Commentary by: Mona Mashhadi Rajabi in Tehran, Iran
I was standing in front of my suitcase and thought about what I had packed into it. I had one suitcase for my documents and their certified translations, as well as one suitcase for my clothes and other personal belongings.
Two suitcases for a person who wanted to move to another country and pursue Ph.D. studies. A person who had lived 32 years in her home country and had a history in that place.
I assumed that the most important things that I could carry with me were the documents that spoke to my education and work history.
All the important documents that I gathered in my life were in a suitcase. They included my certificates, recommendation letters, writing samples, medical documents, especially those of my daughter, and the identity documents of my three-member-family: my husband, my daughter, and I.
I also had to pack up the university documents as I wanted to pursue my study and they were required in order to register in the program. So I put my Master's and Bachelor's degrees as well as my transcripts in the suitcase.
I prepared all the documents and certified translations of my bank accounts, even going as far as including the deed to my apartment in Tehran.
With all of my documents piled into in one suitcase, the thought struck me: “Is this really all I have gained in my life?”
How could I prove myself to the people who neither know me nor my country?
Would Canada recognize my documents?
So I packed everything and moved to Canada.
Following registration, the start of the program revealed that most of the newly admitted Ph.D. students would be required to enroll in some of the foundational courses from the Master's program due to their foreign credentials. The move signified that their foreign Master's degrees were not fully recognized.
The documents that illustrated what I had been doing professionally were not useful at all either. After surfing the Internet and talking to many people who had been living in Canada for many years, I learned that without “Canadian work experience” it would be difficult to find a good job.
So none of my documents were really useful. No one knew me, the universities that I got my degrees from, and the companies that I had worked for. So what was the point of carrying all these documents?
It was a heart-breaking moment. I moved to Canada in the hopes of being able to do what I was good at, could do well and was the dream of all my life, but Canada did not recognize my credentials.
The surprising part of the story was that the government had assessed and accepted me based on these same documents. The university had accepted that I studied for at least 17 years – but still did not give me full credit for Master"s degree. The job market discounted my credentials even further.
The Canadian job market cared not about what I had done but what I was going to do in Canada. It seemed to me that Canada needed talented and hardworking people and granted them admission to Canada under different visa programs based on their achievements in their home country. But after moving in, Canada wanted to educate them based on the skills that were needed in the country, and making them ready for their own job market.
It was at this moment that I realized that all I had to bring to Canada was a prepared me: A person who knew what was waiting for her in this moving process, a person who was ready to embrace the new situation and ready to learn new things, a person who wished to start afresh as she contemplated that a brighter future would eventually come, and a person who did not become disappointed from the hardships along the way.
After I moved to Canada and witnessed the reality, I decided not to rely too much on my achievements and experiences in Iran. I decided to be eager to learn new things and routines in the hope that hard work will eventually pay off.
I was ready to make a new beginning without my documents and titles, so I could write a new life story.
This piece is part of a mini-series within New Canadian Media’s Mentorship Program. The writer was mentored by Alireza Ahmadian.
Mona Mashhadi Rajabi holds a Master’s degree in economics. As a business journalist living in Tehran, she has written for publications such as Donyay-e-eghtesad, Tejarat-e-farda, Jahan-e-sanat and Ireconomy.
Commentary by: Mona Mashhadi Rajabi in Tehran, Iran
I am among the thousands of folks waiting in queue immigrate to Canada. This wish was triggered after my previous experience of having lived in Canada as an international student.
I moved to Canada in August 2015 with a student visa. I decided to pursue my PhD in economics as I was aware of the exceptional educational system in Canada. But it was not all.
Good feeling about Canada
Many people ask me why I am still considering immigrating to Canada, as my initial 5 month stay consisted of studying for one semester before withdrawing from the program and then returning to Iran. After all the disappointments that I felt and all the failures that I encountered, they wonder why I want to return to Canada, this time as a permanent resident.
My answer to this question is simple. I feel good about Canada. I think this country can give me the opportunity to live and work in a more developed environment. Besides, I get the chance to meet people from different cultures which is very attractive for me.
I also think my daughter can have a brighter and safer future in Canada because of the advanced educational system in the country. Canada offers more opportunities and better environment for children to grow and gain the skills that make them better prepared to lead a fruitful life.
Big decision after a hard time in life
My five months of stay in Canada as an international student was not easy. It was filled with many new experiences, the good and the bad ones, hopes and disappointments and failures and success. But all of them made me a more rational, responsible and powerful person because I had to stay in control of my circumstances and deal with various issues one at a time. Those experiences opened my eyes to a different world and showed me new realities.
In that new world, I felt like a human who could fail or succeed. A human who lived, worked and struggled with different challenges and was still hopeful about the future. A human who thought better things were on the way and the only thing that helped her to defeat the challenges was her own hard work. A human that was independent, strong and was treated fairly.
