Iran’s long reach into Canada

The Iranian government is aggressively reaching out to the Iranian diaspora in Canada

by Michael Petrou

The Iranian government, through its embassy in Ottawa and various friendly or affiliated organizations, is aggressively reaching out to the Iranian diaspora in Canada, as well as to other potentially sympathetic Muslims in the country.

This July it is funding an “Iranian Students Convention” at the large and well-appointed NAV Centre in Cornwall, Ontario. According to the conference website, guests must be students and members of a “cultural community” or they will not be permitted to attend. Attendees will have their accommodation and meals paid for, as well as a portion of transportation costs.

“This platform is direly needed for achieving the ultimate goal of establishing a network of Iranian academics and professionals across Canada and more broadly across North America,” the conference website states. “Such a network will enable the Iranian academics to connect and share their knowledge and expertise to facilitate the professional growth of its members and play a leading role in serving the Iranian community abroad. This network will also help preserve and promote members’ Iranian identity and strengthen ties to their motherland.”

The website originally crediting the Montreal Toheed Society with planning the conference. This society, which was identified as “an independent network of Iranian students,” does not appear to have an online presence beyond the Cornwall conference. References to the society have now been removed from the conference website. An email and phone call to the address and number given on the conference website were not returned.

The conference’s major sponsor is Iran’s Higher Education Advisory (HEA), which is run out of the Iranian embassy. Hamid Moharrami, head of the HEA, told Maclean’s the organization exists to look after the needs of Iranian students in Canada. He said Toheed Society students organized the conference and the HEA is simply supporting them financially. He would not say how much money it is spending.

Moharrami is delivering one of the keynote speeches at the conference. Serge Villemure, director of the Scholarships and Fellowships Division at the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, will give the other. A spokesperson for NSERC emailed a statement to Maclean’s: “When timing allows, NSERC is pleased to respond to invitations to speak to student groups about its programs.”  

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Canada forbids Iran from opening consulates or cultural centres outside of Ottawa. But this directive is not well enforced. Maclean’s exposed an Iranian embassy front in Toronto in 2010. And Hamid Mohammadi, cultural counselor at the Iranian embassy, said in an interview on an Iranian government website that the embassy’s work in Canada has included “establishing and strengthening new centres for Iranian studies and Farsi language” — as well as sending students and professor to Iran for courses; organizing art exhibitions and conferences; and equipping public universities in Iranian-populated areas with Farsi books.

The Iranian embassy in Canada also works through Iranian student groups at Canadian universities. On Friday, the embassy’s cultural centre is sponsoring a panel at York University on “Islam and the Challenges of Modernity.” The panel’s co-sponsors are the Thaqalayn Muslim Association, a York student group, and the Organization of Imam Reza Circle, which appears to have no online presence that is not linked to this event. Liyakat Takim, a professor of Islamic studies at McMaster University who has previously taken part in Iranian embassy-sponsored events, will speak on the panel.

The embassy is particularly active at Carleton University in Ottawa. The Iranian Cultural Association of Carleton University is led by Ehsan Mohammadi, son of Iranian diplomat Hamid Mohammadi. The embassy’s cultural centre regularly joins with the Carleton student group to co-sponsor events.

These ties upset some Iranian Canadians in Ottawa who fear that if they openly oppose the Iranian government, their anti-regime activities will be reported back to Tehran — endangering their families, and themselves should they return. “They’ve created a sense of fear,” one Iranian student at Carleton told Maclean’s.

Ehsan Mohammadi did not respond to an emailed interview request. A phone call to his number went unanswered.

Last fall the Iranian Cultural Association of Carleton University sponsored a panel discussion titled: “Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq: New Systems of Governance; Opportunities and Challenges.” Iranian Chargé d’Affaires Kambiz Sheikh-Hassani was on the panel. The Iranian embassy was not listed as an official sponsor, though the logo of its cultural centre appeared on promotional material for the event.

