New Canadian Media
Sunday, 17 September 2017 11:11

A Game with No Winner

Commentary by: Mona Mashhadi Rajabi in Tehran, Iran

“Canada needs you!”  This is a sentiment I heard over and over while I was in Canada. I came to Canada with my husband and daughter, in August 2015, on a student visa to pursue my Ph.D. in economics. 

I still pursue that dream of coming to Canada, but meanwhile, things have gone awry. 

Our bank account manager in Ottawa was the first to utter these words to me: “Canada needs you! You are young, talented, educated and have work experience in economics and engineering, (my husband’s field) both of which are needed in Canada.” 

Then my daughter’s teacher told us the same thing, adding that “Canada is the place that protects talented people”. In her opinion, we were among the most talented. 

The backstory 

I was a good student and had more than 10 years of work experience in business journalism. As a result, I was offered multiple offers of admission to a number of universities in Canada, Germany, the United States and Great Britain. 

So, we started to think about our options as a family and we came to a final decision: Canada. A North American and English-speaking country with natural beauty, peaceful policies, and high educational standards, as well as welcoming immigration laws; Canada we assumed would be an ideal destination for our family. 

Funding opportunities for international students were also an important factor, as this would help me focus on my studies and research interests. 

With this in mind, I reached out to the head of the department for more information. An email response pointed me towards a partial scholarship through the university's "Teaching Assistantship".

But he also suggested that there were many external funding opportunities available, scholarships that I could apply for once I got to Canada. My good educational background meant I had a good chance of securing these scholarships, he said. 

So, we packed up. 

Running out of options 

I was a good student in Canada. I attended all my classes, read all the books that were suggested and got good grades. Simultaneously, I tried to apply for scholarships from organizations outside the university. But there was a problem. Most scholarships were given to international students who had lived for more than 12 months in the city that housed the university. As such, I did not qualify. 

Other scholarships were given to students who had started working on their thesis, provided that the thesis proposals were approved by funding organizations and met their objectives. I did not fit this category either. 

It took almost 5 months for me to understand that the reality was far from what we had anticipated.

Besides, the amount of external funding for international students was very low. If I won one of them, I could not access other scholarships. 

I explained my situation to the head of the department. He told me: “You are a perfect student, but the university cannot do anything about it.” That’s it! 

I completed the first semester with an “A” in every course. I went to the head of the department and told him that I could not complete my studies without funding. I told him “money matters for me”, but I heard the same answer, “There are no other options for you.” 

It took almost 5 months for me to understand that the reality was far from what we had anticipated. 

I had come to Canada to get a Ph.D., become a researcher and a productive person in society. But I made the mistake of making a decision based on incomplete and, sadly, inaccurate information about funding available to international students. I trusted the information that was given to me and did not try to verify before moving to Canada. 

I made up my mind. I did not want to be a “not-so-good” student, “not-so-good” mother, “not-so-good” provider and “not-so-good” person, who made a mistake but did not want to admit it. 

I had just accepted at face value a possibility that came into my life because I was afraid to review, re-think or even return to where everything had started. 

As a result, I dropped out of school and flew back home to Iran. 

Costs on all sides 

It was a hard time in my life. I was in the middle of a journey that was potentially leading my family and me to nowhere. 

When we were on the flight back home, I was thinking about all the things that had happened to my family, all the challenges that we had faced, and all the decisions that we had made. 

I thought about what I lost when I left school. The economic costs of this decision and the emotional suffering was tremendous. I also thought about the costs that the university endured: the cost of giving me a partial scholarship, the cost of losing someone who could have become a good researcher, and the cost of counting on someone and planning for her to be an academic, but losing her so soon. 

At the time, I thought to myself, “These five months of my life were like a game with no winner, a lose-lose game”. 

This piece is the first part of a mini-series within New Canadian Media’s Mentorship Program. The writer was mentored by Alireza Ahmadian.

Coming up next: What I Did Not Know About Communication and Why I Am Still Considering Immigrating to Canada


Mona Mashhadi Rajabi holds a Master’s degree in economics. As a business journalist living in Tehran, she has written for publications such as Donyay-e-eghtesad, Tejarat-e-farda, Jahan-e-sanat and Ireconomy.  