On the other hand, people in Canada were so open to new things, new people or even a new normal. People lived the way they were happy about and at the same time, accepted others the way they were. This was good because it helped me feel welcome in society and be able to participate in my community’s activities.
In my experience, Canadians think about their society as their own family. In a family every member can live, grow, prosper and become a healthy individual. In this way, everyone feels safe, secure and protected by the family. This is the way Canada works. It allows people to immigrate to Canada, gives them opportunities, and gives them the chance to study and work based on their abilities. At the end, Canada accepts them in the society and protects them legally in this society.
Exploring the world
For me, immigration means a lifelong learning, starting fresh, spending time to get familiar with the new living and working environment, and networking with new people to get a good job. That is what I like about life. Immigration is like having the chance of living a new life in a new environment and that is so exciting.
I always loved to live in Canada to get the chance of meeting new people with new cultures because I am an adventurous person. I was always curious about how the society in a multicultural country like Canada works and how it educates people to be respectful of others.
Besides, exploring the world and experiencing new things is what I like the most. I think there is always more to see in the world, more to experience and more to have. There are also many risks, challenges, and setbacks. But at the end of the day, persistence pays off and smart hard work leads to success.
In fact, the curiosity and adventurous characteristics that led me to the world of journalism, is now encouraging me to pursue my wish to immigrate to Canada and hopefully make the most out of my life. I plan to succeed.
This piece is the third part of a mini-series within New Canadian Media’s Mentorship Program. The writer was mentored by Alireza Ahmadian.
Mona Mashhadi Rajabi holds a Master’s degree in economics. As a business journalist living in Tehran, she has written for publications such as Donyay-e-eghtesad, Tejarat-e-farda, Jahan-e-sanat and Ireconomy.
By: Mona Mashhadi Rajabi in Tehran, Iran
Communication is more than understanding the words.
I was always aware of language barriers when I decided to move to Canada. But I didn’t know that this would go beyond an understanding of words and sentences.
It took me a few months to get to this point, after a few odd experiences along the way. I will explain two of them for you.
Animation film that opened my eyes
I was a student in Ottawa and some of my courses were project-based. There were four students in each group for the econometrics project. The deadline for the project was approaching, but we were stuck. The central problem in the project could not be solved, and the more we tried, the less progress we seemed to make.
One day, as we were reading related articles and brainstorming, Gen, a Canadian-born student on my team, said: “We should call Thing 1 and Thing 2 to solve this problem.” Her reference did not make sense to me, but everyone else burst into laughter.
I showed no reaction. I didn’t understand what was going on and didn’t know how to respond. Fortunately, no one realized that I didn’t get the point and we quickly got back to work. But the experience stayed in my mind.
A few months later, while I was watching “The cat in the hat” animation film with my daughter, I discovered the origins of Gen’s reference. She was talking about two creatures in the cartoon that could solve unsolvable problems, the creatures that could help the “Cat” reach his goal.
It was a fulfilling moment for me. But I also realized that this sort of thing could happen again.
For a moment I felt like an alien. The society that I chose to live in had so many unknown features rooted in its culture. I could face many obstacles because of that. I knew that I could meet people who might not understand my situation or may misunderstand my responses. I was missing out on a few things.
But it was my decision to move to Canada for my studies and it was in my interest to learn the culture and become a full part of the society around me. So, I had to work harder and not get disappointed.
Lack of self-confidence to react in an emotional situation
Melody, my daughter, was a happy, four-year old girl who started her junior kindergarten in Canada.
Sara was one of Melody’s classmates. I knew her mother, Kate. We were living in the same neighborhood and we used to chat while we were waiting for the school bus. Kate was a photographer and was so nice to me.
At the school’s New Year celebration day, Melody’s class came on the stage and started singing a song. Melody was loud and clear, she pronounced every word correctly and performed well with other children.
Kate was standing beside me. She said: “Melody’s improvement in speaking English is impressive” and added that “Sara is so shy and never sings with the other children.”
She was worried about her daughter and I understood her concerns as a mother, but I didn't feel confident enough to respond spontaneously.
She looked at me in anticipation and I finally put two words together.
“Wow, really?” I said. It was the worst reaction that I could have made.
At that moment another mother joined our conversation and said: “I am sure she will get better. Some children are shy at first, but they will become more social after a few years.”
This was a better response. A kind of response that every mother expected and I had shown thousands of times before moving to Canada.
After that day, I saw Kate many times and she did not mention my poor reaction to her concern. I explained my deficiencies in communication to her and I was surprised when I learned that it was not a new experience for Kate. She used to work with new immigrants and had faced strange situations before.
She was the one who told me that the main barrier for an immigrant was not language but it was the communication skill.
She added: “Communication is the skill that can be gained by living with people, talking with them and becoming friends with them. The kind of skill that can be gained over time.”
After that day, she started talking about Canada’s culture, parenting and lifestyle. She tried to help me improve my skills and become an active person in conversations. She used to inform me about every cultural event in the city and playhouses in the neighbourhood.
