While the current Liberal government claims to be progressive and in favour of democracy, peace, and a rules-based international order, its actions regarding Iran demonstrate that the primary drivers of Canadian foreign policy remain closely tied to the geo-political interests of the US empire.
Despite Israeli nationalists and Conservatives demanding new measures targeting Iran, the reality is that ordinary Canadians—and the families of Iranian Canadians in particular—will not benefit from a conflict with the 18th most populous country in the world.
Despite election promises to the contrary, Justin Trudeau’s government has continued important components of the previous Conservative administration’s ‘low-level war’ against Iran.
Ottawa has no diplomatic relations with Iran, however it is maintaining a series of harsh sanctions on the country while falling in line with the US by listing Tehran as a state sponsor of terrorism. Canadian troops are also stationed on Iran’s border, and we recently gifted $28 million worth of Iranian assets housed in Canada to Americans who lost family members to purported Hamas and Hezbollah attacks which occured decades ago.
The Liberals have repeatedly promised to restart diplomatic relations with Iran. Before becoming prime minister, Trudeau told the CBC, “I would hope that Canada would be able to reopen its mission [in Tehran].” In May 2016, then foreign minister Stéphane Dion said, “Canada’s severing of ties with Iran had no positive consequences for anyone: not for Canadians, not for the people of Iran, not for Israel, and not for global security.” Five months later Trudeau added, “Canada must return to Iran to play a useful role in that region of the world.”
While the Liberals have dialed down the Harper government’s most bombastic rhetoric against Tehran, they have not restarted diplomatic relations or removed Iran from Canada’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.
The Trudeau government has criticized Iranian human rights abuses while largely ignoring more flagrant rights violations in Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf monarchies.
In January 2018, foreign minister Chrystia Freeland said, “Canada is deeply troubled by the recent deaths and detentions of protesters in Iran. Four months later she tweeted, “our government is committed to holding Iran to account for its violations of human and democratic rights.” Then, just two months ago, Global Affairs Canada stated that “Iran must ensure that its people enjoy the rights and freedoms they deserve.”
2/2 Canada is also committed to holding Iran to account for its violations of human and democratic rights. As long as Maryam Mombeini is not able to leave Iran, the focus of any discussions with Iran will be on getting her home to Canada.— Chrystia Freeland (@cafreeland) May 8, 2018
In June 2018 Liberal parliamentarians supported a Conservative MP’s private members’ motion that “strongly condemns the current regime in Iran for its ongoing sponsorship of terrorism around the world, including instigating violent attacks on the Gaza border.” In effect, the resolution claimed Iran was responsible for the Israeli military’s killing of Palestinian protesters who objected to the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem and ongoing, violent siege of Gaza. The motion also called on Canada to “immediately cease any and all negotiations or discussions with the Islamic Republic of Iran to restore diplomatic relations” and to make the highly provocative move of listing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist entity. A demand B’nai B’rith and the Conservative party have restated in recent days.
Ottawa has continued to present a yearly UN resolution critical of the human rights situation in Iran. In response to Canada targeting it, Iran’s Deputy Representative to the UN, Eshaq Al-e Habib, said in November 2019, “how can a supporter of apartheid in Palestine pose itself as a human rights defender in Iran?”
Similarly, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development participates in the annual “Iran Accountability Week” on Parliament Hill, which showcases individuals such as Foundation for the Defense of Democracies CEO Mark Dubowitz, who helped kill the Iran nuclear deal and pushed for harsh sanctions against any country doing business with Iran. Dubowitz was a senior research fellow at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. In 2015 Global Affairs gave the Munk School’s Digital Public Square $9 million to expand an anti-Iranian initiative.
While they ostensibly backed the “P5+1 nuclear deal” with Iran, the Liberals’ promoted a one-sided view of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between Iran and the US, France, Germany, Russia and China. Canada put up more than $10 million for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to monitor and verify Iran’s implementation of its commitments under the JCPOA. Iran has consistently been in compliance with JCPOA’s strict rules regarding its uranium enrichment. Nonetheless, the Trump administration withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018 and re-imposed tough new sanctions on other countries’ companies doing business with Iran.
