Douglas Todd: Why some Canadians born in Iran and China watch their backs

Of note:

Many of the thousands of demonstrators who lined Lions Gate Bridge last month to oppose Iran’s brutal regime expressed anxiety in the presence of photographers and videographers.

Some Iranian Canadians in Vancouver’s Human Life Chain, who were joining worldwide protests against the death of teenager Mahsa Amini after she was detained by Iran’s morality police, pointed fingers at strangers recording their public defiance.

“People were very brave to come out and show their unity,” said Farid Rohani, a leader in the Iranian Canadian community. “But many were fearful of people taking photos. They were pointing and saying, ‘You’re an agent of the regime.’ Some fights broke out.”

Rohani, a member of the B.C. government’s committee on diversity and policing, has himself been subjected to slander by people aligned with Iran’s regime. And an acquaintance was detained last year at Tehran airport, shown a photo of him sitting beside “Iran-hating, Israel-loving” Rohani, and warned to stay away from him.

Rohani feels relatively safe speaking out because he came to Canada in the 1970s and no longer has family in his theocratic homeland. But there is always a risk for Canadian opponents, including Soushiant Zanganehpour, organizer of the Vancouver protest. He called on Ottawa to do more to prevent Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards and affiliates from threatening Iranians who protest.

“There are a lot of regime officials and their families who systematically come here, some are even citizens,” said Zanganehpour. “We are facing threats against our families, our lives, with people that drive by our houses at nighttime. I’m calling for stricter immigration policies, not just sanctions, but more investigations into who is here and why.”

Similar concerns arise from Persian podcaster Ramin Seyed-Emami of Vancouver, who was recently informed by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service that Iran maintains a list of Iranians abroad who it deems a threat. The officer suggested Seyed-Emami take safety precautions, including being wary of “honey traps” — attractive female spies.

And these are just stories of pressure applied to Canadians born in Iran, of which there are more than 213,000.

Also being intimidated are Chinese Canadians, of which there are 1.7 million, including 820,000 born in the People’s Republic of China.

Last week, Amnesty International Canada reported its computer system was hacked after it had raised alarms about China’s harassment of people in Canada with Uyghur and Tibetan roots, as well as those connected to Hong Kong and the spiritual group Falun Gong. Their events are often recorded by suspected agents of China.

There are countless stories. The parents of Vancouver-raised human rights activist Anastasia Lin, Canada’s former Miss World, have been hounded by security agents and others who demand they make their daughter stop accusing the leaders of China of being a danger.

And when Cherie Wong came to Vancouver in 2020 to start Alliance Canada Hong Kong, a pro-democracy group, she received threats by phone in her hotel room, despite checking in under another name. The person said, “We know where you are. We’re coming to get you.”

What Lin and Wong undergo echo new reports by the Spanish human rights organization, Safeguard Defenders, which says China has set up 103 unofficial “police stations” around the world, including in Toronto and Vancouver, to monitor the Chinese diaspora. The regime, it says, has already put the squeeze on 220,000 “fugitives” to return to China.

“These reports are scary. The Chinese Canadian community has known the overreaching claws of the Chinese Communist Party for decades. We have witnessed their agents of influence,” said Fenella Sung, a Vancouver-based pro-democracy activist. 

Sung describes so-called “Little Pinkies” (jingoistic nationalists) in Vancouver “disrupting Tiananmen Massacre candle vigils, shouting down protesters at public areas such as SkyTrain stations, taking photos of church-goers who prayed for Hong Kong, and the like.”

Further, pro-democracy activists from Hong Kong have “even noticed the signal of their cellphones cut off when they were around Chinese consulates. Their ability at surveillance and infringement of our freedoms have been much strengthened in recent years. It severely violates rights on Canadian soil.”

Such chilling incidents all add up to illegal infiltration of Canada by foreign governments, says Charles Burton, a senior fellow of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute who worked in the Canadian embassy in China. Canada, he said, must do more to stop it.

Canada currently shows minimal resistance to hostile foreign governments, said Burton, who just returned from a conference in Berlin, where 240 global participants discussed how to combat interference by Chinese agents.

The often-public intimidation is in part designed to create the impression that China’s authorities have a long reach, said Burton. But even while China has more diplomats in Canada than any other nation, and diplomats often serve as spies, it is difficult to know the extent of their power.

