The Chronology Of Canada-Iran Relations
With a glance at the Canada-Iran relations we have to recognize the fact that the two countries have not enjoyed a friendly, constructive, diplomatic relationship for a long time.
Relations have been frayed and mended many times. The Islamic Republic has done nothing to improve existing relations, if any, on the contrary the IRI behaviour has continued to raise more concerns. Even during the best economic relations, there have been egregious instances of human rights violations which have pushed Canada to sever diplomatic relations.
In what follows I will review the historical events leading to the closure of the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Ottawa and the reasons why any promises of re-opening the embassy are likely non-starters.
Historic of Canada-Iran Relations
The Governments of Canada and Iran established formal diplomatic relations for the first time in 1955 with an Iranian mission in Ottawa in 1956 and the first Canadian Head of Mission dispatched to Tehran in 1959. Under the reign of HIM Mohamad Reza Pahlavi, the two countries enjoyed a significant trade relationship to the point that close to one thousand Canadians were working in Iran at the end of the 1970s.
Subsequent to the 1979 revolution that toppled the Pahlavi dynasty, the Canadian Embassy in Tehran closed in 1980 when Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor sheltered six US Embassy diplomats for 79 days and organized their safe departure from Iran by impersonating Canadian Diplomats. The embassy staff were also quickly evacuated for fear of retribution against Canadians, and the embassy remained closed until 1990.
In 1988, a large team of military observers were sent to supervise the Iran-Iraq ceasefire, which facilitated diplomatic negotiations and resulted in the re-opening of an embassy in the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1990. Throughout the 1990s, trade relations expanded until Iran became one of Canada’s most important trading partners in the Middle East. Although the reciprocal diplomatic presence was maintained until September 2012, the two nations formally exchanged Ambassadors only in 1996. Until then, The Iranian mission in Ottawa was staffed only by a chargé d’affaires rather than a full Ambassador.
During the best and fullest diplomatic relations, Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist, was arrested in Tehran, brutally tortured and raped. She ultimately died following a skull fracture while in Islamic Republic’s custody.
Zahra Kazemi’s death severely deteriorated the Canada-Iran relations in June 2003. This led Canada to take up the issue of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations. Canada’s efforts succeeded in getting a resolution condemning Iran’s human rights abuses endorsed by a majority of the General Assembly, underscoring the fact that the international community remains deeply concerned about human rights violations in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Canada’s concerns over the Islamic republic’s egregious human rights abuses, holocaust denial and threats to Israel as well as its stance on the nuclear issue and its nefarious role in Middle East Peace Process led to the adoption of a policy of “controlled engagement” by Canadian diplomats on May 17, 2005. This policy has limited talks with the Islamic Republic exclusively to human rights issues, its regional role, its nuclear program and Zahra Kazemi’s case.
As a case in point, after Iran’s President Ahmadinejad’s infamous October 2005 comments on Israel, Canada’s Prime Minister Martin expressed outrage to the Islamic republic’s chargé d’affaires in Canada expecting him to forthrightly indicate to his government Canada’s position that the President’s ongoing public attacks on Israel were unacceptable. Canada-Iran relations
In 2007, in an attempt to warm relations between the two countries and exchange ambassadors, the Supreme Court in Iran called for another review of Zahra Kazemi’s death. Canada rejected the two ambassadorial candidates of Iran after Canadian intelligence highlighted their involvement in storming the U.S. embassy in 1979. In retaliation, Iran refused to review the credentials of John Mundy, the Canadian Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Iran.
In 2009, the vicious crackdown of Iranian protestors during the presidential elections only added to Canada’s deep discomfort with the Iranian regime.
In 2010, amendments to the Special Economic Measures Act of 2004 restricted financial transactions and economic activities between Canada and Iran. In order to comply with this amendment, TD Canada Trust closed a number of accounts of Iranian-Canadian customers.
Ultimately, on September 7th, 2012 , during the APEC Russia Summit, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird announced that Canada was breaking diplomatic relations with Iran citing the Islamic Republic’s material support to the Syrian regime, the IRI’s non-compliance with the United Nations resolutions in regards to its nuclear program, the IRI’s constant threats to Israel along with its racist anti-Semitic rhetoric and finally fears for the safety of Canadian diplomats following the attacks on the British Embassy in Tehran.