Becoming friends with Kate was an impressive experience for me. This experience taught me to accept other people, to understand their situation and not to judge them based on one poor reaction. It taught me that in a developed society, every person matters and every person feels responsible for others. This responsibility was one of the keys to success.
I remember Kate always telling me, “It is does not matter what you had, the important thing is what you gain. And the vital ingredient for success in this process is your willpower, hard work and ability not to give up or get disappointed.”
And I chose to go on this way hoping that leads me to success.
Although challenges of miscommunication did not end, I was more relaxed because I was not the only person facing communication challenges in Canada. I knew that there were many people in society who understood me, nonetheless.
This was the time that, I felt like home.
This piece is the second part of a mini-series within New Canadian Media’s Mentorship Program. The writer was mentored by Alireza Ahmadian.
Coming up next: Why I Am Still Considering Immigrating to Canada
Mona Mashhadi Rajabi holds a Master’s degree in economics. As a business journalist living in Tehran, she has written for publications such as Donyay-e-eghtesad, Tejarat-e-farda, Jahan-e-sanat and Ireconomy.
Commentary by: Mona Mashadi Rajabi in Tehran, Iran
“Canada needs you!” This is a sentiment I heard over and over while I was in Canada. I came to Canada with my husband and daughter, in August 2015, on a student visa to pursue my Ph.D. in economics.
I still pursue that dream of coming to Canada, but meanwhile, things have gone awry.
Our bank account manager in Ottawa was the first to utter these words to me: “Canada needs you! You are young, talented, educated and have work experience in economics and engineering, (my husband’s field) both of which are needed in Canada.”
Then my daughter’s teacher told us the same thing, adding that “Canada is the place that protects talented people”. In her opinion, we were among the most talented.
I was a good student and had more than 10 years of work experience in business journalism. As a result, I was offered multiple offers of admission to a number of universities in Canada, Germany, the United States and Great Britain.
So, we started to think about our options as a family and we came to a final decision: Canada. A North American and English-speaking country with natural beauty, peaceful policies, and high educational standards, as well as welcoming immigration laws; Canada we assumed would be an ideal destination for our family.
Funding opportunities for international students were also an important factor, as this would help me focus on my studies and research interests.
With this in mind, I reached out to the head of the department for more information. An email response pointed me towards a partial scholarship through the university's "Teaching Assistantship".
But he also suggested that there were many external funding opportunities available, scholarships that I could apply for once I got to Canada. My good educational background meant I had a good chance of securing these scholarships, he said.
So, we packed up.
Running out of options
I was a good student in Canada. I attended all my classes, read all the books that were suggested and got good grades. Simultaneously, I tried to apply for scholarships from organizations outside the university. But there was a problem. Most scholarships were given to international students who had lived for more than 12 months in the city that housed the university. As such, I did not qualify.
Other scholarships were given to students who had started working on their thesis, provided that the thesis proposals were approved by funding organizations and met their objectives. I did not fit this category either.
Besides, the amount of external funding for international students was very low. If I won one of them, I could not access other scholarships.
I explained my situation to the head of the department. He told me: “You are a perfect student, but the university cannot do anything about it.” That’s it!
I completed the first semester with an “A” in every course. I went to the head of the department and told him that I could not complete my studies without funding. I told him “money matters for me”, but I heard the same answer, “There are no other options for you.”
It took almost 5 months for me to understand that the reality was far from what we had anticipated.
I had come to Canada to get a Ph.D., become a researcher and a productive person in society. But I made the mistake of making a decision based on incomplete and, sadly, inaccurate information about funding available to international students. I trusted the information that was given to me and did not try to verify before moving to Canada.
I made up my mind. I did not want to be a “not-so-good” student, “not-so-good” mother, “not-so-good” provider and “not-so-good” person, who made a mistake but did not want to admit it.
I had just accepted at face value a possibility that came into my life because I was afraid to review, re-think or even return to where everything had started.
As a result, I dropped out of school and flew back home to Iran.
Costs on all sides
It was a hard time in my life. I was in the middle of a journey that was potentially leading my family and me to nowhere.
When we were on the flight back home, I was thinking about all the things that had happened to my family, all the challenges that we had faced, and all the decisions that we had made.
I thought about what I lost when I left school. The economic costs of this decision and the emotional suffering was tremendous. I also thought about the costs that the university endured: the cost of giving me a partial scholarship, the cost of losing someone who could have become a good researcher, and the cost of counting on someone and planning for her to be an academic, but losing her so soon.
At the time, I thought to myself, “These five months of my life were like a game with no winner, a lose-lose game”.
This piece is the first part of a mini-series within New Canadian Media’s Mentorship Program. The writer was mentored by Alireza Ahmadian.
Coming up next: What I Did Not Know About Communication and Why I Am Still Considering Immigrating to Canada
Commentary by William O. Beeman
THE Trump administration appears to be renewing the possibility of violent confrontation with Iran using a questionable pretext — Iran’s testing of conventional missiles.
