While the federal election campaigns have largely focused on domestic issues, some members of Canada’s Iranian community are wondering whether Canada’s next government will renew relations with Iran following the new nuclear deal.
On Sept. 2, United States President Barack Obama secured enough support from Democrats to endorse the July 14 deal between Iran, the U.S. and five other nations to limit Iran’s nuclear capability and end economic sanctions that have depressed the value of the country’s currency and inflated the cost of basic goods.
“Prices are so incredibility expensive,” says Golrokh Niazi, who visited Iran earlier this year. “I couldn’t figure out with the incomes that some people are making, how they were surviving.”
Niazi immigrated to Winnipeg from Iran with her family in 1998. Now studying comparative politics as a PhD candidate at the University of Ottawa, Niazi says that among young people in Iran, there is a lack of hope for change or prosperity because of their exclusion from the international community.
Over 60 per cent of Iran’s 73 million people are under 30 years old. According to World Bank estimates, 24 per cent of Iran’s youth are unemployed.
Here in Canada, there appears to be more hope over the deal.
The Iranian Canadian Congress (ICC) found that about 75 per cent of 226 members surveyed believe the deal would benefit the economic well being of Iranians in Iran. The ICC – a non-partisan, non-religious organization – has about 1,500 members, mostly in the GTA.
Not everyone who supports the deal is necessarily supportive of the Iranian government, says Iranian Canadian Congress president Arsalan Kahnemuyipour.
In a second survey, almost 80 per cent of 181 members surveyed said they support the deal, while about 14 per cent said they do not. The rest were undecided.
“The people who are against it typically are against the Islamic Republic of Iran, and they feel like anything that might strengthen the regime would go against the people,” says Arsalan Kahnemuyipour, the ICC’s president. He adds though that not everyone who supports the deal is necessarily supportive of the Iranian government.
Supporting deal ‘in line’ with Canadian values
Niazi organized an event outside Parliament in Ottawa on Aug. 14. She says about 35 people attended and carried signs and flowers to support peace and prevention of another war in the Middle East.
Video Source: Support Iran Deal YouTube Channel
“We have experienced years of hostility between Iran and the rest of the world, and the only people who have gotten hurt as a result of it are ordinary people trying to live their lives like everybody else,” she says.
Niazi adds that while there are many issues she will consider when it comes time to vote in October, the government’s willingness to cooperate with Iran is reflective of its commitment to diplomatic relations.
“Supporting the deal is a duty incumbent to us, all of us if we consider ourselves as Canadians.”
“Supporting the deal is a duty incumbent to us, all of us if we consider ourselves as Canadians committed to the security, prosperity, and implementing of the values that forms Canadian identity,” says Mahmoud Masaeli, professor of Global Ethics and International Development at the University of Ottawa. “Resistance, in opposite, has damaged our face in the world, and may harm national solidarity.”
Canada suspended diplomatic ties with Iran in September of 2012. Iranian diplomats were expelled and the Iranian embassy in Ottawa has been closed ever since. The Canadian embassy in Iran was also closed.
“Extra sanctions by Canada and the rigid position of the government have hindered the free economic transactions between Canadian and Iranian companies,” says Masaeli. “This has definite negative impacts on the mind of the Iranian community and moves them away from voting Conservative.”
Where the parties stand
The Conservative government’s pro-Israel views are part of its reluctance to embrace a nuclear deal. A statement on the deal from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rob Nicholson, makes no mention of renewing relations.
“Iran continues to be a significant threat to international peace and security owing to the regime’s nuclear ambitions, its continuing support for terrorism, its repeated calls for the destruction of Israel, and its disregard for basic human rights,” he states.
Sixty-five per cent of 181 members surveyed by the ICC say they are against his statement, while almost 21 per cent say they support it.
[T]he Iranian Canadian Congress is trying to hold a debate between Iranian Canadian candidates in the Greater Toronto Area.
Kahnemuyipour says the ICC is trying to hold a debate between Iranian Canadian candidates in the Greater Toronto Area – two from the Liberal party, one from the New Democratic Party, and one from the Conservative party.
The Liberal party’s foreign affairs critic, Marc Garneau, issued a statement saying the party welcomes the agreement and believes in the importance of a diplomatic solution.
At the same time, he says the Liberals believe Iran must be accountable for its support of terrorist organizations, human rights violations, aggression towards Israel and its nuclear program.
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has also said he would normalize relations with Iran.
While the NDP did not release an official statement, the party’s foreign affairs critic, Paul Dewar, is quoted as saying all eyes will be on Iran following the agreement.
Dewar said Canada should work with the U.S. and the European Union “to encourage further reforms.”
The Green Party did not release an official statement on the deal, but it is the only party with a policy on Iran on its website.
The policy states that Canada should be supportive of a deal between Iran and the U.S. and calls for cooperative engagement and an end to Iran’s isolation.
It goes on to say that change must come from the Iranian people, supported by understanding and peaceful actions by nations like Canada.