Chinese and Iranian agents especially target opinion leaders. They interfere with their speech and often make sure they know they are being monitored, said Burton, which is especially hard on university students.

While not particularly worried about himself, Burton said he is also frequently targeted, including by attractive Chinese women who claim they are “very interested in seniors,” something he finds almost comical.

Still, Burton calls on Ottawa to do much more.

“The RCMP have recently said they are intending to put more resources into protecting Canadians who are subject to menace and harassment by agents of a foreign power,” he said. “But up to now we haven’t seen arrests of any of these people. Nor have we heard of any people declared persona non grata for engaging in activities not compatible with their diplomatic status.”

CSIS, Burton said, has set up a website where people who have experienced foreign interference and espionage can report online. But it stipulates it is not a law enforcement agency, only an information gatherer.

Nevertheless, Burton says it is useful to see more public talk these days echoing his long-held admonition that Ottawa combat the foreign harassment of citizens.

“And if that results in Chinese government retaliation, then I think we simply have to accept that. I think it’s more important to protect our freedoms, democracy, security and sovereignty than it is to protect market access for Canadian commodities that might go to China.”

Heightened vigilance would also earn Canada greater respect from China and Iran, Burton said. The more exposure that governments, educators and the media give to such infiltration, the better things will be for all Canadians.

“It will shed some sunshine on this thing. And sunshine is an excellent disinfectant.”

Source: Douglas Todd: Why some Canadians born in Iran and China watch their backs

Bruce Arthur: Iran’s players were put in an impossible situation at World Cup, unlike 7 European nations in armband standoff

Good pointed commentary regarding the “snowflakes:”

Fights take courage. Before England and Iran’s second-day matchat the World Cup the talk was all about the pro-LGBTQ armbands England and six other European nations wanted to wear, and FIFA’s ruthless power play to stop them. It mattered, all that. It was telling in several ways.

On this day, though, bravery belonged to Iranians. When Iran’s anthem was played, the Iranian players stood arm in arm and did not sing. Their faces were portraits of gravity: you could watch again and again and see seriousness, determination, maybe even apprehension, weight. “The National Anthem of the Islamic Republic of Iran” was only adopted in 1989; it is not recognized by many opponents of the current regime. As it played, many of the Iranian fans in the building appeared to boo and jeer, as if to drown it out.

You could have written a novel about those faces of those men, and the silence they chose. Iran has been crushing a popular, women-led uprising for weeks now, ever since 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in police custody in September after being arrested and accused of breaking strict hijab rules. Iran’s theocratic government has unleashed a bloody campaign of repression, and it hasn’t stopped. The day before the match, Iranian captain Ehsan Hajsafi said something extraordinary.

“We have to accept the conditions in our country are not right, and our people are not happy,” Hajsafi said in a team press conference. “Whatever we have is from them. We have to fight. We have to perform and score some goals to present the brave people of Iran with a result. I hope conditions change as to the expectations of the people.”

Then Iran was crushed. Its goalkeeper was concussed in the first few minutes, and England roared to a 6-2 victory. It must have been bitter. Iran’s longtime coach, Carlos Queiroz, said his team was under enormous pressure, and he blamed the fans for being, essentially, a distraction.

“All Iranians are welcome in the stadium,” said Queiroz. “They have the right to criticize the team, but those that come to disturb the team with issues not just about football are not welcome … Everybody knows the circumstances, the environment of my players, is not ideal in terms of commitment and concentration, and they are affected by the issue. They are human beings.

“You don’t know what these kids have been living the last days, just because they want to express themselves as players. Whatever they do or say, they want to kill them. Let them represent the country and play for the people.”

But when Iran scored its first goal to make it 5-1, those Iranian fans summoned the loudest cheer in the stadium all day. They were there to support the players. Iranian players, and Queiroz, are just in a near-impossible situation. That the players didn’t sing was almost all they could do.

If that was impossible, though, the armband situation wasn’t. Seven European nations — England, Wales, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland and the Netherlands — had pledged to have their captains wear rainbow-heart One Love armbands in support of the LGBTQ community, during a World Cup in a nation that criminalizes homosexuality. They tried to do a small moral thing, the decent thing.

