Category Archives: Iran

Trudeau toes imperial line on Iran

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While the current Liberal government claims to be progressive and in favour of a rules-based international order, promotion of democracy and world peace, its actions regarding Iran demonstrate that the primary drivers of Canadian foreign policy remain US Empire geo-political interests and the rich and powerful.

(This previous article argues this has long been the case.)

While Israeli nationalists and Conservatives demand new measures targeting Iran, the reality is ordinary Canadians will not benefit from war with the 18thmost populous country in the world. The families of Iranian Canadians will certainly not benefit.

Despite election promises to the contrary, Justin Trudeau’s government has continued important components of the previous Conservative government’s ‘low-level war’ against Iran.

Ottawa has no diplomatic relations with Iran, maintains a series of sanctions on the country and lists Tehran as a state sponsor of terrorism. Canadian troops are also stationed on Iran’s border partly to counter its influence and Canada recently gifted $28 million worth of Iranian assets in this country to Americans who lost family members to purported Hamas and Hezbollah attacks decades ago.

The Liberals 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 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 Trudeauadded, “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 that country from Canada’s state sponsor of terrorism list.

The Trudeau government has criticized Iranian human rights abuses while mostly 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” and four months later tweeted, “our government is committed to holding Iran to account for its violations of human and democratic rights.” Two months ago Global Affairsstated, “Iran must ensure that its people enjoy the rights and freedoms they deserve.”

In June 2018 Liberal parliamentarians supported a Conservative MP’s private member’s 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 Israel killing Palestinians peacefully protesting the US moving its embassy to Jerusalem, siege of Gaza and historic theft of their land. 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 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 Donald 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 three days ago the UK, Germany and France delivered a further blow to an agreement on life support. In a January 14 release titled “Canada supports diplomatic efforts established for Iran to return to full implementation of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” Global Affairs expressed “support” for the UK, Germany and France “activating the Dispute Resolution Mechanism” under the JCPOA and “urged Iran to immediately restore its full commitments to the JCPOA.” But, this position amounts to calling on Iran to abide by a deal it receives no benefits from as its economy is crippled by sanctions.

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. But, between when the US judicial system sought her detention and 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 more legitimate seizures. Relatives of the Lebanese-Canadian el-Akhras family Israel wiped out, including four children aged 1 to 8, in 2006 were certainly at least as worthy of Canadian government-backed compensation. Ditto for Paeta Hess-Von Kruedener, a Canadian soldier part of a UN mission, 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 more deserving of compensation than the Americans paid with Iranian assets for what Hamas and Hezbollah purportedly did 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 repealing Harper’s Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act. But, 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.

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Canada opposed Iranian democracy

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To understand where you are, it is necessary to know where you have been. To understand current Canadian policy towards the 18th most populous country in the world, it is necessary to look at the history of Ottawa’s relations with Iran.

For the first 75 years after Confederation Canada’s foreign policy was largely shaped by the British Empire. For London during this period Persia was mostly a strategic geopolitical ally. Then came oil.

The first company to exploit Iranian oil resources was the Anglo Persian Oil Company. From that time on the Empire’s policy towards Iran was dominated by geopolitics (the new Soviet Union bordered Persia) and hydrocarbons.

In 1953 the US and Britain overthrew Iran’s first popularly elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh and Ottawa played a small part in this destruction of Iranian democracy.

Mossadegh wanted Iran to benefit from its huge oil reserves. Following the British lead, Canada’s external minister criticized the Iranians move to nationalize its oil. In May 1951 external minister Lester Pearson told the House of Commons the “problem can be settled” only if the Iranians keep in mind the “legitimate interests of other people who have ministered to the well-being of Iran in administering the oil industry of that country which they have been instrumental in developing.” Later that year Pearson complained about the Iranians’ “emotional” response to the English. He added: “In their anxiety to gain full control of their affairs by the elimination of foreign influence, they are exposing themselves to the menace of communist penetration and absorption — absorption into the Soviet sphere.”