Four protesters disrupted the panel, holding up posters with the photos of Iranians they said had been beaten, jailed, tortured, and killed by Iranian authorities.

Among those protesting was Ali Tabatabaie, who is married to the daughter of prominent Iranian reformist Mostafa Tajzadeh. Iranian security officials later showed up at his wife’s family’s house in Tehran to summon Tabatabaie to court. Tabatabaie believes this was related to his public protest in Ottawa. He is now afraid to return to Iran.

“After the election, almost all my friends and family were arrested,” he says. His father-in-law, Mostafa Tajzadeh, is still in prison.

“You feel you have to do something for them, but you know you are far away and you can’t. Your family needs you, and you can’t do anything. It’s very difficult.”

NOTE: I’d like to thank Toronto journalist Arash Azizi for his work translating the Farsi source noted in this article, and others not cited, and for his help guiding me through the labyrinth  of Iran’s government.

Iran’s long reach into Canada

  1. Canada should have this down to a science by now….we’ve been doing this kind of thing since we protected rebel Fenians from the Brits….and protected fleeing blacks from their US ‘owners’, and boat people from Vietnamese ‘tongs’ etc

    It’s a basic Canadian value.

  2. “Iranian diaspora”? Almost all Iranian Canadians are refugees from 1979!

  3. I’m hoping you (or CNN) will let me know when I should be
    outraged and afraid. Yes ?

  4. Your article does not help ANY ONE.Anyways I did not know the event.Thank you for spreading the word.

  5. Canada should be doing more to prevent Islamic Republic of Iran’s attempts to establishing presence beyond its embassy and infiltrating academic circles. Their covert operations appear to have one goal, legitimizing the dictatorial regime beyond its borders. Good article Macleans!

    • Canada should not allow the Israel operations especially raising Bonds.They are the cause of major problems:Occupy West Bank,Biggest Open air prison-Gaza,War with Lebanon,etc and in defiance of UN resolutions.

  6. Yes Iran is going to take over Canada and ban hockey…..go find a place to hide LOL!!!!!

  7. Iran phobia is a trend in the so called main stream media, CNN, FOX, CTV…. But, you never see any article or report on Israel atrocities against Palestinians daily.

  8. Not all but a major
    section of the Iranian Students is Islamic regime’s means of gathering intelligence
    on Iranian in Diaspora. This is very well known fact in Iranian –Canadian community.

    Closed door meetings for promoting Iranian culture that
    seems to be arranged by Iranian student may in fact have the Regime’s behind it.

    To protect the Iranian –Canadian citizens who are here in Canada and their relatives in Iran Canadian government
    must pay close attention to all Iranian Regime’s activate in Canada. .

  9. Hell no that I will send my sons and daughters to go and fight for a racist apartheid foreign country 8000 miles away that has leeched off of Canada and America for far too long. My son who is in the Air Force told me that he siigned up to protect Canada and NOT wage wars of aggression for Israel-Firsters’ PRECIOUS (said like Golem in the Lord of the Rings) IsraHell

  10. This comment was deleted.

    • What a crock of Bulls#%t!! Israel has not murdered thousands of Palestinian kids. You seem to be confusing Israel with Iran’s big buddy Syria. Why don’t you protest what is happening in Syria instead of Israel…..who uses kids as shields…..why the noble Syrian forces… you truly are a piece of unmitigated dirt…