FIFA crushed it. At the last moment, after discussions that had included fines to the respective soccer associations, they threatened yellow cards, which would have put the captains of all seven teams in a position where one bad decision could mean missing a World Cup match. More, the Belgian newspaper Nieuwsblad reportedthat FIFA forced Belgium to remove the word Love from its rainbow-accented away kits.

The seven nations folded, and too easily. The captains instead wore FIFA armbands that read: No Discrimination. It was terribly weak.

Everything is a choice. Homosexuality is officially criminalized in Qatar, as well as in countries throughout Africa, the Middle East — including, of course, Iran — and Southeast Asia; Russia and China harshened anti-LGBTQ laws in the last decade, and American conservatives are pushing hard in the same direction. The mass shooting at a Colorado Springs drag show on the weekend was a clear symptom of that recent push.

And despite the fact that the nations had alerted FIFA to this in September, FIFA pushed hardest at the end, and it felt very much of a piece with the defining divide at this World Cup. FIFA had already pleaded for teams to “focus on the football,” and FIFA president Gianni Infantino took an explicitly anti-Europe stance to defend Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers, and human rights policies. Infantino had said that the criticism of the World Cup and Qatar had him feeling like a marginalized group — among other things, Infantino said, “Today I feel gay.” It must have been a passing feeling.

English players did take a knee before kickoff as a general gesture of anti-discrimination, which has become relatively common in English soccer, and in the face of racism against some of the team’s players, it matters. But at a World Cup where the emir of Qatar praised diversity and one of FIFA’s official shoulder patches says Football Unites the World, it didn’t land the same. To England and those six other nations, clearly the matches mattered most.

And then the Iranians didn’t sing, despite their impossible situation, and that was courage. It’s not that this World Cup is a clash between Middle East and the West, precisely; it’s that there are constant struggles between visions regarding rights and freedoms and equality, and international sports is used as a tool in that struggle.

The Europeans did what they decided they could do, and the Iranians did what they decided they could do. You could see which one was harder, and which one cost. And you could see which one mattered more.

Source: Bruce Arthur: Iran’s players were put in an impossible situation at World Cup, unlike 7 European nations in armband standoff

Iran’s protesters find inspiration in a Kurdish revolutionary slogan

Interesting background to the slogan used by Iranian and other protesters:

For 41 days, thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets in anger over the death of a young Kurdish woman in police custody, even as authorities continue their violent crackdown against them. The demonstrations — honoring the memory of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, whose Kurdish first name was Jina — have become the largest women’s rights movement in Iran’s recent history.

One resounding slogan has become the movement’s rallying cry: “Jin, jiyan, azadi!” — or “Woman, life, freedom!”

First chanted by mourners at Amini’s burial in her hometown of Saqez, the slogan quickly spread from the country’s Kurdish cities to the capital, Tehran. It took on new life in its Farsi translation — “Zan, zendegi, azadi” — and the message continues to reverberate across solidarity protests from Berlin to New York. Even fashion brands like Balenciaga and Gucci have posted the slogan to their Instagram feeds.

The words “jin, jiyan, azadi” and their various translations have unified Iranians across ethnic and social lines. They have come to signify the demand for women’s bodily autonomy and a collective resistance against 43 years of repression by the Iranian regime.

But Kurdish activists say that some Iranians and the media are overlooking key elements of the Kurdish background of both Amini herself and the slogan pulsing through the mass protests sparked by her death.

“It’s meant to be a universal slogan for a universal women’s struggle. That was what was always intended with it,” says Elif Sarican, a London-based anthropologist and activist in the Kurdish women’s movement. “But the root needs to be understood, at the very least in respect towards the people who have sacrificed their lives for it, but also to understand what this is saying. … These aren’t just words.”

The slogan was popularized during women’s marches in Turkey in 2006

The slogan originated with the Kurdish Freedom Movement, led by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group carrying out an insurgency against Turkish authorities since the 1980s. The State Department has long designated the PKK as a terrorist organization.

The slogan was inspired by the writings of Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK’s cofounder, who said that “a country can’t be free unless the women are free.”

Ocalan advocated for what he called “jineoloji,” a Kurdish feminist school of thought. That ultimately led to the development of an autonomous women’s struggle — the Kurdish women’s movement — within the broader Kurdish Freedom Movement, Sarican explains.

