A closer look at the links between Tehran and a Carleton student club

Maclean’s exclusive: Michael Petrou reports on a Carleton club that essentially serves as extension of Iranian embassy


The president of the Iranian Cultural Association of Carleton University, a student group, has solicited money for the club from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s close friend and chief of staff.

Ehsan Mohammadi, the student group’s president, wrote Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei to ask for money to fund a celebration of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, saying the student group would invite a wide variety of dignitaries, including diplomats and members of Canadian provincial and federal governments.

“Therefore, I humbly request that, at your approval and discretion, in addition to your moral support, please assist us financially to cover the cost of the event,” he wrote in the Sept. 27, 2011, letter. The letter was written in Farsi on paper displaying the logos of both Carleton University and the Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA), which oversees student groups at the university.

Homayoun Hamidi, a deputy director in the office of the president, subsequently sent at least two letters on Mashaei’s behalf to Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s minister of foreign affairs. One, dated Dec. 19, 2011, noted that a copy of Mohammadi’s letter was forwarded to Salehi so that he might follow up and take “necessary measures.”

Ehsan Mohammadi is the son of Hamid Mohammadi, who was Iran’s cultural counsellor at the Iranian embassy before all Iranian diplomats were ordered to leave Canada last week. That Ehsan Mohammadi felt he could directly ask for money from Iran’s office of the president shows just how close were ties between the Carleton University student group and the Iranian embassy.

Indeed, the status and future of Carleton’s Iranian Cultural Association are uncertain now that the Iranian embassy has been ordered to close. The embassy provided much of the student group’s funding and organizational support—though it is clear that Ehsan Mohammadi had no qualms about going directly to Tehran for money.

It is also possible that with the Iranian embassy shut down, Iran will rely more on the unofficial outposts it has established here, including co-opted student groups such as the one at Carleton.

While Iran’s ties with the Carleton club are particularly developed, they are not unique. In June, the embassy co-sponsored a panel at York University on “Islam and the Challenges of Modernity” with the Thaqalayn Muslim Association, a York student group. When faculty and students opposed to the Islamic Republic protested the embassy’s involvement, it was dropped as a sponsor.

The Iranian government has also tried to build ties with Iranians in Canada, as well as with other sympathetic Muslims, through mosques and schools, by funding and organizing conferences, and by offering prominent Iranian Canadians all-expenses-paid trips to Iran.

In 2008, the Iranian embassy founded the Center for Iranian Studies at 290 Sheppard Ave. W. in Toronto—supposedly an academic centre that hid its ties to the Iranian government while reaching out to Iranian students in Toronto with offers of assistance and funding for Farsi classes and cultural events.

Iran’s aspirations for Iranian immigrants in Canada, and for other Muslims here, do not appear to include integration, or even compliance with Canada’s system of governance. Speaking last year at the launch of a book by Zafar Bangash, a Muslim activist in Toronto, Kambiz Sheikh-Hassani, Iran’s now-expelled chargé d’affaires, told the audience:

“You live in Canada. Liberal democracy is not compatible with our way of life. We have to have our own type of governance. We call it, in Iran, Islamic Republic system of governance. Well, we have been trying to evolve it for 32 years. Has it been easy? Of course not. Is it working? Of course, yes. Because, definitely, we are stronger today, praise to God, from 32 years ago. So it is working. We have to work. It is a dire need of the Islamic world.”

Sheikh-Hassani described the Muslim prophet Muhammad as the first ruler of an Islamic state. “If we are able to learn from this part of his biography, God willing, we will be able to better govern our societies that [are] going to fall into the hands of Muslims, God willing, one by one.”

Mashaei—the man Ehsan Mohammadi hoped would fund the Carleton student group’s New Year’s celebration—is a controversial figure in Iran: powerful, yet despised by many of the country’s clerics.

The Islamic Republic was founded on the idea that the Mahdi, or the 12th Imam, was hidden by God in the ninth century but will return one day to redeem mankind. Until then, the theory goes, clerics should run things under a system of government known as the Guardianship of the Jurist. It is reputed in Iran that Mashaei and his supporters believe he has a direct link to the Hidden Imam, making the mullahs superfluous.

