"Taxpayers dollars should not go toward funding hate speech," Ford said. His logic should also be extended to countries like Iran, whose governments practice gender, ethnic and religious segregation.
The month of March marks the annual arrival of Israel Apartheid Week, where activists cynically use the language of Apartheid to delegitimize Israel, the only country in the Middle East that guarantees the rights of minorities - including gays and lesbians - and the region's only pluralist democracy.
That helps to explain why leading Canadian politicians have sharply criticized the hate festival events on college campuses. Jason Kenney, Canada's Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, recently said that "When a country is singled out in this way, it offends not only our sense of fairness, but also our core Canadian values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law."
A few days earlier, liberal opposition leader Michael Ignatieff neatly captured the destructive energy of those who loathe Israel. "By portraying the Jewish state as criminal, by demonizing Israel and its supporters, and by targeting Jewish and Israeli students for abuse on our university campuses," Ignatieff said, "the organizers and supporters of Israeli Apartheid Week tarnish our freedom of speech."
Canada has long been ahead of the international human rights curve in recognizing the need to tackle the lethal repression of minority groups in the Muslim world, including anti-Semitism, and Iran's calls to obliterate the Jewish state. In 2009, former Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, currently a Liberal Party member of parliament, introduced the Iran Accountability Act, an unprecedented piece of legislation tying economic sanctions to Iran's human rights violations. The bill targeted the Iranian regime for failing to adhere to international human rights treaties and for its ongoing genocidal rhetoric against Israel.
This week, Cotler and the human rights subcommittee of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development issued a motion condemning President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's crackdown on Iran's pro-democracy movement in February. The measure also chastised the Iranian regime for its summary execution of minorities and political dissidents, and called on Tehran to release ethnic Kurds, the seven imprisoned members of the Baha'i faith, and others who have been unjustly incarcerated.
US measures insufficient
Canada, like the United States and the EU, has imposed stringent energy sanctions on Iran, but as protest movements gain ground throughout the Middle East, it should ratchet up the pressure on the human rights front.
Across the Arab world, democracy movements are rapidly dislodging authoritarian regimes. Yet the nastier regimes, like that of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad - an ally of Iran's rulers and their Lebanese proxy Hezbollah - are mobilizing their security forces to pulverize the opposition. The West now has an opportunity to join the cause of democracy in Lebanon, Syria, and Iran, and stop the troika of revolutionary Islamic repression.
Canada has drawn an important legislative blueprint for human rights sanctions intended to improve the lives of dissidents and minority groups in Iran and the Muslim world. With Europe discussing the possibility of penalties against Iranian officials for their crimes against humanity, the time is ripe to follow Canada's lead.
The Obama administration, to its credit, imposed precedent-setting human rights sanctions against 10 top Iranian government officials for committing or complicity in torture, rape, beatings, and unlawful detention. The sanctions aim to penalize only those Iranian elites responsible for crushing pro-democracy protests that have gone on since the rigged presidential election of June 2009. But the measures simply do not go far enough.
The opening salvo in a comprehensive human rights movement to end violence and bias against Iran's dissidents and minority groups ought to originate from Canada, the Obama administration, the US Congress, and the EU together.
As Iranian democrats asked during the protests in mid-2009, "Obama: Are you with us or against us?"
At the time, Obama left the brave Iranian democrats out in the cold, leaving Iran to clamp down on them. As protests in Tehran once again began gathering momentum in February, the West faces the same question.
Human rights sanctions will not solve all the problems of the Middle East, but Canada has shown that in pursuing them, it can breathe new life into struggling pro-democracy movements, and bring pressure on systems of true apartheid.
Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies
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