She says the slogan was first popularized during International Women’s Day marches across Turkey on March 8, 2006. Turkey, with about 15 million Kurds, is home to the largest population of Kurds in the Middle East. Although they make up an estimated 18% to 20% of the nation’s population, they face discrimination and persecution.

Since 2006, Sarican says, “Every year, based on ‘jin, jiyan, azadi’ as the philosophy of freedom, there’s been various different campaigns that have been announced and declared to the world by the Kurdish women’s movement on each 8th of March — to say that this is our contribution, this is our call and this is our encouragement for a common struggle of women against colonialism and patriarchal capitalism.”

Five years ago, Kurdish female guerrilla fighters with the YPJ militia chanted the slogan during the Kurdish-led Rojava revolution in northern Syria that began in 2012.

Kurds in Iran face discrimination and many live in poverty

Ignoring the slogan’s political history contributes to the long-standing erasure of Kurdish people’s identity and struggle, activists say.

That’s also been the case in international coverage of Amini’s death, they contend, in which Mahsa — Amini’s Iranian state-sanctioned first name — is used. In interviews, Amini’s parents have used both her Iranian and Kurdish names.

Like many Kurds in Iran, Amini was not allowed to legally register her Kurdish name, which means “life.”

“I felt like she died twice because no one really was mentioning her Kurdish name or her Kurdish background, which is so relevant,” says Beri Shalmashi, an Amsterdam-based Iranian Kurdish writer and filmmaker.

Besides facing ethnic discrimination, Kurds, who make up an estimated 15% of Iran’s population, are marginalized as Sunni Muslims in a Shia-majority country. Their language is restricted and they account for nearly half of political prisoners in Iran. The country’s Kurdish regions are also among its most impoverished.

The Iranian government has blamed Kurds for the current unrest in Iran, according to news reports, and has attacked predominantly Kurdish cities, like Sanandaj and Oshnavieh. Some Persian nationalists, meanwhile, continue to ignore the lived experiences of Kurds in the country.

Shalmashi believes it’s vital to highlight Amini’s Kurdish identity, and the Kurdish roots of “jin, jiyan, azadi,” as a reminder of the need for greater rights for all people in today’s Iran — no matter their ethnicity or gender. Without inclusion and unity, she warns, the current protests risk becoming meaningless.

“Because if you don’t make room for people to be in this together,” she says, “then what are you going to do if you even succeed?”

Source: Iran’s protesters find inspiration in a Kurdish revolutionary slogan

Pierre Poilievre is demanding it — but insiders reveal why Canada won’t brand this Iran military group as terrorists

The same day the Globe publishes commentary arguing the government should explain itself (it should publicly rather than indirectly), The Star provides a good explainer, and there have been a number of articles in various publications regarding some Iranian Canadians who have not been able to enter the USA given their having been low-level conscripts in the IRGC:

The Canadian government has not yet designated Iran’s revolutionary guard corps as a terrorist entity over concerns the action would be overbroad, difficult to enforce and unfairly target potentially thousands of Iranians in Canada who may have been conscripted by Iran’s military, sources tell the Star.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday his government will hold the “bloodthirsty regime to account,” and that Canada will continue to sanction the leadership of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, but he stopped short of answering yes or no to Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre’s demand he recognize the IRGC as a terrorist group.

Faced with growing calls for action by the Conservatives, families of Canadian victims killed when Iran shot down flight PS752 and now in the face of a global uproar over the death of a young Iranian woman who wasn’t wearing a hijab, the federal Liberal government says it intends to “do more” to sanction human rights abuses by the Iranian regime.

“Everything is absolutely on the table,” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said Wednesday.

“Some of this is very complicated, getting the details right is complicated, avoiding collateral damage is important,” Freeland said, the day after meeting with families of the 2020 plane crash victims.

Freeland added, “But from my perspective, there’s actually something very simple at the heart of this, which is Canada and Canadians need to be on the side of women — women and students who are brave enough to protest, and not on the side of misogynist repressive theocrats.”

Canadian government officials have “for years” looked at the question of putting the IRGC, a branch of Iran’s armed forces, on the terrorist list under the Criminal Code, three sources said.

But ministers this week have repeatedly declined to state why Canada has not done so already.

