by Alireza Ahmadian
Alireza Ahmadian is an Iranian-Canadian writer living in London. Mr. Ahmadian holds a history BA from the University of British Columbia and is currently completing his postgraduate studies at the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.
Canada’s decision to shutter its embassy in Tehran and expel the Iranian diplomats from Ottawa came as a surprise to many observers. Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister, John Baird, argued that Iran’s terrible human rights record, its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, its nuclear program, and its repeated threats against Israel, and anti-Semitic rhetoric displayed by its officials made Canada suspend diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic. Iran is, in fact, guilty of all counts.
The Islamic Republic’s widespread and systematic violations of human rights is well-documented by Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, and human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
in August the United Nations declared that Iran was supplying weapons to the al Assad’s regime in Syria. Iran also has recently admitted that a number of members of the Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds force are providing non-military assistance to Assad’s regime.
In his latest report to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Board of Governors, the IAEA Director General Yukiya Amani asserted that Iran was still not cooperating with the Agency; therefore, the IAEA was unable “to start the process to resolve all outstanding issues, including those concerning possible military dimensions to its nuclear program.”
Baird also referred to the November 2011 storming of the United Kingdom embassy in Tehran and Iran’s “blatant disregard” for the Vienna Convention and its guarantee of protection for diplomatic personnel as reasons to be concerned about the safety of Canadian diplomats. The safety of Canadian diplomats is of paramount significance in the face of the thuggish attack on the British embassy and the 1979 occupation of the American embassy in Tehran. However, the Government of Canada has not provided any evidence that the Canadian diplomats in Tehran faced a threat. The Canadian public has the right to know if such threats had existed. That would also help the government’s case in the eyes of the public.
The Harper government’s decision drew criticism from political observers and former diplomats who have previously served in Iran. A Globe and Mail editorial called the decision “a retreat from the enlightened influence Canada can have in the world.” Moreover, John Mundy, Canada’s last Iran ambassador, maintained that Canada had traditionally been one of the last countries to leave in a crisis, not the first. This is “the first time in decades that a Canadian prime minister has acted to reduce the diplomatic opportunities for peace during a crisis,” he stated. Furthermore, John George, Canada’s Iran ambassador between 1972 and 1977, called the decision “stupid.”
I agree with Minister Baird’s statement about the Islamic Republic’s mischievous behavior. However, I do not think the Government of Canada is honest about the reasons behind its decision. Iran’s human rights violations, its support for the Syrian dictator, its nuclear program, its anti-Israeli stance, and its disregard for the Vienna Convention when it serves its interest are not new. Why did not the government of Canada suspend its relations with Iran right after the attack on the British embassy? All the reasons given by Minister Baird had existed in November 2011. Why September 2012?
The reality is that the Government of Canada faced a mid-September deadline to identify countries that are supporting terrorism. The Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act by the government of Prime Minister Steven Harper, which was passed in March 2011, gave the government six months to name state sponsors of terrorism. According to the law, Canadian citizens and permanent residents can sue designated states for loss or damage. On September 7, when Canada announced its decision to suspend diplomatic relations with Iran, it also listed the Islamic Republic and Syria as state sponsors of terrorism under the Act. The Canadian Government was probably concerned about a rash reaction against the listing of Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Even though the Act seems to provide an opportunity for the victims of the Islamic Republic to seek justice, we will have to wait and see what happens in reality. Meanwhile, the unsavory decision to shutter Canada’s embassy in Teheran and expel the Iranian diplomats will jeopardize Canada’s interests in Iran and directly and adversely affect the overwhelming majority of Iranian Canadians who have relatives in Iran and travel to their homeland back and forth.
Iranian Canadians can no longer use the consular services by the Iranian embassy. Similarly, their families who want to visit them in Canada cannot apply for a visa in the Canadian embassy in Tehran. Furthermore, there will be no Canadian diplomats in Tehran to defend the rights of Canadians who might be apprehended on unsubstantiated charges in Iran.
Having diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic is not a sign of approval of or support for the country’s government and its policies. It is just an acknowledgement that it is much better to have a dialogue than not, even with an adversary. Canada cannot exert pressure or have an influence on Iran now that there is no line of communication between the two countries. There will be no Canadian diplomats in Iran anymore to closely observe and assess the political and human rights situation in the country and communicate them directly with the Iranian government in Tehran. Canadian diplomats can no longer gather information, try to understand the reality on the ground, interact with the host government as much as possible, and offer advise to Ottawa on how to further Canada’s interests and respond to crises and developments in Iran. This will hinder Canada’s understanding of Iran at the expense of Canadian interests.
What is more, we have to see what goals Canada’s foreign policy was perusing in relation with Iran. Canada is obviously concerned about Iran’s human rights record, its suspicious nuclear program, and its international behavior. Furthermore, Iranian Canadians Hamid Ghassemi-Shall and Saeed Malekpour have been sentenced to death in Iran on unsubstantiated charges. The government of Canada must do its outmost to secure their release. The fact that they were born in Iran does not make them any less Canadian than those who were born in Canada. Severing diplomatic relations with Iran will not help any of Canada’s objectives. If Iran does not have a stake to negotiate about an issue, it will not do so. Only diplomatic practices and maneuvering, whether coercive or not, can resolve the outstanding issues with Iran. By suspending its relations with Iran, the Government of Canada forsook the possibility of achieving its foreign policy goals with Iran and created a lot of troubles for the overwhelming majority of Iranian-Canadians.