In addition, Canada formally expelled 17 Iranian diplomats from Ottawa giving them five days to leave the country, listed the Iranian regime as a state sponsor of terrorism under the State Immunity Act, listed the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps – Qods Force led by Ghassem Soleimani as a terrorist entity under the Criminal Code, and assented the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act to deter terrorism by establishing a cause of action that allows victims of terrorism to sue perpetrators of terrorism and their supporters in Canada. The Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act was supported by all three major federal parties in 2012.
Other events involving the detainment of foreign nationals over extended periods of time have strained diplomatic relationships between Canada and The Islamic republic over the years.
In 2008, Saeed Malekpour, a computer programmer and web developer living as a permanent resident in Canada was arrested by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) while visiting his dying father in Iran. He was charged with “insulting the sacred” for allegedly creating an online pornographic network. In September 2010, a Revolutionary Court sentenced him to death, but the sentence was ultimately commuted from death to life imprisonment in August 2013. Saeed Malekpour finally escaped Iran while on temporary release and arrived to Canada in 2018.
The same year, Hamid Ghassemi Shall, another Iranian Canadian dual national was arrested, detained and condemned to death by the Islamic regime. In this instance, Prime Minister Stephen Harper threatened the Iranian government with “consequences” if Ghassemi-Shall was killed, saying: “the government of Iran should know that the whole world will be watching, and they will cast judgement if terrible and inappropriate things are done in this case.”. Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird and Minister of State of Foreign Affairs Diane Ablonczy stated that “Canada urgently appeals to the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to grant clemency to Mr Ghassemi-Shall on compassionate and humanitarian grounds.”. Senator Linda Frum urged Iran to reverse its current course and to adhere to its international human rights obligations. The House of Commons of Canada issued a unanimous call for his release. Hamid Ghassemi Shall was finally released and returned to Canada in 2013.
Another Canadian-Iranian, professor Kavous Seyed-Emami died mysteriously in 2018 while in Iran’s custody in Evin prison and Iran held his widow, Maryam Mombeini, hostage for 582 days.
Justin Trudeau campaigned in the 2015 elections promising to restore relations between Canada and Iran. As Prime Minister, he welcomed the January 2016 confirmation by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran had fulfilled all necessary commitments under the JCPOA and announced Canada’s willingness to restore diplomatic contacts. Chrystia Freeland, Trade Minister in 2016 lifted all economic sanctions against Iran, imposed under Prime Minister Harper, including travel restrictions against 78 individuals and 508 companies and organizations, while maintaining restrictions on exports relating to nuclear goods and technology and anything helping Iran in developing ballistic missiles. Stéphane Dion, then Foreign Minister, also supported lifting the sanctions and in his speech of 2016 at the University of Ottawa said that he believed that breaking off diplomatic ties with Iran was a mistake and had no positive consequences for global security.
In June 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suspended efforts of reengagement with the Islamic republic realizing that even with lifted sanctions against the Islamic republic of Iran, the real block to any attempt of reengagement with the IRI is the legacy of the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act.
The Act and related amendments to the State Immunity Act allows victims of terrorism to sue perpetrators of terrorism and those who support them, including listed foreign states, for loss or damage that occurred as a result of an act of terrorism committed anywhere in the world.
As an example, in 2014, an Ontario Court of Appeal ruling upheld the seizure of 7 million Canadian dollars’ worth of bank accounts and real-estate property belonging to the Islamic and turned it over to a group of American plaintiffs whose loved ones were killed in terrorist attacks sponsored by the Iranian regime.
In 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also led a majority of Liberals MPs who voted in favour of a Conservative motion, which called on the government to list Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist group and called on the government to “abandon its current plan and immediately cease any and all negotiations or discussions” to restore relations with Iran.
When reviewing the number of violations and acts of violence committed by Iran, one could argue that the Iran ranks as one of the most troubling foreign relations maintained by Canada, ranking even lower than those maintained with North Korea. Canada-Iran relations
As recently as January 8, 2020, the IRGC shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, as it took off in Tehran. The disaster killed all 176 people on board, including 57 Canadian citizens and 29 permanent residents of Canada. Canada-Iran relations
In 2021, On the one-year anniversary of this devastation, it may be time for Canada to admit that relationships with a theocratic regime with an appalling human rights record will remain nigh to impossible due to the improbability of finding common ground. Canada-Iran relations
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