In response to the nationalization, the British organized an embargo of Iranian oil, which Ottawa followed. The embargo weakened Mossadegh’s government, enabling the CIA’s subsequent drive to topple the nationalist prime minister.

Thirteen months before the coup Canada’s ambassador in Washington cabled Ottawa: “The situation in Iran could hardly look worse than it does at present. Mossadegh has been returned to power with increased influence and prestige and will almost certainly prove even more unreasonable and intractable than in the past, so that a settlement of the oil dispute will be harder than ever to arrange.”

Pearson did not protest the overthrow of Iran’s first elected prime minister. Privately, External Affairs celebrated. Four months after the coup, Canada’s ambassador in Washington cabled Ottawa about “encouraging reports from their [US] embassy in Tehran on the growing strength of the present [coup] government.”

Establishing diplomatic relations with Iran in 1955, Canada followed the lead of the UK and US in doing business with the brutal dictatorship of Mohammad-Reza Shah Pahlavi, which ruled for 26 years.

Throughout the Shah’s reign Canadian politicians visited regularly. Ontario Premier William Davis, for instance, went to meet the Shah in September 1978.

During the 1970s the Canadian government’s Defence Programs Bureau had a representative in Tehran and Canada sold about $60 million ($250 million today) worth of arms to Iran during the decade. This was during a time when Amnesty International reported “no country in the world has a worse record in human rights than Iran.” The Shah’s brutal SAVAK intelligence forces killed tens of thousands, which prompted little condemnation from Ottawa. In fact, in the early 1970s, $250,000 ($1 million today) worth of Canadian aid went to the University of Montréal’s International Center for Comparative Criminology (ICCC) whose advisors in Iran (as well as the Ivory Coast and Brazil), according to ICCC director Dennis Szabo, “trained police forces in the use of the most modern methods to suppress protest demonstrations and the causes of criminality.”

Canada did significant business with the Shah’s Iran. In 1978 Canadian exports to Iran reached nearly $600 million ($2.4 billion today). An October 1978 Globe and Mail article headlined “Canadians in Iran” described a massive Export Development Canada (EDC)-financed forestry project along with numerous other Canadian ventures in that country: “Acres International Ltd. of Toronto has been hired for $100-million worth of engineering on an irrigation-power project. Ircan of Montréal has won a $37-million contract to supply mobile training centres and 800 hours of videotaped vocational teaching. Two Canadian drilling companies help Iran explore for oil. A four firm consortium is bidding for a $1.2-billion thermal power plant. Keith Sjogren, the Bank of Commerce’s man in Tehran, actually lends money to the Shah’s government companies.”

By the time the Shah was overthrown in late 1979, there were 850 Canadians in Iran (along with thousands of Americans), most working for foreign owned oilrigs, power projects, etc. At the time of the revolution EDC had more than $100 million ($400 million today) in outstanding export insurance and Canadian banks held billions of dollars worth of loans to Iran’s Shah, which were put into doubt (the loans were eventually honoured). Not Long after the Shah’s departure, Canada closed its embassy in Tehran, which wouldn’t reopen for eight years.

Clearly, during the period from 1950-1985, Canadian policy towards Iran was motivated by the interests of British then American empire and profit-making opportunities for Canadian business. Equally as evident, Ottawa exhibited little concern for Iranian human rights or democracy.

As we shall see in part two, Canadian policy in recent years has sought to undermine Iran.

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Seizure of Iranian property to pay Americans another example of Canadian hypocrisy

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While France, Germany, Russia and China seek detente, Canada is increasingly part of the US-Saudi Arabia-Israeli axis stoking conflict with Iran.

Canada recently seized and sold $30 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.

While not much discussed by Canadian media or politicians, this is a substantial development. 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 more legitimate seizures. Relatives of the Lebanese Canadian el-Akhras family Israel wiped out, including four children aged 1 to 8, in 2006 are certainly at least as worthy of Canadian government-backed compensation. Ditto for Paeta Hess-Von Kruedener, a Canadian soldier part of a UN mission, 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.