Source: Pierre Poilievre is demanding it — but insiders reveal why Canada won’t brand this Iran military group as terrorists

Khan: To the ruling elites, be they secular or religious: Just leave Muslim women alone

Of note:

A long while back, a good friend of mine decided to take a stand on the hijab. She was Muslim, and grew up in a Muslim household. She had thought long and hard about her decision, and decided to start wearing it.

Her father disagreed, berating her. When that didn’t work, he beat her. But she would not be cowed by the physical abuse. She could have filed a complaint with the authorities here in Canada, but decided, for personal reasons, against it. These were deeply personal choices made under difficult circumstances. But they were hers to make.

I thought of my friend upon hearing of the death of Mahsa Amini, a young Iranian woman who died after being taken into custody by Iran’s “morality” policy for allegedly violating the country’s hijab laws. The authorities claim that the 22-year-old woman had a heart attack at a re-education centre. Her family disputes the account, indicating that she was in perfect health. Autopsy reports were not made public. The official account defied credibility, given endemic institutional corruption. The allegations are that Ms. Amini was beaten to death.

That a woman was arrested and died for showing wisps of hair is reprehensible. That such a law exists is a travesty to basic human dignity. Iranian women are rightfully fed up with edicts that suffocate their lives and violate their personal agency. But it goes beyond women. You cannot shove religion down peoples’ throats without missing the point entirely. As the Quran succinctly puts it: “There is no compulsion in religion.”

While the current upheaval in Iran is partially the result of a population chafing against a ruling elite, it is also, at its heart, about the position of women in Iranian society. Half the population could more fully help their country to flourish, provided they were given the opportunity to do so. Instead, women have been suppressed and society has suffered as a consequence.

Some believe one of the solutions to ending the suppression of women is to ban the hijab. But this simply repeats the initial cardinal violation of taking away a woman’s agency in making her own choices. In any instance, a grown woman is fully capable of weighing the necessary information, consulting her peers, if she’d like, and reaching to the inner recesses of her conscience to make a decision that suits her.

Back in grad school at Harvard, one of my closest friends was an Iranian exile, whose family had suffered under the rule of Ayatollah Khomeini. Understandably, she hated state-sanctioned “Islam,” and, in particular, the hijab. We used to debate long into the night about the place of religion in society. I learned a great deal from her. When I chose to wear the hijab during the final year of my doctorate, she was mortified, and tried ardently to dissuade me. Another Pakistani friend tried to do the same. He hated the mullahs and their edicts; an imam had tried to sexually assault him when he was a child.

I clearly saw that both of my friends’ choices were informed by their respective experiences. However, as I explained, my choice was predicated on my own path – not theirs. It was deeply personal, and remains so. I do not impose it on anyone. Nor do I appreciate when others try to impose their choices on me or other women. Many years ago, I stood by my friend who was beaten by her father for choosing to wear the hijab. I stand by my Iranian sisters for the right to choose not to wear it, and their right to be free from coercion and violence.

In the end, it is about power and control. This summer, a Leger poll found that as a result of Quebec’s Bill 21, which bans the wearing of “religious symbols” (including the hijab) by public-sector workers, more than 70 per cent of Muslim women in the province feel less safe and more than 80 per cent said they feel less hopeful for the next generation.

To the ruling elites, be they secular (in Quebec and France) or religious (in Iran and Afghanistan), I say this: Just leave Muslim women alone. Let us live our lives and contribute to society. We have so much to offer, and we want to be part of the greater whole. We are not enemies of the state.

To my sisters in humanity: As women, we rarely see life as a zero-sum game. Let us respect individual choices. Let us be supportive of each other and band together against the haters. Let us remember Mahsa Amini and the many women who struggle on the path of freedom. Our inner voice is our strength – and no one can take it away.

Source: To the ruling elites, be they secular or religious: Just leave Muslim women alone

Iran considers dual nationals on downed Ukrainian plane to be Iranians: TV report

Not surprising given that all likely entered on their Iranian passport and that Iran doesn’t formally recognize dual citizenship. But incredibly callous towards the victims and their families:

Iran considers dual nationals aboard a Ukrainian plane that was shot down accidentally this month to be Iranian citizens, the Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Monday.