Ahmadinejad’s friendship with Mashaei has driven a wedge between the president and much of the country’s religious establishment, including Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But Ahmadinejad still keeps Mashaei close. The president’s son is married to Mashaei’s daughter. A confidential U.S. diplomatic cable, revealed by Wikileaks, reported speculation that Ahmadinejad was grooming Mashaei to succeed him.

Ehsan Mohammadi’s letter to Mashaei said the Iranian student club at Carleton was founded “with a mission to introduce and promote Iranian culture and has succeeded to take constructive steps to promote Iranian culture, art, science, religion and politics.”

In practice, the club has functioned as an extension of the Iranian embassy. The embassy frequently sponsored its events, and Sheikh-Hassani spoke at them. It gave no voice to Iranian dissidents and instead parroted the propaganda of the Iranian government in Tehran.

Earlier this year, it organized a conference honouring Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Islamic Republic’s founding dictator. The conference provoked outrage from many Iranian Canadians who came to Canada specifically to escape the violence and repression of the system of government that Khomeini established.

Some Iranian students at Carleton who are opposed to the Iranian government worry that anti-regime activities they engage in at the university will be reported back to Tehran by members of the student association. “They have created a sense of fear,” one student told Maclean’s.

In the end, there was no gala Nowruz celebration at the National Arts Centre—though the Iranian Cultural Association of Carleton University organized a more modest affair at the university in March. A few dozen people attended, including Sheikh-Hassani and Hamid Mohammadi. André Plourde, Carleton’s dean of public affairs, spoke at the event, as did Yasir Naqvi, the Liberal MPP for Ottawa Centre.

Iran, however, has generously funded the Carleton student group. Maclean’s has seen the fall 2011 and winter 2012 budgets that the Iranian Cultural Association submitted to the Carleton students’ association. The budgets report more than $1,600 donated by the “Cultural Centre of Iran in Ottawa,” which is part of the Iranian embassy, and the Center for Iranian Studies, the Iranian embassy front in Toronto. It is unclear whether this money originated with Mashaei in Iran’s office of the president.

Even before Canada shuttered Iran’s embassy in Ottawa, it had adopted sanctions severely limiting financial transactions with Iran. A spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird would not say whether a student group accepting money from the Iranian government violated Canada’s sanctions policy.

Steven Reid, a Carleton University spokesman, said the university does not have a policy that dictates whether outside organizations may fund student groups. He said each group is accountable to its members and, ultimately, to CUSA.

During the 2011-12 academic year, the Iranian Cultural Association also received more than $1,400 from CUSA, which is funded through student fees. Alexander Golovko, CUSA president, did not respond to interview requests.

Ehsan Mohammadi, president of the Iranian Cultural Association of Carleton University, was approached by Maclean’s but also declined comment.

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A closer look at the links between Tehran and a Carleton student club

  1. Another reason to shut down the Iranian embassy and cut ties with this terrorist country. Good job Mr. Harper, keep up the good work!

    • funny how kidnapping one Israeli soldier is touted for years, by Harper and the gossip channels, as being an act of extreme terror worthy of massive retalitory bombings — and at the same time, The Israeli Army blowing up schools, red cross trucks, UN outposts and thousands of civilians in Palestimne and Lebanon is spun as an almost “humanitarian mission.”

  2. Carleton has always been a far-left wing university. They allow muslim public prayers on campus, invite all kinds of terrorists to speak and most of the courses are taught there by militant feminists, eco-radicals and NDP supporters.

    • Carleton a far-left wing university? Hardly. York, yes. But not Carleton. Preston Manning of course fronts his now discredited school of political management at Carleton. Carleton is cozy now with business.

      • The student association at Carleton has banned blood drives because their policies are “homophobic”. It also defunds any organisation it ties to the “apartheid” situation in Israel, refuses to fund all pro-life groups and it won’t fund a christian charity in campodia, because it sees such organisations as “Neo-colonial, and thus racist.”

        It’s pretty left.

        For the record, no one complains about islamic prayer room (Actual

        • The “student association” and “Carleton University” are not the same thing. They are separate institutions, with separate leadership, separate governance and separate goals. Blaming one for the policies of the other is a little like blaming GM for the policies of the UAW.
          Similarly, every one of the thought crimes you list here are common in student associations across the country, so it would seem that your objection isn’t to Carleton, it’s to student politics. Complaining about student association idealism is kind of like griping about overpaid celebrities or the crappy music kids listen to these days.

