March 4, 2014 | Canadian Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development

The Human Rights Situation in Iran

Mr. Chair and honourable members, thank you for the opportunity to be here today.

As you know, all four aspects of the Iranian threat are intrinsically linked. A regime that seeks nuclear weapons capability is rightly perceived as exceptionally dangerous when it is simultaneously implicated in human rights violations within its borders, support for and direct involvement in terrorism outside its borders, and issuing genocidal statements of intent with regard to other sovereign countries.

If we are serious about confronting this fourfold Iranian threat, it is my belief that we must focus on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the IRGC. The IRGC is at the epicentre of the Iranian regime. It is a dominant security, political, and economic force within the country. It is in charge of Iran's nuclear and ballistic missiles program. It owes its loyalty and affords powerful support to the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, who would be the ultimate decision-maker behind an attempted genocide within Israel or anywhere else.

The IRGC is also responsible for the violent suppression of Iranian protesters in the aftermath of the 2009 presidential elections. The IRGC has been labelled by some as the world's most deadly terrorist organization. It is this terrorism element of the fourfold threat posed by Iran, and specifically by the IRGC, that I would like to focus on in my remarks today.

Canada has already imposed sanctions on various IRGC branches and individuals under the Special Economic Measures Act. This is important. However, we need to be using every peaceful tool during this critical time when economic and diplomatic measures are being leveraged in the hopes of obviating the need for a military strike.

One crucial measure that we have not yet employed is the designation of the IRGC as a terrorist entity in Canada.

Canada's sanctions have been in response to the IAEA's November 2011 assessment of Iran's illicit nuclear program; in other words, these sanctions relate to Iran's nuclear activity. However, the IRGC is a terrorist organization and should be listed as such. Even if Iran were to cease its illegal nuclear program tomorrow, this does not alter the fact that the Iranian government has traditionally allocated a nine-digit figure in its budget for international terrorism that is channelled through the IRGC. The IRGC has been involved in terrorist attacks around the world, including recent attempted attacks in Thailand, India, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. It has also provided assistance to the Taliban and al-Qaeda in killing Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan. Moreover, the IRGC has offered critical support in the form of financing and training to groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, both of which are listed entities in Canada. Indeed, Hezbollah has been referred to as a wholly owned Iranian subsidiary. It makes no sense to list Hezbollah but not the IRGC.

Let me identify for you five reasons why listing the IRGC as a terrorist entity is sound Canadian policy.

First, it is a measure that can be implemented quickly and unilaterally. If, according to subsection 83.05(1) of the Criminal Code, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness has reasonable grounds to believe that

(a) the entity has knowingly carried out, attempted to carry out, participated in or facilitated a terrorist activity; or

(b) the entity is knowingly acting on behalf of, at the direction of or in association with an entity referred to in paragraph (a) p> then the minister can make a recommendation to the Governor in Council to place the entity on the list. This test, as applied to the IRGC, should be easily met.

The entity has been involved directly in terrorist activity, such as the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, which killed 29 people, and the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community centre in Argentina, which killed 85 people. It has also acted in association with entities that have carried out terrorist activity, including Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Second, listing the IRGC has support among Canadians as well as western allies. The U.S. listed the IRGC as a whole in 2007, while other countries, such as the Netherlands and Britain, have urged the European Union to add the IRGC to its list of terrorist organizations. If Canada were to lead on this issue, other countries, perhaps benefiting from political cover from precedent by a country that is not the United States, may be more likely to follow its example, resulting in further isolation of the Iranian regime and increased pressure on companies around the world to limit their dealings with the IRGC.

Third, the measure, especially when employed in tandem with multiple countries, could greatly weaken the IRGC economically. This is because a terrorist designation renders it illegal for Canadian individuals and companies to have any financial dealings with the listed entity. Given the fact that the IRGC has serious commercial interests—indeed, it is a multi-billion dollar conglomerate—it would surely be detrimentally impacted by the legally imposed curtailment of business dealings with companies and financial institutions in Canada.

Fourth, listing the IRGC in its entirety is more comprehensive than current sanctions in terms of the targeted parties and the severity of the penalties. A breach of the Criminal Code provisions, for instance, can lead to a fine of up to $100,000 and imprisonment for up to 10 years, compared to a fine of up to $25,000 and imprisonment for up to five years for a breach of SEMA sanctions. But listing the IRGC as a whole should be complemented with efforts by western governments to identify and designate IRGC front companies and individual leaders as well.

Finally, listing the IRGC has tremendous symbolic implications. The decision not to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization promotes a culture of impunity. The IRGC is the spine of the Iranian regime, and Canada must not countenance any interaction with the organization. Listing the entity diminishes its own legitimacy as well as that of the Iranian establishment. It also provides important moral support to Iranian dissidents who may feel isolated and alone in their efforts to effect change within the country.

I understand there may be some concerns regarding the listing of the IRGC, which we can discuss in greater detail during the question period.

For instance, there is a concern that some IRGC members are conscripted and that a blanket designation would unfairly penalize those individuals. There may also be reservations about designating a state agency, in contrast to a rogue organization, as a terrorist entity. Some European policy-makers have been reluctant to target the entire IRGC because it may have some legitimate business endeavours.

Honourable members, I hope you will give me the opportunity to rebut each of these arguments. I would also be pleased to explain how listing the IRGC can enhance the effectiveness of some recently passed legislation, the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act.

In conclusion, designating the IRGC as a terrorist organization is an important measure that Canada should implement in order to further counter the Iranian threat. First and foremost, it's appropriate to list the IRGC because the entity is a terrorist organization. Second, listing makes an important statement about the organization's and the regime's lack of legitimacy; the Iranian regime does not like to be embarrassed on the world stage, and this is a further way to isolate them diplomatically. Third, a terrorist designation can help to weaken the entity financially. This will impede not only the IRGC's ability to conduct and sponsor terror attacks, but also its ability to engage in other nefarious activities, such as nuclear weapons proliferation and human rights violations.

Thank you.