  11. I encourage everyone who is sick of Israel-Firsters manipulation and corruption of America’s body politic through IsraHell’s special interests like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and through the Evangelical Christian movement to go to the Facebook page of the organization called “Christians United for Israel”, and challenge Israel-Firsters there by pointing out the truth that IsraHell is a racist apartheid state that has been leeching off America for fifty plus years with the aid of Israel-Firster stooges like Rick Sanatorium! This way, good Evangelical Christians will become aware of how Israel-Firsters like Saatorium has been manipulating them into supporting him while sacrificing America’s cash dollars and vital interests to IsraHell. By providiing good Evangelical Christians with an alternative narrative to what has been spoon fed them by deceitful Evangelical leaders, they will be able to benefit from not just a countervailing opinion but this will lead to a breakdown of the most fundamental strategy that Israel-Firsters use to control America’s body politic!
    It’s been my experience that Israel-Firsters use the ongoing same tactic of false smears of anti-Semitism, Nazi, and all the ad hominem insults that they use to besmirch anyone who dares to criticize IsraeHell so I will categorically say in advance that I personally condemn anti-Semites, Nazi’s, and other racists such as Nutty-Yahoo of IsraeHell without any equivocation whatsoever. 
    I will also state strongly and unequivocally that Judaism is a noble religion that has given much to the world whose good name has been hijacked by racist and anti-Semitic Israel-Firsters in both IsraeHell and in America and that many Jewish people of conscience as well as righteous Christians are now beginning to challenge these Israel-Firsters so more power to them.
    http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/were-jews-ever-really-slaves-in-egypt-or-is-passover-a-myth-1.420844
    On that note, Israel-Firsters will undoubtedly attack me even more ferociously (and with even greater ineptitude heh,heh,heh….), given that they can’t do anything else seeing as how even in Israel itself now, and in Israeli newspapers like Haaretz, Jewish writers are challenging the entire narrative of the flight from Egypt as a myth by pointing out how absolutely no archaeological evidence exists whatsoever about this non-event  on any level that one can consider: 
    Good decent Christians should particularly note how this non-event about a so-called Exodus of Jews from slavery has been used to shape the narrative about the return to IsraHell by those that Israel deems as Jews (but who are, in reality, descendants of the Khazars and the Berber Arabs, and Yemeni Arabs who converted to Judaism, and were NOT descended from the ancient Hebrews of the Bible), at the expense of both Christian Palestinians and Muslim Palestinians  (who are the actual and direct descendants of the ancient Hebrews of the Bible).  
    Good Christians should also note how this non-event of the Exodus is constantly used by snake oil selling Evangelical leaders to bamboozle followers and suck them into giving even more money to their Church or to the parasitic state of IsraeHell that has been leeching off of America for fifty plus years and still counting even though America is in the midst of a terrible economic crisis, as school, bridges and roads decay,  and millions of Americans face foreclosures on their mortgages and tens of millions are living in the constant danger of losing their jobs. To this Israel-Firsters respond with their mindless refrain that “those that bless Israel will be blessed by God”…..
    Well considering that the USA has been blessing parasitic IsraHell with tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars over the past fifty years, yeah sure, America has been blessed NOT except with debt as Israelis live well off the tax dollars of hard working Americans with no end to the leeching in sight!!
    Now Israel-Firsters can froth and fulminate all that they want about having faith that the non-event of the Exodus out of Egypt did happen and was real and yada yada yada but alas for them when reality bites, faith becomes just so fickle given that once the truth is out, it is out forever!!!
    On that note, good Christians do read and enjoy as Israel-Firsters do their darndest to try to smear me…no matter as for every word of hate they might spew, I will  show them my love as Jesus would have encouraged by turning the other cheek so that they can clearly hear……. heh,heh,heh….  
    http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/were-jews-ever-really-slaves-in-egypt-or-is-passover-a-myth-1.420844