 

 

Published in Education
Thursday, 01 December 2016 10:37

Dion, Be More Nimble on Iran

Commentary by Alireza Ahmadian in Vancouver

More than a year of since assuming office, the Liberal government has sadly still not fulfilled its campaign pledge to restore diplomatic relations with Iran. It is moving in the right direction, but the pace is slow.

Prime Minister Justine Trudeau said in June 2015 that he wanted to normalize relations with Iran. In September, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion met with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly to address status of relations between the two countries and discussed consular services.

On Monday , ipolitics.ca reported that Liberal Member of Parliament for Richmond Hill, Majid Jowhari,  hosted a few Iranian parliamentarians in his office. They talked about issues such as trade, people-to-people ties and human rights.  

Conservative Iran policy

The Harper Conservatives broke diplomatic relations with Iran in September 2012.

Countries rarely break diplomatic relations with one another even if they are at war. The common sense approach is that it is much better to engage in dialogue about differences than to stop talking.

Diplomacy is not about pandering to interests groups, self-righteous statements, ideology, and political posturing. Diplomacy, in its non-coercive approach, is the art of having difficult conversations especially with countries that are different from us.

That was not the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC)’s approach to diplomatic relations with Iran. The same culture still persists in the CPC.

In his reaction to Jowhari’s meeting with Iranian parliamentarians, Peter Kent, Conservative MP for Thornhill, said that “good many Persian Canadians are disappointed to hear that such a meeting took place”, and that he would have declined to meet with the Iranians.

Story of two e-petitions

It is commendable to see that Kent cares about what the Iranian Canadians think about Canada’s relations with Iran.  He is definitely aware that there are currently two open e-petitions on the website of the Parliament of Canada representing two views about relations with Iran.

The first one, sponsored by Jowhari, calls on the Government of Canada to restore diplomatic relations with Iran “as matter of utmost importance” and has received 9,144 signatures. The second one sponsored by Kent has got 596 signatures.

These represent two different approaches to diplomacy.

Iranian diaspora

Kent and his party should expand the circle of the Iranian Canadians they engage with to at least understand other perspectives.

There have been different waves of emigration from Iran to Canada after the 1979 revolution. Iranians have left Iran for a variety of reasons. Their understanding of the Islamic Republic and its nature, and their experiences with different governments in Iran are not the same. Consequently, they advocate for different policies because they look at the same picture but see different aspects.

The Conservative Party seems to rely only on one narrative about Iran while ignoring others that can be useful and help Canada to better promote its national interests.

One of the most revealing illustrations of my concern about this tunnel vision is a meeting that then Prime Minister Stephen Harper had with a few members of the Iranian Canadian community, in Sept. 2012 (Full disclosure: I worked with four of the invitees on human rights issues and one more is a dear friend of mine).

People to people

The Conservatives should have asked the respected guests about the last time they had visited Iran and their current links to Iran, beyond sentimental attachments, language and opinions about what a better future could look like for Iran. Some have not been to Iran in decades.

It is noteworthy that Conservative MPs who won the support of the Iranian diaspora in areas such as the North Shore and Tri-Cities ridings in metro Vancouver, and Richmond Hill and Willowdale in greater Toronto – where there are sizable Iranian immigrant communities – failed in the last federal election.

Liberal candidates won all these ridings and their Iran policy undoubtedly played a pivotal role in their success.

Canada has achieved nothing by cutting diplomatic ties with Iran. As Canada works to re-establish diplomatic relations with Iran, people-to-people exchanges such as the meeting at Jowhari’s office are useful to enhance mutual understanding.

Alireza Ahmadian is a Vancouver-based writer and researcher. He holds a Master's degree of arts in international affairs and diplomacy from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He has appeared on BBC World News and BBC Persian to discuss world affairs and has published on online forums such as New Canadian Media, BBC, and foreign policy blogs. He is also a policy advisor to the Iranian Canadian Congress.

Published in Commentary

by Alireza Ahmadian in Vancouver

More than 160 Canadians lost their lives, more than 1,000 were wounded, and the government spent over $20 billion during Canada’s mission in Afghanistan.

