Address by Minister Baird at the Global Dialogue on the Future of Iran

May 10, 2013 - Toronto, Ontario

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Thank you Dr. Stein.

Salam.

I’m here today to deliver a simple message: Canada stands with you.

We stand with the courageous activists inside Iran…with the dedicated Canadian diaspora outside Iran …and with freedom-loving people everywhere who want a brighter future for your country.

We know Iranians have a deep yearning for freedom. In Farsi, it’s called Azaadi. A simple, but powerful word.

As Simin Behbani, the great Persian poet said, “...it takes a thousand years before a word, among the thousands of words, dies away in a language or changes its meaning.”

Our job then, is to make sure that Azaadi never dies from the Farsi language, or from the hearts of Iranians.

For those of you inside Iran right now, listening from somewhere safe…where the regime cannot suppress your curiosity…where it cannot control your conscience, or profit from your oppression…I want you to know that Canada stands with you.

I know this seems counterintuitive coming from a government that suspended relations with the regime last year.

But our decision to close the Canadian embassy in Tehran was not directed at the people of Iran. It was not an attack on Shi’a Islam and its rich contribution to global civilization.

It was about the protection of our courageous men and women who were serving their country in peace.

We saw what the IRGC and Basij were doing to Iranians.

We saw the strengthening of a regressive clerical, military dictatorship.

As we condemned this regime’s actions, our diplomats’ lives were increasingly at risk.

We simply lost, what little faith we had, in this regime.

But we have never lost faith in the people of Iran. In fact, we want to expand our relations with Iranians, free from the regime’s filters.

Which is why we’ve gathered here today.

We gather to demonstrate that the bonds between peoples of distant places can grow stronger and more resolute…Bonds that tear down walls…Bonds that as we’ve seen before, pierce through the regime’s most elaborate firewalls.

Four years ago, the people of Iran showed tremendous courage and resolve. Outraged by a stolen election that mocked their right to choose…frustrated by a broken economy that robbed them of their creativity and enterprise…millions of Iranians took to the streets.

They stood up to decades of brutal repression.

They demanded the right to determine their own future.

For weeks the world watched in awe, inspired by their bravery. Watching from afar our people held their breath...wondering if tyranny would fall again – as it eventually does.

As I look back, I confess that freedom-loving nations like Canada should have been more vocal in supporting this movement. We could have done more.

From our desktops, we did modest things to stand with you. But at the end of the day, while we may have changed the face of Twitter avatars, you changed the face of freedom.

Yes, the Green Movement had its first beat in Iran. But its pulse was felt the world over.

It provided hope for those who suffered under oppressive regimes.

It gave them a model to follow.

And follow, they did.

Now, they’re changing the face of places that have suffocated at the hands of dictators and strongmen.

The kind of strongmen that took the life of Neda Agha-Soltan – an innocent, defenseless young woman, brutally shot dead by the Basij. As her last moments were uploaded to YouTube, the world watched in horror.

It was disgusting. Abhorrent. And it revealed what the regime fears most: not the West. Not liberal democracies. No. The regime fears the courageous people of Iran.

Under the burden of escalating repression, the regime is forcing activists to leave. As they do, others take their place, subjected to the full force of this regime’s anger.

They can take solace, knowing that Iranian democratic voices exist outside of Iran.

They can take comfort, knowing that Iran’s democratic voices have begun the hard, patient work of bringing about a free and open society in Iran.

On this, we all agree: the people of Iran deserve free and fair elections.

Not another version of the Ayatollah Khamenei's never-ending shell game of presidential puppets.

Not the rise of a regressive clerical military dictatorship.

But robust elections which take power out of the hands of puppet masters and place it in your hands, the hands of the people.

And so, I say to the Supreme Leader: rather than waste your precious resources trying to scramble this video feed…or trying to shut down the people’s websites…or trying to subject your people to the oppressive veil of tyranny…open up.

Listen to the Iranian people.

Roll back the apparatus of fear.

Allow dissenting voices.

Embrace freedom of expression.

Expand the pursuit of knowledge.

Unshackle the people.

End your tyranny.

Imagine.

Imagine an Iran with a political culture based on inclusiveness and freedom.

Imagine an Iran where people are free to advocate a point of view and have the courage to test them against opposing views.

Imagine an Iran that affords the strongest protections for freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, freedom of assembly, the rule of law.

Imagine an Iran that has rigorous checks and balances against abuse of power and corruption...where the rules are the same for every person.

Imagine an Iran where government protects people’s lives…where government does not silence, imprison and murder ethnic, religious and cultural minorities for their beliefs.

Imagine democracy. Just imagine it.

The people of Iran have. And they have imagined it because they want what the world wants: prosperity and freedom.

And we know the historical truth about democracies: they are far less likely to go to war with one another. And when a country is not at war, it prospers.

This is the test against which Iranians will measure the regime.

To get there, I call on the international community and fellow foreign ministers to join me in taking a stronger stand in support of the Iranian people.

