Canada’s political establishment has become increasingly close to a group it once banned as a terrorist organization. Reports that the violent, cult-like Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) may set up shop here reflects this country’s increasingly conflictual relations with Iran.
Recently Iranian government aligned media reported that the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) is considering a move to Canada. The Albanian government has begun to restrict the group’s operations. In June a camp inhabited by over a thousand MEK members was raided by the Albanian police and MEK leader Maryam Rajavi has been blocked from entering the country. As a result, there’s speculation the group wants to leave Albania, which has hosted it since 2016. The MEK denies it plans to relocate to Canada, which would be geographically and logistically, if not politically, difficult. A Global Affairs spokesperson responded to an inquiry by Canada Files editor Aidan Jonah on the matter by writing: “Canada continues to be gravely concerned with the systematic discrimination and harassment that women, men and youth face in Iran, and stands in solidarity with the courageous people of Iran, especially the women and girls of Iran, who are at the forefront of a powerful call for change based on equality, respect, and justice. With respect to the MeK, Canada does not recognize the Mek as being a credible political actor, does not endorse it, and does not engage in any communications with it.”
According to US government sources, the MEK has teamed up with Israel to assassinate Iranians. In 2012 NBC News reported that the MEK was “financed, trained, and armed by Israel’s secret service” to assassinate Iranian scientists.
During the Iran-Iraq war the MEK fought with Saddam Hussein’s forces. In the mid 1980s Iraq armed and equipped a 7,000 strong MEK force.
Until a decade ago MEK was listed as a terrorist group in the US and Canada. In 2012 prominent pro-Israel activists worked with Iranian dissidents to convince the State Department to remove the MEK from the US terrorism list, which paved the way for Ottawa to follow suit. Two years after working to delist the organization then MP Irwin Cotler invited MEK leader, Maryam Rajavi, to speak at Iran Accountability Week on Parliament Hill. Cotler subsequently attended many events organized by the MEK-aligned Canadian Friends of a Democratic Iran and National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
So has Stephen Harper since he was defeated in the 2015 election. Last month Canada’s former prime minister travelled to France to participate in the MEK’s Free Iran World Summit.
Canadian politicians are increasingly willing to openly identify with the MEK. In July of last year seven MPs attended the MEK’s Free Iran World Summit in Albania. Thought to be funded by Saudi Arabia, the group paid for the Canadian politicians travel and accommodation.
Melissa Lantsman, who is now deputy Conservative leader, participated in the delegation to Albania. In September Lantsman spoke at an NCRI event at Queen’s Park in Toronto.
In February former ministers John Baird and Tony Clement, as well as a half dozen sitting MPs and two senators, attended a Toronto event put on by the MEK dominated NCRI. At the event Liberal MP Judy Sgro applauded “MEK, the NCRI and other movements trying to finally get rid of an oppressive group of Mullahs that do not deserve to be there.” A former immigration minister, Sgro even labeled MEK leader Maryam Rajavi’s 10–point plan a “model for the world”.
Sgro was also part of the Canadian delegation at last month’s Free Iran World Summit in Paris. According to a transcript, she gushed that “Madam Rajavi, your Ten-Point Plan is a true example of democracy, and I’m so happy to see so many countries have recognized that.”
Canadian officialdom’s growing dalliance with the reactionary group reflects the aggressiveness of Canadian policy towards Iran. Despite de-escalation in its first few years in office, the Liberals have reignited Harper’s low-level war on Iran.
Before being elected in 2015 Justin Trudeau promised to restart diplomatic relations with Iran that Harper severed in 2012. But Israeli nationalist forces scuttled the Liberals’ bid to restart diplomatic relations and there was never any serious bid to remove Iran’s designation as a state-sponsor of terror, which Harper imposed.
Nonetheless, there was still significant political support for restarting diplomatic relations with Iran through 2019. That year some 15,000 individuals signed an Iranian Canadian Congress petition sponsored by NDP foreign critic Helene Laverdiere calling for restarting relations.
But anti-Iranian sentiment grew sharply in January 2020 after the US assassinated top Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp General Qassem Suleimani, and nine others at the Baghdad airport. In retaliation to the Trump administration’s brazen violation of international law, Iran launched a dozen ballistic missiles at US-bases in Iraq. On heightened alert for a US response, the Iranian military mistakenly downed Ukraine Airlines flight PS752, killing 57 Canadian citizens.
Relations soured greatly as a result. Israel lobbyists and long-standing opponents of the regime effectively drove grieving families to place all the blame for the tragedy on Tehran.
Relations have deteriorated even further over the past year since the government suppressed a protest movement. Canada has adopted over a dozen rounds of sanctions, targeting hundreds of Iranians and entities including media outlets and universities. Ottawa has also banned 10,000 members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp from Canada, condemned the country in various international forums and brought Iran to the International Court of Justice. Canadian courts have also seized tens of millions of dollars in Iranian assets and rendered judgments that would take even more. (In response Iran recently took Canada to the International Court of Justice accusing Ottawa of illegally seizing its diplomatic assets.)
Canada’s hostile policies and dalliance with the MEK take place as Washington seeks to destroy Iran economically. In April the US seized an Iranian oil tanker and recently began unloading over $50 million of its fuel. Tehran responded by seizing two ships traveling through the Strait of Hormuz. Washington then dispatched more naval vessels to the region and is mulling placing armed personnel on commercial vessels traveling through the Strait of Hormuz.
Reports that the MEK is moving to Canada may well be Iranian government disinformation, but the fact such a move is plausible highlights a remarkable turnaround for a group once listed as a terrorist organization.
Mujahedin-e Khalq growing respectability also demonstrates how much Canada follows in lockstep with the US Empire and its Israeli subsidiary.