Iran does not recognize dual nationality. Many of the 176 people killed in the disaster were Iranians with dual citizenship. Canada had 57 citizens on board.

“We have informed Canada that Tehran considers dual nationals who were killed in the plane crash as Iranian citizens … Iran is mourning their deaths,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told a televised weekly news conference.

As protests erupted in Iran over the plane disaster, the British ambassador in Tehran was briefly detained. Officials said he was at an “illegal” rally, while the envoy said he was attending a vigil for victims. Britain criticized his detention.

“Iran respects all foreign diplomats in Iran as long as they do not violate international laws,” Mousavi said.

Source: Iran considers dual nationals on downed Ukrainian plane to be Iranians: TV report

Now more than ever, Canada needs to resume diplomatic ties with Iran

Pertinent advice by our former head of mission to Iran and Saudi Arabia (his cross posting was from Iran to Saudi Arabia, mine at a much more junior level was the reverse, from Saudi Arabia to Iran in the mid-to-late 1980s).

I always felt that one of the most significant aspect of having diplomatic relations and embassies was the ability to provide consular services, both for Iranians in Canadians and Canadians in Iran.

The shooting down of the Ukraine International provides a dramatic illustration of this need:

The plane crash in Iran on Wednesday that killed 176 people, including at least 63 Canadians, was an unimaginable human tragedy. Families and futures were lost in the blink of an eye. The pain will last generations.

For diplomats, dealing with the deaths of Canadians abroad is one of the most difficult challenges. It is also one of the most important. Families are going through the worst time of their lives. It is the role of diplomats to step in and try to facilitate the process of returning their loved ones to Canada, while dealing with the often mind-numbing and incomprehensible bureaucratic realities that inevitably come with it.

Dealing with these events is even more challenging when Canada has no diplomatic presence on the ground or even diplomatic relations with the country where the tragedy occurred. That is the case with Iran.

Canada’s relations with Iran had been fraught from the earliest days of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, given Canada’s role in facilitating the escape of six U.S. diplomats during the hostage crisis. It was an episode that hung over the bilateral relationship for decades – with more than one Iranian official berating me during my time in Iran for helping those “American spies.”

There were a range of additional policy issues and differences that had fractured the relationship in the intervening years. The final break came with the passage of the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act (JVTA) in March, 2012, and the listing of Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism in September, 2012. The legislation allowed for the seizure and sale of Iranian government properties in Canada.

The JVTA made the security situation for the Canadian embassy in Iran untenable; a point that was driven home only months before when the British embassy was violently attacked by an Iranian mob. We were now about to start seizing Iranian properties in Canada. The embassy was closed the day the legislation naming Iran came into effect.

It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was a necessary one. We knew that Canada’s ability to provide consular services would suffer. Italy stepped up as our protecting power in-country and management of consular services was transferred to the Canadian embassy in Ankara. In normal circumstances, it was a manageable, if inadequate and inconvenient, arrangement.

The system, however, was not designed to handle a crisis situation like the one that occurred on Wednesday. Those kinds of situations cannot be managed remotely.

The Islamic Republic is never an easy partner to deal with, even, sadly, in tragic situations. Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne’s call to his Iranian counterpart, Javid Zarif, was a good start. It’s to be hoped it will pave the way for Iranian co-operation in helping Canada try and ease the suffering of families by letting our officials go to Iran to do what they need to do. That’s the least that can be expected and they deserve the full co-operation of Iranian authorities on the ground. But given the state of our relations (or, more to the point, lack thereof) that cannot be assumed. I do hope, though, that Iran does not use its refusal to recognize dual nationality to argue that Canada has no direct interest in this incident. Sadly, that cannot be ruled out.

There are reports that the Iranian Civil Aviation Authorities have invited Canada’s Transportation Safety Board to join the international team being assembled to investigate the crash and according to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, consular officials are heading to Iran. In light of Canadian intelligence information that the plane seems to have been shot down by the Iranian military, we can’t be certain Iran will allow Canadian access. The fact that Iran was on the other end of similar event in 1988, when an Iranian commercial aircraft was brought down over the Persian Gulf by an American naval vessel, should enhance willingness to co-operate, but how open they actually will be remains to be seen.