No one in the U.S. government or the press seems to understand that Iranian ballistic missiles do not fall under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA (the "Iran Deal"). The JCPOA has nothing at all to do with conventional weapons, only nuclear technology.
The current controversy over Iran's missile testing has entirely to do with interpretations of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231 (20 July 2015), which endorsed the JCPOA after it had been ratified.
UNSC Resolution 2231 stated flatly that ALL of the previously existing UN sanctions against Iran were terminated, viz.
"(a) The provisions of resolutions 1696 (2006), 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007), 1803 (2008), 1835 (2008), 1929 (2010) and 2224 (2015) shall be terminated" (p. 3 of the full document)
The current objections to Iran's missile testing has to do with a clause in Resolution 2231 that "calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology,” until eight years after the implementation of the deal.
This clause can’t be found on the UNSC web page announcing the agreement to the press.
It is buried on page 99 of the 104 page actual Resolution 2231 document with annexes.
The agreement does NOT prohibit Iran from developing conventional weapons or missiles at all. It also only "calls upon" Iran to not develop technology capable of carrying such nuclear weapons. It does not flat-out prohibit even this development.
The language "calls upon" was deliberate because the other P5+1 signatories to the JCPOA (Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China) would not endorse a stronger "prohibition." Moreover, the provision written this way provides no prescription for punishment if the provision is violated--which Iran claims has not happened. This means that there cannot be any UN imposed sanctions on Iran without an additional resolution.
It is notable that, according to experts, Iran never had, nor has today a nuclear weapons program, so there are no nuclear weapons that could be mounted on such missiles.
Anything the United States does in retaliation is in fact a response NOT to the JCPOA, to which the US is a signatory, but rather to some perceived violation of this UN Resolution. The United States in doing this is essentially engaging in a remarkable activity--cherry picking the violations of UN Resolutions that it likes and ignoring violations of UN Resolutions that it doesn't like, and deciding to act entirely independently of the UN, meting out its own free-boot punishment. Once again, the United States is singling out and targeting Iran on highly questionable grounds without any real authority.
The tiny issue on which the US objection rests is whether the Iranian missiles are capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. Iran says: no! The United States (and Israel) say "maybe," because they can't know for sure whether this is the case. In the latest missile test, the missile blew up, so no one can say one way or the other.
This is splitting hairs in the most egregious way. The Trump administration continues the tradition of the hawks in Congress to do anything and everything to antagonize Iran. In this regard Iran's leaders have been remarkably calm. Hawkish legislators in the United States would like to completely eliminate Iran's conventional weapons AND its overall missile program. Iran has all kinds of reasons for wanting to maintain this technology including satellite launchings.
Today the Trump administration's sanctions proved to be wimpy at best, targeting “multiple entities and individuals involved in procuring technology and/or materials to support Iran’s ballistic missile program, as well as for acting for or on behalf of, or providing support to, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force." Since there were already existing sanctions against such individuals, this amounts to virtually no "punishment" at all. However, President Trump's insistence that "nothing has been taken off the table" ominously suggests some kind of military action.
Iran responded with something much more symbolically effective, reportedly barring the U.S. wrestling team from competition in the Freestyle World Cup Competition on February 16-17.
It is dismaying that the Trump administration would risk violent action over such a small matter, but hatred of Iran in U.S. Government circles is so ubiquitous, rationality seems never to prevail, and as can be seen, provides Iran with the opportunity to retaliate in ways that can provide much more effective press.
William O. Beeman is Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota. He has conducted research in Iran for over 40 years. His most recent forthcoming book is Understanding Iran from Ancient Times to the Islamic Republic. This commentary is republished with permission from New America Media.
Commentary by Alireza Ahmadian in Vancouver
More than a year of since assuming office, the Liberal government has sadly still not fulfilled its campaign pledge to restore diplomatic relations with Iran. It is moving in the right direction, but the pace is slow.
Prime Minister Justine Trudeau said in June 2015 that he wanted to normalize relations with Iran. In September, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion met with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly to address status of relations between the two countries and discussed consular services.
On Monday , ipolitics.ca reported that Liberal Member of Parliament for Richmond Hill, Majid Jowhari, hosted a few Iranian parliamentarians in his office. They talked about issues such as trade, people-to-people ties and human rights.
Conservative Iran policy
The Harper Conservatives broke diplomatic relations with Iran in September 2012.
Countries rarely break diplomatic relations with one another even if they are at war. The common sense approach is that it is much better to engage in dialogue about differences than to stop talking.
Diplomacy is not about pandering to interests groups, self-righteous statements, ideology, and political posturing. Diplomacy, in its non-coercive approach, is the art of having difficult conversations especially with countries that are different from us.
That was not the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC)’s approach to diplomatic relations with Iran. The same culture still persists in the CPC.