Stephen M. Saideman, a scholar and the Paterson Chair in International Affairs at Carleton University, re-evaluates Canada’s performance in Afghanistan in his new book Adapting in the Dust: Lessons Learned from Canada’s War in Afghanistan.

Why Afghanistan and Kandahar

“Canada did not go to Afghanistan to turn it into a democracy that respected human rights and fostered functioning institutions,” Saideman writes. Canada’s objectives were to support its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies, particularly the U.S., and change its own international standing.

NATO connects Canada to Europe and gives Canada, at least in theory, equal standing to the more powerful U.S., writes Saideman. It may also prevent American unilateralism, as the U.S. will have to take into account the preferences of other members of the organization.

“Canada did not go to Afghanistan to turn it into a democracy that respected human rights and fostered functioning institutions.”

Moreover, Canada has a strong interest in strengthening its relationship with the U.S. given its economic interdependence, limited defence budget and geographic location. The Afghan mission cemented that relationship.

The insurgency was much less intense in northern and western Afghanistan, but Canada decided to deploy to Kandahar in southeastern Afghanistan, which became one of the most violent sites of the war.

The conventional argument has been that the Canadian Forces (CF) had intentionally downplayed the risks associated with a mission in Kandahar. However, Saideman says that the mission in Kandahar met the aspirations of then prime minister, Paul Martin, the CF, and department of foreign affairs, trade and development.

Each was interested in redefining their own role and Canada’s role in the international arena. They also believed they could make a meaningful difference on the ground.

Warriors and/or peacekeepers?

The CF, over the course of the mission, changed its rules of engagement, its culture, and its status, both in Canada and with its international partners, following the adverse effects of the Somalia Affair. The 1993 military scandal involved the death of 16-year-old Somali national Shidane Arone at the hands of two Canadian soldiers during a humanitarian mission in Somalia.

Saideman is extremely critical of parliamentarians from all political parties in their handling of the mission in Afghanistan.

The current generation of CF officers, Saideman says, were keen “to be seen as warriors and not as peacekeepers.” General Rick Hillier, former Chief of the Defence Staff for CF said “[t]he immense frustration at the ignorance of so many who labeled us ‘only’ peacekeepers had disappeared” following the Afghan mission.

Saideman notes the sacrifices made by the CF, but is also critical of characterizations of the Afghan Mission that “were too optimistic.” It is in the CF’s interest, the author says, to address this credibility gap created by its representation of the Afghan mission; “otherwise, it will be ignored as politicians will find its overly optimistic perspectives to be less than useful.”

Canadian Afghan detainee issue

In 2007, reports emerged that the CF and the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not address reports that Afghan detainees held by CF were subjected to torture after they were transferred to Afghan forces. This could have potentially constituted war crimes.

Saideman is extremely critical of parliamentarians from all political parties in their handling of the mission in Afghanistan. He says that the opposition parties’ fixation on the detainees was at the expense of addressing a much more important issue – the mission’s failure to establish any semblance of good governance.

Is fighting a violent war in a foreign country to enhance our international standing a Canadian value?

He also notes that members of the Standing Committee on National Defence do not have security clearances and are therefore not authorized to see classified documents.

In other words, they do not know what the CF may be doing. This lack of knowledge and context can prevent parliamentarians from holding the Minister of National Defence accountable.

A good start

“If Canada deployed troops to Afghanistan to build a self-sustaining, stable, secure democracy,” its mission failed, writes Saideman.

However, Canada supported its allies, honoured its commitments, and made serious efforts to change things for the better in Afghanistan. Therefore, the mission “was worth it insofar as it constituted significant support for the most important multilateral security organization and its most important ally.”

Saideman’s book is replete with strong analyses. However, it does not study the success or failures of Canada’s Counter-Insurgency principles and efforts. If Canada is to get involved in similar missions in the future, the lessons learned from this effort in Afghanistan will be helpful.

Furthermore, while the author says that deploying troops to Afghanistan “was consistent with Canadian interests and values,” he does not mention what those values are. Are they only to support our allies?

Since Saideman says that helping the Afghans and building a democracy were not Canadian objectives, then we have to ask a tough question: Is fighting a violent war in a foreign country to enhance our international standing a Canadian value?