It would be a welcome outcome if this incident provided new impetus to the effort to resume diplomatic ties and a return to Tehran in due course, taking into account the broader geopolitical context. There is no substitute for being on the ground. Canada has been blind to what has been happening in Iran – especially important these past several days – and we have our hands tied in dealing with this tragedy.

But that will require dealing with the JVTA and that will be tough politically. The federal government will be accused of going soft on Iran and denying that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism. Removing the JVTA says nothing of the sort. The JVTA was a mistake that is hurting Canadian interests and, more importantly, undercutting the government’s duty to serve Canadians. It should go.

Source: Now more than ever, Canada needs to resume diplomatic ties with Iran: Dennis Horak

ICYMI: How Canada has been secretly giving asylum to gay people in Chechnya fleeing persecution

Good long read on the Government’s program to give asylum to Chechnyan gays (the Conservative government was similarly supportive of Iranian LGBTQ asylum seekers: Canada a haven for persecuted gay Iranians: Kenney |

For three months, the federal government has been secretly spiriting gay Chechen men from Russia to Canada, under a clandestine program unique in the world.

The evacuations, spearheaded by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, fall outside the conventions of international law and could further impair already tense relations between Russia and Canada. But the Liberal government decided to act regardless.

As of this week, 22 people – about a third of those who were being sheltered in Russian safe houses – are now in Toronto and other Canadian cities. Several others are expected to arrive in the coming days or weeks.

“Canada accepted a large number of people who are in great danger, and that is wonderful,” said Tanya Lokshina, Russian program director for Human Rights Watch, a New York-based organization, in a telephone interview. “The Canadian government deserves much praise for showing such openness and goodwill to provide sanctuary for these people. They did the right thing.”

“It’s important that our community, who are concerned about them, know that they’re here, that they’re safe” – Kimahli Powell, executive director of Rainbow Railroad

The decision may be seen as controversial. Homosexuals in many parts of the world are harassed, imprisoned, even – as happened recently in Indonesia – publicly flogged.

And the government is struggling to accommodate thousands of mostly Haitian asylum-seekers flooding into Canada from the United States, even as opposition politicians demand that Ottawa find a way to plug the loophole that lets them in.

But the Liberals decided the situation was unique: Chechen security forces were rounding up gay men in a program, placing them in need of immediate rescue.

Source: How Canada has been secretly giving asylum to gay people in Chechnya fleeing persecution – The Globe and Mail

Iranian Lawmakers Aim To Scrap Discriminatory Citizenship Law

To watch:

A group of Iranian lawmakers are looking to scrap a longstanding law that denies citizenship and equal rights to Iranian children born to foreign fathers.

If approved by parliament, a recently drafted bill would overturn the discriminatory legislation and affect the lives of thousands of children abroad and inside Iran — especially Iranian children with fathers from the large community of Afghan refugees and migrants living in the Islamic republic.

Iranian rights activists have been campaigning for years to abolish the law, under which only Iranian men can pass their nationality to spouses or children.

For years, the citizenship of children born in marriages between Iranian women and Afghan refugees has been the driving force behind changing the law. To this point, such children are essentially stateless.

In recent days, the campaign to abolish the law was given an unexpected boost following the death of Maryam Mirzakhani, an award-winning Tehran-born mathematician who died of cancer in the United States on July 15. Mirzakhani’s only daughter, 6-year-old Anahita, has a Czech father and is thus ineligible for Iranian citizenship.

Iran’s semiofficial Fars news agency reported that a group of lawmakers made an official request on July 16 to expedite voting on the bill.

The agency claimed that Mirzakhani had asked in her will that Iranian nationality be granted to her daughter. RFERL could not independently verify that claim.

Reza Shiran told the pro-government Mashregh news outlet on July 17 that he was collecting signatures to introduce the bill on the assembly floor. He said he had collected 60 signatures in the 290-seat chamber.

He said the bill was intended to “grant citizenship to Mirzakhani’s daughter,” adding that “equal attention” should be brought to the status of children born to Iranian mothers and Afghan fathers.

His remarks came after the parliamentary cultural committee on July 11 approved the wording of the draft legislation, which would extend the granting of Iranian citizenship to the offspring of foreign fathers.

Before becoming law, the legislation needs to be approved by parliament and ratified by the Guardians Council, the powerful clerical body that must approve all proposed legislation.