We can do so in three ways.

The first is by calling on the regime to address the demands and hopes of the Iranian people ahead of next month’s elections. To the regime listening to us now, here’s how you can respond to what your own people have asked for:

  • Lift censorship of the Internet and other media.
  • Release political prisoners.
  • Allow election observers.
  • Let candidates connect with the people freely.

The second way the international community can take a stronger stand in support of the Iranian people is to reach out to Iranian activists, as we’re doing today:

  • Engage these activists directly, even as we isolate the regime.
  • Give them the attention and dignity they deserve as the democratic voices of a great country with a long and proud history.
  • Protect and encourage activists inside Iran.
  • Find ways to protect dissenting voices…and those who have the courage to tell the truth about the Basij…about IRGC assets…and about the regressive clerical tyranny that rules Iran today.
  • Demonstrate, with political support, that these views are legitimate.

And the third way we can stand with the people of Iran is to support human rights defenders who take such tremendous personal risks in trying to protect others.

  • We should invest in them…
  • Make sure the regime knows that we’re in regular contact with them…
  • Make them famous…
  • And wedge this regime against its own rhetoric.

I recognize that those of you seeking to expand democratic space inside Iran are running the greatest risk.

I am committing to you – to all of Iran’s democratic voices – that you have a friend in Canada.

And know that the tensions that exist between the Islamic Republic and the International Community will cease once Iran embraces human rights and democracy.

Until that day comes, the international community will do what it must to protect itself from the current regime.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and I are absolutely resolute in this view: the Ayatollah Khamenei regime remains the greatest threat to international peace and security in the world today.

That’s why we listed the Iranian regime as a state sponsor of terrorism...

Why we made the IRGC Qods Force and Hezbollah terrorist entities in Canadian law…

And why we have implemented tough economic sanctions.

The world must target the IRGC’s assets, and expose the wealth they’ve been amassing at the expense of the people.

We are taking every effort to halt the reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons capabilities while maintaining exemptions that reduce the impact on the Iranian people.

The regime claims that international alarm over its nuclear program is a “cover for sanctions.” I can promise you that our grave concern with the regime’s nuclear program is absolutely sincere. And so are the efforts of the international community.

President Obama has extended his hand, using every diplomatic tool at his disposal to get the regime to reverse course.

Catherine Ashton and the P5+1 have patiently worked with Iran in good faith.

We all want a peaceful resolution to this crisis.

And yet for each new offer of compromise, the regime responds with escalation and provocation…with false promises and empty gestures.

I refuse to believe that the clerical military dictatorship of Ayatollah Khamenei, his enforcers in the IRGC and Basij, or his agents in Hezbollah, represents the future of Iran.

The regime is hollow. It does not have the depth, the intellect, the humanity, or the humility to bring about a better future for its people.

Let me be clear: we understand the vast system of domestic repression and human rights abuses of Ayatollah Khamenei’s regime. We bear witness to the brutal tyranny run by the Basij and the IRGC, who rape and torture the Iranian people.

I believe the Iranian people want change. Whether change comes quickly or gradually, the Iranian people will not forever tolerate the hypocrisy and corruption of the regime; the wanton waste of its resources; and the transformation of a proud nation into a pariah.

Today is not about Canada, or Canadian policy. You may agree with our policies. You may take issue with them. That’s quite alright. This is a democracy after all.

But this Global Dialogue is about you, the people of Iran, and the future that should await you in a free and open society.

You will hear from a wide range of voices today and tomorrow – sharply differing views on the future of Iran and the choices that confront it.

Some of these will be heated debates. Others might get testy. Don’t let that discourage you. You should watch Question Period in the Canadian Parliament!

Heated debate is healthy. Democracy would be useless if we didn’t have our disagreements.

What you’ll hear in the next two days is what should be openly spoken in Iran.

We know this happens in the courtyards of mosques and at markets…in farmers’ homes and beauty salons… in the kitchens of Iranian families and at their offices.

These conversations are happening on the street just as readily as they are happening in the cloud…in Google Hangouts…on Twitter…and on Facebook.

The people mock “Halal” Internet for the ridiculous proposition that it is.

I’ll conclude with this message to Iranians – on the street and in the cloud – and especially to those who suffer in dark prison cells under the lashings of the Basij:

One day, Iran will have the institutions that allow its citizens to debate and to determine their future in freedom.

One day, the Iranian people will enjoy full access to freedom and opportunity.

One day, full integration into the global trading system will replace economic sanctions.

One day, Iran will take its rightful place in international affairs as a leading and respected regional power.

From the ashes of tyranny, Iran and Iranians will rise as a prosperous and free society.

Iranians are working each and every day to bring that future ever closer.

The courage shown by Iranians who choose human dignity over the regime’s cynical propaganda brings that future ever closer.

Every free and open contact – online or in person – that pushes back the walls of a closed society, brings that bright future closer.

Today, tomorrow and in the road ahead, I wish you all great success in your pursuit of freedom, for azaadi.

Thank you.