In his reaction to Jowhari’s meeting with Iranian parliamentarians, Peter Kent, Conservative MP for Thornhill, said that “good many Persian Canadians are disappointed to hear that such a meeting took place”, and that he would have declined to meet with the Iranians.
Story of two e-petitions
It is commendable to see that Kent cares about what the Iranian Canadians think about Canada’s relations with Iran. He is definitely aware that there are currently two open e-petitions on the website of the Parliament of Canada representing two views about relations with Iran.
The first one, sponsored by Jowhari, calls on the Government of Canada to restore diplomatic relations with Iran “as matter of utmost importance” and has received 9,144 signatures. The second one sponsored by Kent has got 596 signatures.
These represent two different approaches to diplomacy.
Kent and his party should expand the circle of the Iranian Canadians they engage with to at least understand other perspectives.
There have been different waves of emigration from Iran to Canada after the 1979 revolution. Iranians have left Iran for a variety of reasons. Their understanding of the Islamic Republic and its nature, and their experiences with different governments in Iran are not the same. Consequently, they advocate for different policies because they look at the same picture but see different aspects.
The Conservative Party seems to rely only on one narrative about Iran while ignoring others that can be useful and help Canada to better promote its national interests.
One of the most revealing illustrations of my concern about this tunnel vision is a meeting that then Prime Minister Stephen Harper had with a few members of the Iranian Canadian community, in Sept. 2012 (Full disclosure: I worked with four of the invitees on human rights issues and one more is a dear friend of mine).
People to people
The Conservatives should have asked the respected guests about the last time they had visited Iran and their current links to Iran, beyond sentimental attachments, language and opinions about what a better future could look like for Iran. Some have not been to Iran in decades.
It is noteworthy that Conservative MPs who won the support of the Iranian diaspora in areas such as the North Shore and Tri-Cities ridings in metro Vancouver, and Richmond Hill and Willowdale in greater Toronto – where there are sizable Iranian immigrant communities – failed in the last federal election.
Liberal candidates won all these ridings and their Iran policy undoubtedly played a pivotal role in their success.
Canada has achieved nothing by cutting diplomatic ties with Iran. As Canada works to re-establish diplomatic relations with Iran, people-to-people exchanges such as the meeting at Jowhari’s office are useful to enhance mutual understanding.
Alireza Ahmadian is a Vancouver-based writer and researcher. He holds a Master's degree of arts in international affairs and diplomacy from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He has appeared on BBC World News and BBC Persian to discuss world affairs and has published on online forums such as New Canadian Media, BBC, and foreign policy blogs. He is also a policy advisor to the Iranian Canadian Congress.
by Amanda Connolly in Ottawa
It’s been 100 days since the Iranian regime imprisoned Concordia University anthropologist Homa Hoodfar in the country’s notorious Evin Prison. As the Iranian Canadian Congress called on the Trudeau government to re-establish diplomatic ties with the country Wednesday, Hoodfar’s family said they fear re-engagement may come too late to help the imprisoned academic.
“The fact that there’s no relationship means that step one is to establish that relationship, step two is to discuss matters such as my aunts’ case,” said Amanda Ghahremani, Hoodfar’s niece and one of the family’s spokespeople. “So we haven’t even reached a point where this case can be properly engaged with the Iranians. For the case of my aunt I worry that the renewed interest in re-engaging with Iran is coming much too late.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigned on a vow to re-establish diplomatic ties with Iran and re-open Canada’s embassy in its capital of Tehran.
Former prime minister Stephen Harper severed ties in 2012, citing Iranian support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, its continued nuclear programme and consistent human rights violations as reasons.
However, that decision has raised serious problems for Iranian-Canadians such as Hoodfar because Iran does not recognize dual citizenship and treats any dual Iranian-Canadians visiting the country as its own and has shown a willingness to punish them for things such as criticizing the regime or conducting research in areas it deems unsuitable.
The latter appears to be the case with Hoodfar, who has built a name for herself studying the intersections of gender and sexuality in Islamic religious tradition.
While the exact charges against her are not known and there’s no date set for a trial, she is rumoured to be accused of “collaborating with a hostile government, propaganda against the state, and ‘dabbling in feminism.’”
While Ghahremani says she has been in constant contact with consular officials working to liaise with her about her aunt’s case, she stressed the lack of direct engagement between consular officials and the Iranian government has likely led to unnecessary delays.
“This is of course a constant roadblock in terms of how quickly things can progress,” said Ghahremani.”It’s been 100 days that my aunt’s been in prison and that’s 100 days too many. If there had been direct diplomatic relations, I’m speculating but I assume that a lot of the engagement could have happened much quicker.”
Speaking during a press conference to announce the launch of a new e-petition, Iranian Canadian Congress president Bijan Ahmadi urged the government to prioritize re-engagement with Iran in order to ensure it can protect Iranian Canadians, who he says “have suffered disproportionately” from Harper’s severing of ties.