Human rights groups have welcomed efforts to repeal the law as a step toward gender equality in Iran.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) researcher Tara Sepehri Far says the current law discriminates against women and denies equal rights to thousands of children in Iran.

“In the case of marriages between Iranian women and Afghan refugees, mostly undocumented refugees, it has left many children who are born and raised in Iran with no path to nationality, which affects their access to many other rights such as education, health care, and jobs,” Far says.

The United Nations estimates the number of Afghan citizens in Iran at just under 1 million, many of whom claim to face violence and injustice in the Islamic republic. Tehran puts the figure of documented and undocumented Afghan refugees and migrants closer to 3 million.

Source: Iranian Lawmakers Aim To Scrap Discriminatory Citizenship Law

The Significance of ‘The Salesman’ Director Asghar Farhadi’s Absence From the Oscars – The Atlantic

For those interested in movies and Iran, good long interview with Hamid Naficy of Northwestern University’s School of Communication (I saw The Salesman at TIFF and well-worth seeing even if not quite as good as A Separation): 

While Hollywood has been loudly critical of Donald Trump since the early days of his presidential campaign, that relationship has only grown more adversarial with the former reality-TV star’s assumption of office last month. As my colleague David Sims noted Monday, the current awards season has seen many filmmakers, performers, and others in the industry calling out Trump, whether for his behavior toward women and minorities or for moving ahead with campaign promises to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico or to keep Muslims out of the country for professed national-security reasons.Then, on January 27 came a confusing and messily enacted executive order that, in part, temporarily bars citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S. It quickly emerged that the order would likely mean that at least one important face would be missing from this year’s Oscars: the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, whose film The Salesman is nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film award. A few days later, Farhadi confirmed to The New York Timesthat he wouldn’t be attending:

“I neither had the intention to not attend nor did I want to boycott the event as a show of objection, for I know that many in the American film industry and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are opposed to the fanaticism and extremism which are today taking place more than ever … However, it now seems that the possibility of this presence is being accompanied by ifs and buts which are in no way acceptable to me even if exceptions were to be made for my trip.”

In addition to celebrities condemning the executive order, which also bars refugees, the film industry has expressed its support for Farhadi. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences called the travel ban “extremely troubling,” and on Tuesday, the American Film Institute praised Farhadi’s work while saying, “We believe any form of censorship—including the restriction of travel—to be against all values we cherish as a community of storytellers.” Immediately after the order was announced, one of The Salesman’s stars, Taraneh Alidoosti, said she would be boycotting the ceremony and called Trump’s move “racist.” Others have reportedly also been prevented from attending.

To get a better sense of the cultural and geopolitical context of Farhadi’s recognition by the Oscars and his eventual boycott, I spoke with Hamid Naficy, a professor at Northwestern University’s School of Communication and the author of several books on Iranian culture and media, including A Social History of Iranian Cinema. Our conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Cruz: Can you describe the cultural exchange between the U.S. and Iran in recent years, and how that relationship might change moving forward?

Naficy: …It’s in that context that you have this very complicated diplomatic, media, and cultural dance between Iran and the U.S. As part of this anti-American cultural diplomacy in Iran, American films were banned in the country after the Iranian Revolution, but a whole active underground market developed for them.On the one hand, the government of Iran declares that there is a cultural invasion of Iran—that Americans are trying to win the hearts and minds of Iranians, not through force but through culture. On the other hand, Iranian cinema, in particular arthouse cinema, has after the revolution become quite a credible presence in international film festivals and in commercial cinema. Those films are valued because they’re so artistic and interesting, but also partly because the view they represent of Iran is almost diametrically opposed to the view the Iranian government presents of itself and that the Western media presents of Iran.These films show Iranian people to be normal like everyone else. They love their children, their children fight with each other, they’re jealous, they’re loyal. There are all kinds of humane stories that I think make people sympathetic to Iranian society and culture. So you have these kinds of competing visions of self and other that are taking place in the two film industries.

Hollywood, from the hostage crisis onward, has produced a huge number of films that basically sort of exploit the enmity between the two countries. I guess the last big one was Argo, which was about the rescue mission of the Americans by the Canadian embassy. (Although I must say, the Canadians didn’t get a lot of credit in that film and neither did the Iranians, but that’s Hollywood.)