  12. These comments are close to racist, especially Lancesphyr calling the country Israhell instead of Israel. How about we call Palestinians what they truly are- Arabs. They have been calling themselves Palestinians for so long they forgot that they were abondoned by the neighbouring countries of Syria, Jordan, Egypt Iraq, lebanon so long ago. They joined the armies of the Arabs to try and push them into the sea. This didn’t work so they are trying other methods. They have learned from Hitler, who was also trying to use the Arab nations to destroy the Jews in WW2. So many allied against the Jews that it is almost a miracle they exist at all in that part of the world. The recognition of the State of Israel by the U.N. in 48 created a country and a war. All of the Arab countries allied themselves against Israel and Israel pushed back. Gee, they actually defended themselves. What a concept. Now they are accused of killing “Palestinian” kids. Why not look at the reality. Israel has defended itself against all manner of enemies including so called “Palestinains” and Arabs. This area was all under the Ottoman empire for over 500 years. Why don’t the “Palestinians” call themselves Ottoman’s. Palestinian was a name invented by the Romans back in the first century AD. Read some old maps and you’ll see that’s a name invented by another occupier of this area. Is this what the ARabs of this area really want, to be named by an Italian.

  13. First of all, I don’t believe a world of what Ali Tabatabai has claimed, he is probably looking for some excuse to seek asylum in Canada and get residence here, that’s how refugees get their case started, protesting in front of Iranian embassy officials and then claiming their family is facing prosecution at home…BUZZZZZ…who can verify his claims?….the regime in Iran doesn’t go after families for making a noise at a conference 11000 km away, that’s what all Iranians know (especially those Iranians who are not living in their own paranoid thoughts, but even the opposition knows that by heart, after all, if they knew their family or relatives were in danger they wouldn’t participate in protests in here), so I’d say BULLSHIT, he is lying for an asylum case, second, what does the regime in Iran care if someone says or does something 11000 kms away? anyone who has been to Iran can confirm that people say things against the regime in Tehran, especially Tehran taxis are famous for heated pro regime and anti regime discussions among passengers, and no one cares what people say against the regime even in Tehran, because word is cheap. But of course, there’s an Iranian diaspora here, consisting many refugees from different opposition groups who need to feel they are doing important stuff against the Iranian regime (while all they are doing is cheap talk), so they make claims about the Iranian regime spying on the diaspora or trying to influence the diaspora!, this is merely a joke to anyone who knows the mentality of the Iranian regime. The regime doesn’t see opposition groups living abroad as a threat, as matter of fact the Iranian diaspora in north america is a subject of jokes to Iranian society and Iranian state TV.
    Finally for you Michael, I recommend that you update your references and do not believe what ever you hear from opposition Iranians living here. Get first hand information by visiting Iran :)

    • Not that I care about the Iranian regime or the Iranian diaspora, as far as I am concerned, they can both go to hell……..

    • Amir: Its interesting that you tell the author of this article to check his references; maybe you should do the same. A few questions asked from the active Iranian community in Ottawa and Canada, and a very simple check online will reassure you that Mr.Tabatabaie is not an “average protester” in front of the embassy seeking asylum. Ali Tabatabaie is an active member of anti-regime movements outside of Iran. His ties to family members in Iran mentioned in this article are accurate and true and a fact that can be double checked with Iranian officials as they have publicized it themselves. Above all else, Mr.Tabatabaie is a legitimate landed immigrant in Canada, he does not need asylum and he is by no means a refugee (not that there is anything wrong with either asylum seekers or refugees). Get your facts straight.

      And really, you recommend for Michael to go to Iran and conduct first-hand journalistic work? I bet Mr.Petrou, along with hundreds of other journalists, would love to travel to Iran and do this, but unfortunately they either fear for their safety or are simply not allowed in the country.

      Finally, this article simply draws attention to the Iranian government’s activities outside of Iran, which by the way is nothing novel, out of this world or unheard of. Governments all across the world have engaged in this type of behaviour for centuries, this article simply draws attention to the case of Iran’s activity in Canada. It is something that we need to be aware of, and as Canadians decide whether we want such influence within Canada. Your efforts at delegitimizing this article, its author and the mentioned witnesses within it and taking attention away from its message are simply baseless.

  14. Dear Michael, I just heard straight from the horse’s mouth that this meeting in Cornwall happened behind closed doors in a small circle in Sept. and after the closure of the IRI embassy and somehow we did not hear about it.

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