“After four years it is now evident that this policy to sever diplomatic ties with Iran has failed,” Ahmadi said. “Diplomatic rapprochement at this point will not only ensure Canada stands with its allies … but also will strengthen Canada’s historical role of promoting peace.”
The e-petition, number 553, launched last week and currently has more than 5,500 signatures from Canadians.
It is sponsored by Liberal MP Majid Jowhari, who also spoke to reporters Wednesday and said he thinks the e-petition “provides a piece of evidence that would be hard to ignore” to show Canadians want their government to re-engage.
Jowhari largely stuck to repeating past government statements when asked whether there is a timeline for re-opening the embassy and what concrete steps are being taken to pursue breaking the diplomatic ice.
“There are a lot of common elements that both parties need to reach an agreement,” he said. “We will take this step by step.”
When asked directly what the government is doing to pursue its pledge of re-engagement, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion said the same thing.
“We have repeated our commitment to re-engage with Iran in a step-by-step manner,” said Chantal Gagnon, press secretary for the minister.
Gagnon acknowledged not having diplomatic ties as the government tries to secure Hoodfar’s release makes the issue much more difficult.
“The challenges posed by the absence of a diplomatic presence cannot be underestimated,” she said. “Privacy considerations and the fact this is an active case prevent us from discussing Government involvement in further detail, however rest assured that this case is a priority for us.”
It’s expected the issue of Hoodfar’s imprisonment will be a prominent topic at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, which Trudeau will be attending next week.
Twenty former UN rapporteurs released a statement Wednesday calling for Hoodfar to be released and adding their voices to a growing global call for her case to be resolved, which includes 5,000 academics from around the world who signed a petition earlier this summer.
The calls are taking on increasing urgency as Hoodfar’s health deteriorates. On Wednesday, an Iranian hard-line judge dismissed her lawyer and appointed one he preferred.
Published under arrangement with iPolitics.ca
Guest Commentary by Pouyan Tabasinejad, Bijan Ahmadi, Mehdi Samadian
The nuclear agreement reached between Iran and the P5+1 countries on July 14, 2015, marked a milestone in the history of world diplomacy.
The final agreement, which was a result of 20 months of arduous negotiations, was implemented beginning January 16, 2016, with a formal easing of sanctions in exchange for limits on the country’s nuclear program. However, while many of Canada’s allies have already begun to reap the rewards of the deal by reengaging with Iran economically and diplomatically, Canada has not re-engaged as quickly.
Canada is lagging behind her allies. A recent report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirms that Iran has complied with the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA. This means that Iran’s reintegration into the international community and economy will likely continue to accelerate.
Since implementation of the nuclear deal several international companies have been able to conclude contracts in a variety of fields with Iran. This includes deals with Boeing and Airbus, worth billions.
Reintegration has also taken place in the diplomatic realm as well. The British embassy in Tehran was opened in August 2015 after four years of closure. Over the last 12 months, several countries have started to re-engage economically with Iran and further economic and trade deals are expected in the near future.
In Canada, the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lifted some of Canada’s sanctions on Iran in February 2016, leaving in place those relating to arms, Iran’s ballistic missiles program and restrictions on a list of designated individuals.
With a large Iranian Canadian community (a population of around 300,000), who have links with Iran and familiarity with Iranian culture and business norms, there are enormous opportunities for Canada to engage and collaborate with Iran in a variety of fields including trade, cultural exchanges and collaboration in science and research.
The Iranian diaspora in Canada have also been largely supportive of the nuclear deal with Iran and re-engagement.
Last year, in two surveys conducted by the Iranian Canadian Congress (ICC), close to 80 per cent of the respondents reported that they were positive about the outcome of the nuclear deal and expressed their hope for rapprochement between Canada and Iran.
All indications point to great potential for trade between Canada and Iran. Canada’s exports to Iran peaked at $772 million in 1997. This figure declined precipitously to $67 million in 2014, after Canada imposed sanctions on Iran.
While Canada lifted most of its sanctions in February 2016, Canadian companies and institutions have been slow to respond. A major barrier preventing further economic engagement today is the lack of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Since the last federal election, Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion has repeatedly expressed Canada’s intention to re-engage with Iran and has confirmed that talks between the two countries have begun.
However, there is still significant uncertainty about the timeline and progress of this reengagement process.
While the benefits of reengaging with Iran are enormous and clear, it is important to recognize the challenges and hurdles that lie ahead.
The international banking system has been reluctant to reconnect with Iran, fearful of punishment by U.S regulators, an issue that has even affected the services some Canadian banks are willing to offer Iranian-Canadians. These problems may undermine the nuclear deal and the economic benefits Iran expects to receive from the deal.
Secondly, the deal’s fate is contingent upon the political will of the leadership of the countries involved. Given the rhetoric from U.S. presidential candidates and the repeated attempts of the Republicans in the U.S. Congress to block the implementation of JCPOA, there is significant uncertainty about the future of the Iran deal.