Saideman’s normative assessment poses moral questions about “Canadian values” and the construction of national interests with regard to the Afghan mission that his book does not answer. His contribution remains a good start to revisiting Canada’s Afghan mission.

Alireza Ahmadian is a Vancouver-based writer and researcher. He has a master's degree of arts in international affairs and diplomacy from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He has appeared on BBC World News and BBC Persian to discuss world affairs and is published on online forums such as New Canadian Media, BBC, and foreign policy blogs.


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Books

by Alireza Ahmadian in Vancouver, British Columbia

Identity determines how we value ourselves and how others perceive us. Its significance has increased with globalization, migration and technological advancements. Many people today consider themselves to have multiple identities, while others are happy with a single identifier.

In The Relevance of Islamic Identity in Canada: Culture, Politics, and Self, a book edited by Nurjehan Aziz, 12 authors grapple with the idea of Islamic identity in Canada.

Panel discussions on the book have been held throughout Canada, including in Vancouver.

The book documents the everyday lives of several Canadian Muslims. Some authors write about their own experiences, others about the Muslim community in Canada. Some essays are written in an academic style, while others are personal narratives.

Islam in post-Harper Canada

Almost every chapter criticizes the government of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper for “targeting” or “scapegoating” Muslims for political gain. 

Haroon Siddiqui’s chapter, “Anti-Muslim Bigotry Goes Official — Canada’s Newest Dark Chapter,” deals with the experiences of Muslims under the Harper government.

He presents a list of what he calls “Islamophobic” actions, speeches, policies or legislation undertaken by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, immigration ministers Chris Alexander and Jason Kenney, and other Conservative members of Parliament and senators.

Ihsaan Gardee and Amira Elghawaby call on Canadian Muslims to reclaim their identities and reframe harmful narratives that were on the verge of becoming mainstream under the Conservative government.

This requires active civic engagement from Canadian Muslims, something that has increased thanks in part to groups such as Canadian-Muslim Vote and the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

Authors debate Muslim identity

“My sense of Muslim identity may not be another’s definition of what a Muslim ought to be and it also may not be in line with scripture and sacred text.”

In some instances, one author in the book responds to the concerns or questions raised by another. Safia Fazlul says she “lives on the fringe of being ‘somewhat liberal Canadian’ and ‘somewhat conservative Muslim South Asian.’”

Her inability and unwillingness to live strictly in one category led her to be discriminated against and excluded by “both liberal and secular Canadians and traditional Muslim Canadians.” People do not accept her even though she is comfortable with her multiple identities.

Ameen Merchant, on the other hand, raises a valid point about subjectivity and somewhat ignores the opinions of others about his relationship with Islam.

“My sense of Muslim identity may not be another’s definition of what a Muslim ought to be and it also may not be in line with scripture and sacred text,” he writes. "Then again, my subjectivity is also not anyone else’s. It is multifarious absorbent, and always subject to change. And it is my own.”

Mohamed Abualy Alibhai’s suggestion that Muslims in North America “abandon the belief in the verbal revelation of the Qur'an,” mirrors arguments raised by activist and author Ayaan Hirsi Ali, mainly that the literal understanding of the Qur'an must be “reformed or discarded.”

Alibhai and Hirsi Ali are in agreement on their understanding of controversial topics such as jihad, sharia and the importance of the afterlife in Islam.

…we need Muslim reformist thinkers to use Islam to fight against radical interpretations of the religion.

Furthermore, Alibhai advocates for a conscience-based Islamic denomination, as if it does not exist. However, a look at Karim H. Karim’s chapter illustrates how Aga Khan, the Imam or spiritual leader of Ismaili Muslims, has been doing what Alibhai argues is needed.

“The Islamic leader presents the concepts of ethics, democracy, development, meritocracy, pluralism and quality of life as some of the ‘brides that unite’ ways of understanding that are religious and secular,” writes Karim about Aga Khan.

The Ismaili leader’s ideas of the Qur'an underlie his discourse, but he rarely makes overt religious references in his speeches.