In Haiti there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of individuals whose family members were killed at peaceful protests by a police force paid, trained and politically supported by Canada after US, French and Canadian troops overthrew the country’s elected president in 2004. Ten months after the coup I met a young man in Port-au-Prince who fled the country after armed thugs searching for him came to his house and killed his aunt. Before the coup Jeremy had been a journalist with the state television, which was identified with the ousted government. Should US or Canadian assets be seized to compensate him?

There are hundreds of Canadians and countless individuals elsewhere who have been victimized by Israeli, Canadian and US-backed terror more deserving of compensation than the Americans paid with Iranian assets for what Hamas and Hezbollah purportedly did decades ago. Should Israeli, US and Canadian government assets be seized to pay them?

It’s insightful to look at the double standard — approved by the Supreme Court — from another angle. In 2012 that court refused to hear a case against Anvil Mining for its direct role in Congolese troops killing 100, mostly unarmed civilians, near its Dikulushi mine in Katanga in October 2004. After a half-dozen members of the little-known Mouvement Revolutionnaire pour la Liberation du Katanga occupied the Canada-Australian company’s Kilwa concession, Anvil provided the trucks used to transport Congolese soldiers to the area and to dump the corpses of their victims into mass graves. The company also published a press release applauding the Congolese military’s dastardly deed. Though the company was managed from Montréal and its main shareholders were Vancouver’s First Quantum and the Canadian Pension Plan, the Québec Court of Appeal and Supreme Court concluded the survivors had to pursue remedies in either the Congo or Australia.

The Canadian media has devoted little attention to the seizure of Iranian assets. But, Forbes, Sputnik, Xinhua and a host of Iranian media have covered the story. At least three Iranian newspapers put it on their frontpage.

The Trudeau government’s failure to speak against the asset seizure, delist Iran as a “state sponsor of terror” or repeal Stephen Harper’s Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act puts further lie to its commitment to a “rules based international order”. It is also another broken promise. Before the 2015 election Justin Trudeau told the CBC, “I would hope that Canada would be able to reopen its mission [in Tehran]. I’m fairly certain that there are ways to re-engage [Iran].”

But, don’t expect NDP foreign affairs critic Guy Caron or the media to ask why Canada hasn’t re-established relations with the nation of 80 million. By breaking his promise to restart diplomatic relations with Iran Trudeau has empowered those hurtling us towards a major conflict.

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Munk School of Global Affairs feeds anti-Iran propaganda

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Sometimes, when you pay attention, it is easy to see how foreign policy propaganda works. Take the case of Iran.

Recently the US has choked off Iranian oil exports, listed its military a terrorist organization and dispatched an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to its environs to stop Iran’s “aggression”. Going along with Donald Trump’s warlike actions and rhetoric, Justin Trudeau’s government has broken a promise to restart diplomatic relations, failed to withdraw Iran from Canada’s list of state sponsors of terrorism and recently accused Tehran of destabilizing the region.

This is the context in which the Munk School of Global Affairs’ Citizen Lab released a recent report criticizing Iran. According to Citizen Lab, an Iran-aligned group dubbed Endless Mayfly impersonated major media sites, used fake Twitter accounts to spread false articles and targeted journalists with fake stories. Its report noted, “initial reporting on some of the inauthentic articles speculated that Endless Mayfly may have links to Russia; however, based on the evidence gathered from our investigation we conclude with moderate confidence that Endless Mayfly is Iran-aligned and has been operational since at least early 2016.”

The University of Toronto based lab’s accusations were picked up by dozens of media outlets around the world. A New York Times headline read: “Report Shows How a Pro-Iran Group Spread Fake News Online” while the Globe and Mail noted “New Citizen Lab report suggests Iran spreads fake news.”

But, the report’s concluding section titled “Narratives fit Iranian interests, propaganda” isn’t convincing. One reason it claims Iran was responsible for the initiative is that “framing Saudi Arabia as a creator and supporter of global Islamist terrorism is also a very common theme in Endless Mayfly content and is consistent with recent rhetoric from Iran’s top-ranking officials.” But, Iranian officials certainly aren’t the only ones who claim Saudi Arabia contributes significantly to Islamic terror.