Another threat to the process of rapprochement with Iran is the issue of human rights. The United Nations has consistently criticized Iran for its human rights situation. Though this issue is not a direct threat to the JCPOA, it has become a subject of controversy in terms of expanding relations with Iran in Canada and other countries.
While there are significant challenges in the path forward, there is hope that continued dialogue and engagement with Iran will address these hurdles.
Canada must partake in this momentous opportunity in the history of world diplomacy and side with peace, dialogue, and constructive, mutually beneficial engagement.
Pouyan Tabasinejad is the Policy Chair of the Iranian Canadian Congress (ICC). Bijan Ahmadi is the President and Mehdi Samadian recently joined the ICC as a Policy Associate.
by Alireza Ahmadian in Vancouver
Analysts and members of the Iranian-Canadian community say they are optimistic about a thawing of relations between Iran and Canada now that a new government is in power.
Despite the fact that a large and dynamic Iranian diaspora calls Canada its home, recent relations between the two countries have been complicated.
In 2012, the Harper government put Iran on the list of State Supporters of Terrorism, closed the Canadian embassy in Iran and expelled Iranian diplomats from Canada. The diplomatic relation between the two governments has since been suspended.
The Conservative government also enacted unilateral sanctions against Iran, some of which adversely affected the lives of Iranian Canadians.
But in June 2015, then prime minister candidate Justin Trudeau told the CBC that he hoped “that Canada would be able to reopen its mission” in Iran and he was “fairly certain that there are ways to re-engage” the Iranian government.
Reasons for a different approach
Observers give different reasons for the Liberal party’s decision to re-engage Iran.
First of all, the Harper government failed to achieve its objectives with regard to its policy toward Iran.
John Mundy, Canada’s last ambassador to Iran, says he believes that the fundamental reason for the Harper government’s Iran policy was “to isolate and de-legitimize Iran.”
The opposite happened though, as the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) re-engaged Iran and reached a nuclear agreement with Tehran.
“Now it’s time for Canada to play catch-up,” says ambassador Mundy, who is writing a book about his time in Iran.
Secondly, there are commercial reasons for re-establishing diplomatic relations with Iran.
Political scientist Thomas Juneau says that re-engagement with Iran is in Canada’s best interests as it provides access to an emerging market for Canadian businesses and citizens who want to do business with the country.
Moreover, Jayson Myers, president and chief executive officer of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters told the Globe and Mail there are tremendous opportunities for Canadian businesses looking to sell to Iran.
Thirdly, there are geopolitical reasons for a change in policy towards Iran.
Political scientist Houchang Hassan-Yari says that the crises in the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Iraq, and the rise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) have created a new strategic environment in which Iran is an important player in the fight against IS.
“This [new geopolitical environment] may have had the Canadian government decide to engage Iran.”
Finally, the Harper government’s Iran policy created problems for members of the Iranian diaspora in Canada who maintain links to Iran and are in need of consular services from the Iranian government in Canada and the Canadian government in Iran.
Mohsen Taghavi, the editor-in-chief and publisher of Persian-English bilingual Weekly Salam Toronto, says that the majority of Iranian Canadians disagreed with the Harper government’s decision to suspend diplomatic relations with Tehran and to impose unilateral sanctions against Iran.
He says that the level of support for the Liberal party amongst Iranian Canadians was much higher in the recent federal election than what he had observed in previous elections and that the party’s Iran policy was an important factor contributing to this.
The Iranian diaspora and the Liberal party
But it was not all about Iran policy.
Taghavi says that Trudeau’s humility, energy, and vision appealed to many members of Canada’s Iranian diaspora.
Furthermore, many of them felt that the Liberal platform best manifested Canadian values. Therefore, their love for Canada and Canadian values, combined with the Liberals' pro-diplomacy approach towards Iran, swayed their vote.
Ambassador Mundy expects Canada and Iran will re-establish diplomatic relations and says he hopes that it becomes possible for Canada to re-open its visa section in order to be able to facilitate immigration and travel between the two countries.
He says that in 2007 when he was Canada’s ambassador to Tehran, “Iran was Canada’s fourth source of new immigrants and the Iranian community in Canada was growing quickly.”
Addressing Canada's concerns
Having diplomatic relations, however, does not mean that Iran and Canada are going to agree on different issues of mutual concern. In fact, all the interviewees for this article acknowledged Canada’s concerns over Iran’s human rights record and regional activities.
Professor Hassan-Yari says that having diplomatic relations with Tehran and starting a dialogue about “our differences with them” could be beneficial.
He concedes that, at first, Iran may not take Canada’s concerns seriously.
“However, when Canada and the Europeans address the same concerns, over time, they can influence the leadership in Tehran,” says Hassan-Yari.
Many Iranian Canadians view the Trudeau government’s approach to Iran as part of a larger worldview in which pragmatism outweighs ideology and diplomacy is utilized to resolve differences.
The future will show whether the Liberals can strengthen its relations with the Iranian diaspora and earn their future votes.