At the same time, Alibhai is dismissive of Muslim reformist thinkers who reinterpret the Islamic texts to accommodate the realities of modern life. Monia Mazigh’s chapter, for example, illustrates how Islamic discourses can be invoked to disprove the notion of men’s perceived superiority over women.

Interpreting modern Islam

There are different ways to convince different people of the same issue. You can argue that robbery is socially unacceptable, morally reprehensible, illegal, or against your religion. Each one of those arguments is valid depending on the audience. The argument based on religion is more appealing to a religious person.

In the same vein, we need Muslim reformist thinkers to use Islam to fight against radical interpretations of the religion.

Some of the authors identify as “inconsistent Muslim” or “cultural Muslim,” however, we do not see a representation from an “observant Muslim” – those who may imprecisely be called conservative or traditional Muslims.

These are the proud Canadian Muslims who follow all Islamic laws and traditions and believe that they can also be civically engaged Canadians.

Furthermore, three of the authors are of Arab origin and the rest are South Asian. The Muslim community in Canada is much more diverse and the overwhelming majority of them are not represented in this book.

Overall, Aziz’s book is a success as it represents a segment of an underrepresented group of Canadian citizens: Muslims who are spoken, about but rarely given the chance to speak for themselves.

Alireza Ahmadian is a Vancouver-based writer and researcher. He has a Masters of Arts in International Affairs and Diplomacy from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He has appeared on BBC World News and BBC Persian to discuss world affairs and is published on online forums such as New Canadian Media, BBC, and foreign policy blogs.


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Books

by Alireza Ahmadian in Vancouver 

In this piece, journalist Alireza Ahmadian discusses Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia with Cesar Jaramillo, Executive Director of Project Ploughshares, a non-governmental organization working in Canada and abroad to advocate for policy reform to prevent war and armed violence. 

The deal, valued at almost $15 billion, is the largest arms export contract in Canadian history and was awarded during the 2013-2014 fiscal year. It will see the shipment of an undisclosed number of light armoured vehicles, manufactured by General Dynamics Land Systems, based in London, ON, to Saudi Arabia. 

Why should Canadians be concerned about an arms deal between their government and Saudi Arabia, a country that both Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI) say violates human rights? 

It is not just HRW and AI who condemn the abysmal human rights situation in Saudi Arabia. Every authoritative organization in the world consistently ranks Saudi Arabia among the worst human rights violators [on] the planet. 

There is a widespread and well-documented pattern of violations of virtually every category of human rights in Saudi Arabia, so Canadians should definitely be concerned about the possibility that Canadian-made goods might be used to sustain a repressive regime and enable the further violation of human rights of civilians. 

What do we know about how Canadian arms are being used in Saudi Arabia? Are there any safeguards or ways of ensuring these weapons will not be used to violate human rights? 

We certainly know about the proclivity of the Saudi regime to systematically target civilians. In 2011, there were reports of Saudi forces using armoured vehicles, such as the ones Canada is set to ship to Saudi Arabia, to crush peaceful civilian protests in neighbouring Bahrain. 

The primary safeguard to ensure Canadian goods are not misused should be Canada’s own military export control policy, according to which the government must first determine that “there is no reasonable risk” that Canadian-made military goods might be [used] against civilians. 

Given what is widely known about the Saudi dire human rights record, it is hard to comprehend how there can be “no reasonable risk” of misuse. But so far the government has resisted calls to explain how the Saudi arms deal can be reconciled with the human rights safeguards of existing exports controls. 

"[W]hat’s to stop a country from selling weapons to ISIS or North Korea or organized criminals halfway around the world?"

Former foreign affairs minister, John Baird, also said that this deal has economic benefits for Canada. For instance, the arms deal supports “3,000 unionized workers in London, Ontario." What’s wrong with an arms deal that hires 3,000 Canadians? 

Of course there is nothing inherently wrong with job creation … However, we must recognize that this is a special case that merits special scrutiny. Valued at $15 billion, this is by far the largest military exports contract in Canadian history. And, as stated above, it is widely accepted that Saudi Arabia is a human rights pariah. 

So, while job creation is a legitimate pursuit of any government, in a case as egregious as this, we must assess as a society what is the real value we place on the protection of human rights. 

