Who will pay as Canada cuts ties with Iran?

In closing its embassy in Tehran, Canada flexes its muscles, inadvertently squeezing the Iranian-Canadian community.

Canadian Premier Stephen Harper
Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he seeks a 'peaceful resolution' to the tensions with Iran [EPA]

A sign on the door of the Iranian embassy in Ottawa on Saturday, telling Iranians that embassy staff would be unable to help them with consular services, was the first sign of difficulties to come for Iranian-Canadians.

“Due to the hostile decisions of the Canadian government, the embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Ottawa is closed and has no choice but to cease the consular service of our dear compatriots,” read the sign, taped to the door.

The cost of travelling to Iran will be multiplied. The people who will end up paying for this will be Iranian-Canadians. It’s not going to have an impact on Iran’s policies.” 

– Mohamad Tavakoli, professor, University of Toronto

Calling Iran “the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world” – Canada’s foreign affairs office issued a statement on Friday listing grievances with Iran, which included its support of the Syrian government and its human rights record.

The Canadian embassy in Tehran remains closed and Iranian diplomats have been put on notice to leave.

Already, the semi-official Fars news agency reported on Saturday that Ali Larijani, Iran’s parliamentary speaker, who is tipped to be a possible candidate in next year’s presidential elections, had cancelled his visit to Ottawa scheduled for late October.

“I view the decision as irrational – it has no rational foundation it does not make sense,” said Mohamad Tavakoli, a history professor in the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilisations at the University of Toronto.

If Canada is interested in resolving key crises in the Middle East, such as in Syria, then the timing is also bad, said Tavakoli.

To deal with geopolitical situations, “you don’t shut down dialogue and communication – you actually intensify dialogue and communication”, Tavakoli told Al Jazeera.

“What I find disturbing is this combination of defending human rights and linking it to intense militarism,” he said, adding that such thinking was the legacy of the United States administration of George W Bush.

Caught in the middle

Lost in the power plays between Canada’s Conservative government, which has taken an increasingly hard-line view of Iran in recent months, and Iran’s apparent refusal to budge on thorny issues such as Syria and Israel, are the roughly 500,000 Iranian-Canadians who call Canada home.

Iran does not recognise dual citizenships, so those with Iranian passports must deal with the Iranian embassy in Ottawa for trips to Iran.

Tavakoli said the severing of diplomatic ties has already had an impact on the research his students were planning in Iran and will make the lives of Canadians and US residents and citizens with families in Iran “miserable”.

“The cost of travelling to Iran will be multiplied. The people who will end up paying for this will be Iranian-Canadians. It’s not going to have an impact on Iran’s policies,” said Tavakoli.

But some Iranians living in Canada think the hardship will be worth it.

“Although I truly appreciate the difficulty and inconvenience of travel at this time for many good citizens; the national security of Canada supersedes this issue,” said rights activist Shadi Paveh, who lives in Kingston, Ontario.

“In essence, this terrible inconvenience has been caused by the Islamic Republic itself, which had forced the government of Canada into taking action.”

“The Iranian community in Canada should try to look at the bigger picture of the threat Iran poses to national security more than being inconvenienced at this sensitive time,” Paveh told Al Jazeera from her home.

“Plus, the most important issue is that travel for Iranians with dual citizenships or Iranian ex-patriates has been and remains to be very dangerous,” she said, referring to the cases of people such as Saeed Malekpour and Hamid Ghassemi-Shall, dual citizens who are awaiting execution in Iran.

“I can only imagine the impact of this sort of behaviour and the hate crimes it can condition and cause.

– Hamid Dabashi, professor, Columbia University

Viewed with suspicion

Given that the Canadian government, as a whole, has largely demonised Iran, there is concern about the long-term effect of this perception on Canadian-Iranians.

“Horrible would be the effect,” said Hamid Dabashi, Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, referring to the rise of Islamophobia in the Western world.

“I can only imagine the impact of this sort of behaviour and the hate crimes it can condition and cause,” said Dabashi.

“Anytime diplomatic relations are severed, drums of war are raised louder, corrupt politicians and radical fanatics thrive, the rule of reason and sanity fails, and ordinary people on both sides of the divide suffer most.” 

Still, some have faith that Canadian-Iranians will not be tainted by attempts to narrowly describe Iran as a dangerous, rogue state trying to infiltrate the ranks of the Canadian power structure – as suggested by some recent press.

“I truly believe that the Canadians are the most tolerant, politically correct, non-judgemental, warm and educated people in the world. I can not see that all Iranians would be looked upon negatively in general,” said Paveh.

“Having said that, after 9/11, all Islamic nations [and] people were looked upon with some suspicion by Westerners and that remains to this day. The fact that there are activists from these very nations speaking out against these regimes has balanced the suspicion with trust and goodwill.”

An anti-Iran cabal?

The US state department declared its support for Canada’s move on Friday.

“Many countries have different relationships and different types of diplomatic facilities, so I don’t want to paint with such a broad brush to say every country should do this or that,” said state department spokesman Patrick Ventrell in a press briefing.

“Suffice it to say, we want all countries to join us in isolating Iran as they see appropriate, and there are many different ways that they can do that.”

But the goal of the move – as well as its timing – remain a tough sell, diplomatically speaking.

“Over the last thirty years plus, the ruling regime in Iran has violated the most basic human rights of its own citizens and it was not in the interest of Canada to raise an eyebrow,” said Dabashi.

“Right now, after the NAM conference in Iran outmanoeuvred the US and Israel in manufacturing a global consent on isolating Iran, this move by the Canadian government is to renew the US-Israeli design to paint Iran as a rogue state by way of justifying their crippling economic sanctions, and possibly even a military strike.”

The severing of diplomatic ties, said Tavakoli, “goes against the entire rhetoric of human rights and the international resolution of conflict and is indicative of militaristic designs [upon] Iran”.

“If this is the prelude to an Israeli attack on Iran, as some political analysts are arguing, this will not have a good impact on the wider Middle East and their perception of Canada.”

Follow D Parvaz on Twitter: @Dparvaz

Source: Al Jazeera