to draw attention to the human rights situation in Iran.
Canada severed diplomatic ties with Iran in 2012 over safety and security concerns.
Disagreement over Iran policy surfaced in Parliament last week, when Clement asked Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion how Canada could negotiate with a state sponsor of terror.
“Under the former government, Canada was alone in having an empty chair with a lot of countries when it disliked the regimes, which was the wrong approach. All our allies are asking us to stop this wrong approach, and it is what we will do with Iran,” Dion said.
“In order to see progress on human rights and progress on the protection of Canada’s interests and the interests of our allies, including Israel, Canada will engage with Iran with open eyes, step by step,” he added.
Tory MP Peter Kent then asked Dion how Canada could negotiate improved trade relationship even while maintaining Iran on a list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Dion replied: “Every day, every week, we have different businesspeople, governments, that are going to Iran. They are negotiating for their national interests in Iran with open eyes, to make sure that the nuclear program of Iran will not be militarized. I think it is the right approach. Our allies were right to do so, and Canada will join them.”
A day later in the House, interim Tory Leader Rona Ambrose asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau why Canada was “warming up relations” with Iran even though it sponsors terrorism and oppresses its people.
“It is important that Canada keep its eyes wide open as we cautiously re-engage with Iran alongside our allies,” Trudeau replied.
“The fact is that the P5+1 deal showed significant movement in removing the nuclear ambitions from Iran’s capabilities. At the same time, we recognize there continues to be state sponsorship of terrorism and violations of human rights and oppression of people within Iran linked to Iranian terrorism.
“We need to continue to engage constructively in ensuring that Iran and the Iranian people do better in the world, while holding them to account,” Trudeau added.
Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), participated in a panel discussion during Iran Accountability Week. He noted the two major parties diverge in their policies towards Iran, but “one approach is not better than the other. They’re different,” he said.
CIJA believes that any change in Canadian policy should be conditional on changes in Iranian behaviour, including action on human rights abuses, the absence of religious freedom and the country’s sponsorship of terrorism, he said.
Fogel believes the way Iran treats its religious minorities, including the persecuted Baha’i, should be “a litmus test” for whether the country can join the community of nations.
Avi Benlolo, CEO of Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, urged caution in normalizing relations.
Noting Iran’s “ongoing oppression and terror,” Benlolo asked whether Canada “should support a country which boasts of its intent to commit genocide, stones women, sponsors terror around the world, sends its own children to die fighting for Syrian madman Bashar al Assad and has… executed more people in 2015 than any other country in the world.
“Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center would fully support the government hitting the pause button before proceeding to normalize our relationship with what can only be viewed as a ‘rogue’ state,’” Benlolo said.