If economic gains are taken as the sole justification for arms exports authorizations, what’s to stop a country from selling weapons to ISIS or North Korea or organized criminals halfway around the world? 

The Harper government did not sign the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) that seeks to regulate international arms trade and prevent military exports from fuelling armed conflict and human rights violations. Canada is the only country in North America, the only member of the G7 group of industrialized nations, and the only one of the 28 members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, that has not signed the treaty. 

It is worthwhile to note that countries such as Syria, Pakistan, North Korea and Saudi Arabia are also non-signatories. 

Do you think that signing this Treaty would address concerns over lack of transparency in Canada’s arms deals with other countries? How so? Do you think the new government will sign the treaty? 

Yes, I believe the new government will accede to the Arms Trade Treaty. It was an election pledge of Prime Minister [Justin] Trudeau, and was a specific priority of foreign affairs minister [Stéphane] Dion’s mandate. This is a position to be welcomed and encouraged. 

The ATT entails increased expectations of transparency around arms deals and greater vigilance in regards to the end users of military exports. 

At the same time, Canada may find itself sending a mixed message about its willingness to live up to the ATT’s heightened expectations of transparency when legitimate concerns about the human rights implications of the Saudi arms deal remain unaddressed. 

It has been reported that in May 2015, Martin Zablocki, the president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Commercial Corporation, the crown corporation that brokered the arms deal with Saudi Arabia, said that the Middle East is a “strategic region” for Canadian arms sales. How does this deal serve Canada’s strategic interests? What would you say to those who argue that other countries are selling arms to the Middle East? 

It is a strategic region from a purely business perspective, of course. It is no secret that the previous government made economic diplomacy a cornerstone of its foreign policy. In this context, the Canadian [Commercial] Corporation has acted as an active facilitator in the pursuit of these deals, not just as a passive intermediary. 

“Everyone else is doing it,” sounds like an argument void of any ethical considerations and undermines the credibility of Canada’s military export controls — which Ottawa calls “some of the strongest in the world.”  

The Canadian public has a right to know that the economic well-being at home is not being tied to the suppression of human rights elsewhere.

The Liberal government said that it would honour the arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Why do you think the Liberals decided to follow through with this deal even though they are trying to undo other aspects of the Conservative’s legacy? 

This deal would present a complex policy challenge for any party in power. There is a real confluence of economic, strategic and human rights dimensions that must be taken into consideration. But, again, Saudi Arabia isn’t a case of a handful of unconfirmed human rights violations. The human rights situation in the autocratic kingdom is absolutely abysmal. 

In a case where red flags are so apparent one would hope that the government would recognize, at a minimum, the need to publicly explain how this deal can be justified in light of existing export controls. 

The Canadian public has a right to know that the economic well-being at home is not being tied to the suppression of human rights elsewhere. 

How would you suggest the new government pursue future deals like this? 

There are specific human rights safeguards that are part of Canadian military export controls. Of course, however strong they might be on paper, they are only as effective when implemented. 

Beyond the need to abide by domestic and international regulations (including the Arms Trade Treaty, following accession) there is a need for greater transparency and oversight around the process by which arms exports authorizations are granted. 

 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

Published in Top Stories
Sunday, 20 December 2015 19:05

Diaspora Supports Thaw with Tehran

by Alireza Ahmadian in Vancouver 

Analysts and members of the Iranian-Canadian community say they are optimistic about a thawing of relations between Iran and Canada now that a new government is in power. 

Despite the fact that a large and dynamic Iranian diaspora calls Canada its home, recent relations between the two countries have been complicated. 

In 2012, the Harper government put Iran on the list of State Supporters of Terrorism, closed the Canadian embassy in Iran and expelled Iranian diplomats from Canada. The diplomatic relation between the two governments has since been suspended. 

The Conservative government also enacted unilateral sanctions against Iran, some of which adversely affected the lives of Iranian Canadians.

But in June 2015, then prime minister candidate Justin Trudeau told the CBC that he hoped “that Canada would be able to reopen its mission” in Iran and he was “fairly certain that there are ways to re-engage” the Iranian government.

Reasons for a different approach

Observers give different reasons for the Liberal party’s decision to re-engage Iran.

