In The Media

The Current: In wake of Iran protests, should Canada reopen embassy in Tehran?

Anne Maria Tremonti (feat. Thomas Juneau)

CBC News
January 8, 2018

The Iranian government's recent crackdown on protesters is renewing the debate around Canada's diplomatic relations with the country, in particular Justin Trudeau's 2015 election promise to reopen an embassy in Tehran.

The largest anti-government protest since 2009 began on Dec. 28, spreading to dozens of cities across the country — and the Iranian government's response has been brutal. At least 22 protesters have been killed and according to rights groups, more than a 1,000 people have been detained.

In the wake of protesters' deaths in Iran, a spokesperson for Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has called the violence "deeply troubling" but confirmed Canada will "continue to engage with Iran, on terms that we set." 

According to Toronto-based lawyer and human rights activist Kaveh Shahrooz, Canada's response to Iran's crackdown on protesters came too late and says it was half-hearted.

"It didn't really touch on the substance of the protest. It didn't actually side with the protesters and echo the grievances that they have been shouting about in the streets and getting killed for in the streets," he tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

Shahrooz argues Canada should be pushing the Iranian government on the issue of human rights, noting that he does not see this happening.

"The prime minister has been silent. He hasn't actually spoken up about human rights or Canadian values or anything of that sort," Shahrooz explains.

"The Iranian regime ... this is a theocracy, a democratic dictatorship that's been in place for 40 years, in a government that has a lot of blood on its hands, and you know it's Canada's duty I think, its obligation to speak out forcefully for the protection of human rights in that country."

A domestic political debate

The events of the last two weeks in Iran hasn't altered "the fundamental calculus that we should have diplomatic relations," in Thomas Juneau's view. 

"This is a dictatorship. It's not news to them that this is not a democracy that will suppress violence," the former Department of National Defence analyst argues.

"It's not nice to see these things going on, as its been since late December, but at the same time, the fundamental calculus that we should have diplomatic relations with Iran doesn't change."

Juneau tells Tremonti that debating the level of an appropriate response from the Iranian government toward protesters is inconsequential.

"Ultimately whatever Canada says — and at this point, we're only saying something, we're not doing anything — whatever we say it's really a domestic political debate that doesn't have much bearing on what actually goes on in Iran."

He says that Canada does have something to gain from reopening an embassy in Tehran, particularly in the area of trade, where he sees "not huge, but real" opportunities.

"Without an embassy on the ground we are really behind, especially European but also Asian countries, who are trying very cautiously to reintegrate the Iranian market," he says.

Shahrooz disagrees: "Yes trade is important, but at what cost?" he asks.

"Whose hand are we willing to shake in order to get trade deals?" Shahrooz says. "Unfortunately we would be doing business with people that Canada has recognized as having committed crimes against humanity. I think that's very dangerous."

Canada condemns violence in Iran

For the Iranian-Canadians wanting Ottawa to be doing more to support protesters on the streets of Iran, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Omar Alghabra, says the country does stands in solidarity with them.

"Canada is deeply, deeply troubled by the oppression that protesters have been facing in Iran,"  Alghabra tells Tremonti.

He argues Canada responded to the Iran protests swiftly.

"We were one of the first countries that actually issued a statement on Dec. 30th condemning the violence that protesters have faced on the streets of Iran," he explains, adding that on Jan. 3, another statement came out from Minister Freeland.

"So we stand in solidarity with people who want to walk in the streets to express their political opinions peacefully. And we call on Iran to adhere to its international human rights obligations."

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
Donate to Canadian Global Affairs Institute Subscribe




Canada's State of Trade: At Home and Beyond
February 13, 2018
8:30 AM – 6:00 PM EST

2018 Speaker Dinner: Canada - U.S. Relations in the Age of Trump featuring Conrad Black
March 6, 2018
6:00 PM – 9:00 PM MST



NAFTA ministers attending longer round
by Alexander Panetta (feat. Eric Miller), The Canadian Press, January 19, 2018

NAFTA talks to proceed even if U.S. government shuts down: report
by Kelsey Johnson (feat. Sarah Goldfeder), iPolitics, January 19, 2018

VIDEO: Analysis: ISIS fighters returning to Quebec
with Paul Karwatsky (feat. Kyle Matthews), CTV News, January 18, 2018

Former commanders urging authorities to charge or exonerate Vice-Admiral Norman
by Robert Fife & Steven Chase (feat. Dave Perry), The Globe and Mail, January 18, 2018

Two steps forward in Canada's pipeline dance
by Chris Varcoe (feat. Dennis McConaghy), Calgary Herald, January 18, 2018

‘Propaganda’: Russia condemns Canada’s North Korea summit
by Bruce Campion-Smith (feat. Marius Grinius), Toronto Star, January 18, 2018

Alberta’s Notley government signs on as Keystone XL customer
by Tom Vernon (feat. Dennis McConaghy), Global News, January 18, 2018



Donate | Submit | Media Inquiries
Making sense of our complex world. | Déchiffrer la complexité de notre monde.
Canadian Global Affairs Institute

Suite 1800, 421-7th Avenue SW
Calgary, Alberta, Canada  T2P 4K9
Canadian Global Affairs Institute

8 York Street, 2nd Floor
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada  K1N 5S6

Phone: (613) 288-2529 
2002-2018 Canadian Global Affairs Institute

Charitable Registration No.  87982 7913 RR0001