For their part, the Western European signatories to the agreement have largely failed to stand-up to US pressure by creating the space for their companies to do business with Iran and, just days ago, the UK, Germany and France delivered a further blow to an agreement on life support. In a January 14 press release, Global Affairs expressed “support” for the UK, Germany and France in “activating the Dispute Resolution Mechanism” under the JCPOA and “urged Iran to immediately restore its full commitments to the JCPOA.” Ironically, this position amounts to calling on Iran to abide by a deal it receives no benefits from as its economy is crippled by sanctions which Canada actively endorses.
The Liberals also legitimated the illegal US sanctions on Iran whenthey arrested Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, at the Vancouver airport 13 months ago. The US claimed Meng’s company defied its illegal sanctions against Iran. Yet, between when the US judicial system sought her detention and when the Trump administration requested Ottawa detain her, Meng traveled to six countries with US extradition treaties. Only Canada arrested her.
At the military level, Ottawa also aligned with the US-Saudi-Israeli axis stoking conflict with Iran. An April 2016 Global Affairs memo authorizing Light Armoured Vehicle export permits to the House of Saud noted, “Canada appreciates Saudi Arabia’s role as a regional leader promoting regional stability, as well as countering the threat posed by Iranian regional expansionism.” At the November 2019 Dubai International Air Chiefs Conference, the Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Al Meinzinger, participated in a panel titled “Watch out Iran!” A year earlier, Chief of the Defence Staff Jonathan Vance told a parliamentary committee that Iran was “an interested party and, in some cases, a malign agent in Iraq.”
Five hundred Canadian troops are in Iraq partly to counter Iranian influence. Specifically, the Canadian-led NATO Mission Iraq is designed to weaken the influence of the Iranian aligned Popular Mobilization Forces, Shia militias that helped defeat ISIS.
In the fall Canada seized and sold $28 million worth of Iranian properties in Ottawa and Toronto to compensate individuals in the US who had family members killed in a 2002 Hamas bombing in Israel, and others who were held hostage by Hezbollah in 1986 and 1991. The Supreme Court of Canada and federal government sanctioned the seizure under the 2012 Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act, which lifts immunity for countries labeled “state sponsors of terrorism” to allow individuals to claim their non-diplomatic assets.
Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyyed Abbas Mousavi called the seizure “illegal” and in “direct contradiction with international law”, while a spokesperson for Iran’s Guardian Council, Abbasali Kadkhodaei, accused Canada of “economic terrorism.” A senior member of Iran’s parliament said the country’s military should confiscate Canadian shipments crossing the Strait of Hormuz.
In a right side up world, the Iranian asset sale would lead to various additional and legitimate seizures. Relatives of the Lebanese-Canadian el-Akhras family who Israel wiped out in 2006, including four children aged one to eight, were at least worthy of Canadian government-backed compensation. The same should have applied for Paeta Hess-Von Kruedener, a Canadian soldier taking park in a UN mission who was killed by an Israeli fighter jet in Lebanon in 2006. Or Palestinian Canadian Ismail Zayid, who was driven from a West Bank village demolished to make way for the Jewish National Fund’s Canada Park.
There are hundreds of Canadians and countless individuals elsewhere who have been victimized by Israeli, Canadian and US-backed terror. They are arguably as deserving of compensation as those Americans restitued with Iranian assets for crimes purportedly committed by Hamas and Hezbollah decades ago. Should Israeli, US and Canadian government assets be seized to pay them?
The Trudeau government failed to speak against the asset seizure. It could have undercut this obscenity by delisting Iran as a “state sponsor of terror”, or by repealing Harper’s Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act. Instead, it didn’t even keep its promise to restart diplomatic relations with Iran. As such, the Liberals have empowered US-Israeli hawks hurtling towards a major conflict.
While there is much to dislike about the government in Tehran, progressive-minded, peace-loving Canadians should reject Ottawa’s aggressive anti-Iranian policies.
Yves Engler has been dubbed “one of the most important voices on the Canadian Left today” (Briarpatch), “in the mould of I.F. Stone” (Globe and Mail), and “part of that rare but growing group of social critics unafraid to confront Canada’s self-satisfied myths” (Quill & Quire). He has published nine books.