While the media mostly covered Citizen Lab’s claims uncritically, its positions on Iran should be viewed with significant skepticism. This ‘lab’ has produced a stream of reports critical of Iran and, in fact, is part of a government funded effort to destabilize that country. In March Citizen Lab Director Ron Deibert co-authored “Censors Get Smart: Evidence from Psiphon in Iran.” Previously, Citizen Lab published “Group 5: Syria and the Iran Connection”, which described a malware operation targeting Syrian opposition figures that purportedly came from Iran. The Lab published After the Green Movement: Internet Controls in Iran, 2009-2012 and in 2015 they detailed hacking of Iranian dissidents. While Citizen Lab carefully avoided naming a culprit, their press release hyped the matter and a number of media reports implied Iranian authorities were responsible.

Deibert is a regular at anti-Iranian events. He spoke at a Toronto International Film Festival screening of a movie about the 2009 Green Revolution in Iran and a 2012 Walrus article described a “network of local Farsi speakers linked to Deibert and Psiphon.”

With early financial support from the Ford Foundation, Donner Canadian Foundation and Open Society Institute, Citizen Lab developed software to bypass government censors. It worked with Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and Radio Farda in Iran to disseminate its Psiphon technology to Iranian dissidents. A 2018 Vice story titled “This App Is Helping Iranians Beat Tehran’s Internet Censorship” described Psiphon’s growth in Iran. It noted, “the lab, and the school, has spent years devising various ways to improve civic engagement in Iran, especially online, with some financial support from the Canadian government.”

The Munk School of Global Affairs joined the Stephen Harper Conservatives’ low-level war against Iran. After severing diplomatic ties and designating Iran a state sponsor of terrorism in 2012, Foreign Affairs ploughed $250,000 into the Munk School’s Global Dialogue on the Future of Iran. The aim of the initiative was to foment opposition to the regime and help connect dissidents inside and outside Iran. Employing cutting-edge Internet strategies, the Iran Dialogue was launched at a two-day conference kicked off by foreign minister John Baird. Some Iranian Canadians criticized the 2013 Global Dialogue on Iran. In a letter to Munk School head Janice Stein, who was awarded an honorary doctorate from Hebrew University “in tribute to her unwavering devotion to Israel”, the president of the Iranian Canadian Community Council Niaz Salimi wrote: “Conspicuously absent from the event were experts, academics, political activists, students, bloggers, journalists and members of the Iranian diaspora (including those of the Iranian-Canadian community) whose views on Iran do not fully concur with the positions of the Harper government.”

The Munk School has been a hub of anti-Iranian activity. A senior research fellow until recently, Mark Dubowitz was dubbed “The Man Who Fights Iran” by Ynet, Israel’s largest English language news site. Alongside his position at the Munk School, Dubowitz was executive director of the extremist pro-Israel Foundation for Defense of Democracies where he led its campaign against the Obama administration’s Iran nuclear deal. In 2011 Dubowitz said, “the best way [to end Iran’s nuclear program] is to work toward changing the regime.”

Expanding the Global Dialogue on the Future of Iran, Foreign Affairs gave the Munk School $9 million in 2015 to establish the Digital Public Square project. The federal support “will enable the Munk School to create our new Digital Public Square, a square designed for citizens who cannot come together physically to exchange ideas about the future of their country,” Munk School head Janice Stein said. The countries cited were Iran, Syria, Iraq and Russia. There was no mention of employing digital technologies to undermine online censorship in equally, or more, repressive allies such as Rwanda, Jordan, Honduras or Saudi Arabia.

This is one-way Canadian propaganda works: Establish who your enemies are — generally defined by big corporations, rich people and whoever is in power in Washington — attempt to destabilize their “regimes”, then accuse their governments of interfering in your affairs.

Citizen Lab’s recent report criticizing Iran is part of a government funded effort to demonize that country, which could be a step towards a military assault.

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