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to email@example.com
by Shenaz Kermalli (@ShenazKermalli)
Diplomacy smiles, declared a Tehran newspaper last Friday, hours after Iranian state television broadcasted the speech of the American president live for the first time in Iran’s revolutionary history. Car horns honked, people stood atop their sunroofs and waved Iranian flags, and text messages thanking Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif flooded social media and Viber, one of the most popular instant messaging apps in Iran. The details of a framework nuclear accord between the U.S. and Iran had been confirmed, and people across Iran – and the world – seemed jubilant.
In Canada, messages of joy were also shared among the Iranian community. Sauber Mojtahedy, an Iranian-Canadian optician, chuckles as he recalls greeting the local Imam at a Pickering, Ontario mosque last week. “I went to congratulate the Imam (who is Pakistani) after the prayer and he said, ‘I have to say congratulations to you!’”
“It’s great for the world and for Iran because the sanctions have badly affected businesses and the economy,” says Mojtahedy.
Hannah Tabatabae (pictured left), a 29-year-old Iranian-Canadian working towards becoming an architect, was also excited about the development. “I was very hopeful but didn’t see it coming so fast,” she says. “I was surprised even when they decided to sit at a table to negotiate in the first place because for many, many years, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s politics were against any sort of talk or negotiations with the West. Things were in the wrong direction for many years.”
Tabatabae immigrated to Toronto eight years ago, after completing her architecture degree from Azad University in Tehran. Her memories growing up in Iran in the first decade after the revolution, where hostility between the two countries was at its peak, left a lasting imprint. “As a kid growing up in Iran the very first thing I learnt about America was how to make the U.S. flag so we could either set it on fire or step on it as we walked from the school yard to the classrooms. I was seven years old and had no idea why were doing this or what it meant.
“Meanwhile, I also thought America had lots of tasty chocolate and other amazing things, as my aunt would bring me things from there. So I had mixed feelings about it. But then I travelled there when I was a teenager and everything has changed in my mind since then.”
The nuclear deal is a step in the right direction, Tabatabae says. And if relations continued to improve between Tehran and Washington, she would even contemplate re-locating. “I would definitely consider moving back to Iran – not because things are already better, [but] because at least we are in the correct direction. [Iranian] President Rouhani was not the ideal candidate, but we have to work with what we have and make the best out of it.”
For Mojtahedy, the nuclear accord is not so much as a step forward in terms of political reform, as it is recognition that Iran is a powerful regional player committed to peace. “Iran is not interested in creating a nuclear bomb,” he says, quoting a religious edict issued by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei forbidding the production and use of a nuclear bomb. “It only wants to produce nuclear energy for domestic use, like Canada does – for running power plants, electricity and other nuclear technology.”
Like the U.S., the Canadian government has also held estranged ties with the government in Iran since Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew the Pahlavi dynasty in 1979. Diplomatic ties worsened still in 2012 when Foreign Minister John Baird listed Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism and expelled its diplomats from Canada, a move that angered many Iranian-Canadians – and thrilled Canada’s close ally, Israel.
“Harper has cut relations with Iran. He has isolated Canada from the world because he favours policy that is favourable to Israel, but not to Canada,” Mojtahedy argues, citing Canada’s support for Israel even during the country’s attack on Gaza last summer. “It’s undemocratic. As Muslims, we believe in moderation. All the [terrorist-related] problems in the world exist because of extremism – from Al Qaeda, from Islamic State and from Israel in their treatment towards the Palestinians.
“If you want to have real peace in the world, we need to oppose extremism and support peace and moderation,” he adds.
‘Nothing has Changed’
Not everyone feels the winds of change in Tehran and Washington though. An Iranian-Canadian businessman (who did not want to disclose his name), who founded a company in Toronto 20 years ago, after working under both the Shah and Khomeini, says nothing has really changed.
“Rouhani, Ahmadinijad (Rouhani’s predecessor), they are all puppets in a harsh religious regime – a regime with only one man in power.”
He points to the deep mistrust held by both countries since Iran’s revolution. “The way the United States and the West treated Iran and its allies in the Middle East has left no room for the Iranian regime to seek a better or long-lasting relationship with them,” he says.
“Iran also understands that Russia and China have a better history of supporting their allies. Take a look at [Syrian president] Bashar al-Assad, who is still in power after three and a half years of domestic war in Syria, even after Hillary Clinton said ‘Assad’s days are numbered,’ three years ago. Most people in Iran have been living under pressure of sanctions and religious laws so they easily get excited over any sign of relief.”
People in Iran are being “bombarded” with news of victory by government-controlled media. When they find out that nothing is going to change, depression will ensue, he adds.
Despite the skeptics, others say those small signs of relief are a sure sign of a better future. “There are always reasons to be sad, but throughout years of isolation and sanctions, we learned to enjoy and celebrate the smallest sparkles of hope,” says Tabatabai. She quotes the great Persian poet Omar Khayyam: “Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.”
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit