Ottawa has never been a benevolent force in Iran 

Portraits of Iran’s supreme leaders Ayatollah Khamenei and Ayatollah Khomeini

When it comes to foreign policy, no matter what party is in power, it’s more of the same.

The Liberals came to office promising to back away from the Conservatives low-level war with Iran. With the prime minister joining a march seeking to remove the Iranian government, Canada has returned to a form of undeclared war.

Last week Justin Trudeau marched at an Iran-focused protest. The PM told the crowd that Canada will “do everything we can to stand against the Iranian regime.” A few days later Joe Biden echoed this position, telling a California crowd “don’t worry, we’re going to free Iran, they’re going to free themselves pretty soon.”

Over the past six weeks Canada has adopted a slew of new sanctions on Iran. They’ve sanctioned hundreds of individuals and entities including media outlets and universities. They’ve also banned 10,000 members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp from Canada.

From a feminist, socialist, liberal or ecological perspective, there are many reasons to reproach the Iranian government. But Iran’s neighbour Saudi Arabia is far more repressive towards women and others yet it is the second biggest recipient of Canadian arms sales (after the US). Canada’s conflict with Iran is largely due to Tehran’s resistance towards US/Israel domination of the region, not their human rights record.

When they came to power in 2015 the Liberals dialed down the previous government’s most bombastic rhetoric against Tehran, but they did not restart diplomatic relations, end all sanctions or remove that country from Canada’s state sponsor of terrorism list. Iran and Syria are the only two countries Canada lists as “state sponsors of terrorism” and has formally severed diplomatic relations with.

Since the US and Canada backed Shah was overthrown in 1979 there has been various efforts to isolate the Iranian government. Donald Trump implemented a “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign designed to strangle the Iranian economy in the hope the population would rise up. Due to the lack of diplomatic relations, terrorism listing and aggressive US sanctions, Canada has little economic ties with Iran.

In January an Ontario court awarded $107 million in Iranian assets to family members of six people who died in Flight PS752. Amidst the tension caused by the January 3, 2020 US assassination of General Qasem Soleimani, the Iranian military mistakenly downed the Ukraine International Airlines Flight, killing over 50 Canadians and 30 permanent residents.

In the fall of 2019 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 correctly 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”. As I detailed here, in a right side up world the Iranian asset sale would lead to various far more legitimate seizures of US, Israeli, Saudi or Canadian government assets.

At the military level Ottawa has aligned with the US-Saudi-Israeli axis stoking conflict with Iran. One aim of the Canada-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Strategic Dialogue was to isolate Iran. A communiqué́ after the May 2016 Canada-GCC ministerial meeting expressed “serious concerns over Iran’s support for terrorism and its destabilizing activities in the region.” Similarly, 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.”

Hundreds of Canadian troops have been stationed in Iraq partly to counter Iranian influence. The Canadian-led NATO Mission Iraq was designed to weaken the influence of the Iranian aligned Popular Mobilization Forces. Canada has also had a naval presence in the Persian Gulf. In what has to be viewed as provocative, Canadian vessels regularly patrol Iran’s coast.

Iranians who dislike specific government policies or want the Islamic Republic to fall should protest. Iranian Canadians or others who support these positions should raise their voices. Everyone should want to constrain the Iranian authorities’ ability to repress peaceful protests.

But Canadians should not believe Ottawa is a benevolent force in Iran. Canada passively supported the 1953 US/UK coup against Mohammad Mossadegh, backed the Shah for many years, severed diplomatic relations after the 1979 revolution and has worked to isolate Iran more recently.

Whatever one may think about the rulers in Tehran, Justin Trudeau’s call for regime change is troubling and represents an imperialist power meddling in the internal affairs of another country, yet again.


Beginning November 22 I will be doing a series of events in southern Ontario, Vancouver Island and lower mainland. Please help spread the word about these events and I look forward to seeing people in person.

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