First of all, the Harper government failed to achieve its objectives with regard to its policy toward Iran. 

[T]he fundamental reason for the Harper government’s Iran policy was “to isolate and de-legitimize Iran.”

John Mundy, Canada’s last ambassador to Iran, says he believes that the fundamental reason for the Harper government’s Iran policy was “to isolate and de-legitimize Iran.”

The opposite happened though, as the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) re-engaged Iran and reached a nuclear agreement with Tehran.

“Now it’s time for Canada to play catch-up,” says ambassador Mundy, who is writing a book about his time in Iran.

Secondly, there are commercial reasons for re-establishing diplomatic relations with Iran.

Political scientist Thomas Juneau says that re-engagement with Iran is in Canada’s best interests as it provides access to an emerging market for Canadian businesses and citizens who want to do business with the country.

Moreover, Jayson Myers, president and chief executive officer of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters told the Globe and Mail there are tremendous opportunities for Canadian businesses looking to sell to Iran.

Thirdly, there are geopolitical reasons for a change in policy towards Iran.

Political scientist Houchang Hassan-Yari says that the crises in the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Iraq, and the rise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) have created a new strategic environment in which Iran is an important player in the fight against IS.

[S]upport for the Liberal party amongst Iranian Canadians was much higher in the recent federal election than ... previous elections.

“This [new geopolitical environment] may have had the Canadian government decide to engage Iran.”

Finally, the Harper government’s Iran policy created problems for members of the Iranian diaspora in Canada who maintain links to Iran and are in need of consular services from the Iranian government in Canada and the Canadian government in Iran.

Mohsen Taghavi, the editor-in-chief and publisher of Persian-English bilingual Weekly Salam Toronto, says that the majority of Iranian Canadians disagreed with the Harper government’s decision to suspend diplomatic relations with Tehran and to impose unilateral sanctions against Iran.

He says that the level of support for the Liberal party amongst Iranian Canadians was much higher in the recent federal election than what he had observed in previous elections and that the party’s Iran policy was an important factor contributing to this.

The Iranian diaspora and the Liberal party

But it was not all about Iran policy.

Taghavi says that Trudeau’s humility, energy, and vision appealed to many members of Canada’s Iranian diaspora.

Trudeau’s humility, energy, and vision appealed to many members of Canada’s Iranian diaspora.

Furthermore, many of them felt that the Liberal platform best manifested Canadian values. Therefore, their love for Canada and Canadian values, combined with the Liberals' pro-diplomacy approach towards Iran, swayed their vote.

Ambassador Mundy expects Canada and Iran will re-establish diplomatic relations and says he hopes that it becomes possible for Canada to re-open its visa section in order to be able to facilitate immigration and travel between the two countries.

He says that in 2007 when he was Canada’s ambassador to Tehran, “Iran was Canada’s fourth source of new immigrants and the Iranian community in Canada was growing quickly.”

Addressing Canada's concerns

Having diplomatic relations, however, does not mean that Iran and Canada are going to agree on different issues of mutual concern. In fact, all the interviewees for this article acknowledged Canada’s concerns over Iran’s human rights record and regional activities.

Professor Hassan-Yari says that having diplomatic relations with Tehran and starting a dialogue about “our differences with them” could be beneficial.

He concedes that, at first, Iran may not take Canada’s concerns seriously.

“However, when Canada and the Europeans address the same concerns, over time, they can influence the leadership in Tehran,” says Hassan-Yari.

Many Iranian Canadians view the Trudeau government’s approach to Iran as part of a larger worldview in which pragmatism outweighs ideology and diplomacy is utilized to resolve differences.

The future will show whether the Liberals can strengthen its relations with the Iranian diaspora and earn their future votes.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Politics

Poll Question

Do you agree with the new immigration levels for 2017?

Yes - 30.8%
No - 46.2%
Don't know - 23.1%
The voting for this poll has ended on: %05 %b %2016 - %21:%Dec

Featured Quote

The honest truth is there is still reluctance around immigration policy... When we want to talk about immigration and we say we want to bring more immigrants in because it's good for the economy, we still get pushback.

-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit

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Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Breadcrumb Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Bottom Menu Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Bottom Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image
Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image