    • just because you disagree with them doesn’t make them far left.
      most of the moslem clerics you deride so readily are serious conservatives and would probably have more in common with conservatives here than leftists.

    • Gosh, praying and speakers….. that would be freedom of religion and freedom of speech….two things Cons claim they’re all for!

      And I see now you’ve tossed feminists, ecologists and NDPers in with terrorists?

      Don’t be daft.

    • I’m actually quite proud that Carleton offers up one of its theatres to allow Muslim students to pray there. That’s part of being an inclusive society. If we were suddenly opposed to the notion of allowing Muslims to practice their religion publicly I would have a real problem with that. There is also a Catholic chaplaincy, and Chabad as well as Hillel are both prominent student organisations at Carleton. I am not a Muslim, but there are many Muslims at this school and Im quite happy to call them my peers. These are friends of mine that I live and study with. I want them to be able to pray publicly.

      I also have yet to see a militant feminist or eco-radical teach any of my courses. Certainly there are professors who are of the far-left persuasion, but again Im quite happy to see that! There are also many professors that are quite staunchly right-wing. In my opinion, being taught by individuals with wide-ranging viewpoints is beneficial to my education. Im quite happy to be taught by NDP supporters, though Im far from a Dipper myself!

    • Yes, Rob, it is terrible that an institution like a University allows students to pray. Openly! The government should direct the University administrators to crack down on all unauthorized thoughts immediately. Are there any other unclean thoughts that people have been thinking over there? What are you suggestions for the appropriate punishments for such crimes? Expulsion? Or should the administration be more pro-active and submit the thought criminals to some kind of re-eduction regime? Your further thoughts on the matter are very much appreciated.

    • Praying and speaking openly?! Its almost as if we live in a free country. Take your hatred elsewhere.

  3. More than thirty years people of Iran are complaining about the atrocities in Iran, Finally, the Canadian government was aware of this important, Any how I do Send my gratitude to the Government of Canada.

  4. Shame on the Canadian government for letting these individuals in the country in the first place.

  5. Freedom to practice your religion is different than to pray like a big crowd openly.Expressing your religion and promoting it is against secular state . When exactly Canadian wants to understand that?? Stop killing open minds.

  6. As an Iranian-Canadian the only reason I left Iran was to get away from these people and they are all over Canada now. I’m happy about the closure of the Iranian embassy but it should be followed by recognition and expel of all of the people related to Iranian government from Canada.

    • amen.

  7. So the connection between Hillell groups and other Israeli student activists groups is fine with the state of Israel- a country which illegali occupies another state (ie not parellel with Canadian values) , but a student cultural group having connection with its home state Iran is a no no? You people have never been to Iran, do not know Iranians nor the difficulties it is to be an Iranian, shutting this country out will only lead to war. You people are so ignorant to see that our government along with our press is answering to foreign lobby groups to go fight Israel’s enemies. Let them go fight their own bloody wars, and stop influencing us to go fight them. Iran is not a model country, BUT neither is Israel- both are primitive countries- let them go be primitive amongst themselves and leave us alone- once we have facilitated that idea- both states will be more rationale in their outlook of foreign policy. But the case is now- like a 6 year old kid walking around in a bar and throwing rocks at a biker and saying- my big brother will fight you if you hit me back. It’s time to let the 6 year old sober up.

    • Based on your distorted views and outright lies, if I were you, Id demand my money back from ANY institution you studied at. You are and remain, extremely ignorant. Or just maybe, you are yet another Islamic-Fascist sympathizer.

      • well judging by your last name im sure youre impartial. Your loyalty is not to Canada but to a bunch of rubble in the Middle East, I suggest you go live there and stop influencing us here, you people abuse the word Fascist to the point where it no longer has any meaning. Islamic-Fascist sympathizer? You’ll make up any buzz words you can- you’re just another Israeli who wants the goy to go fight your war. You can guilt our public now- but history will redeem.

    • interesting logic, jackspro27, begging for question whether you an intelligent individual at all;the only democratic state in the Middle East,the country which leads in so many aspects of science,art,culture to be called primitive says it all

  8. This immigration and multiculturalism thing just keeps on getting better, doesn’t it? I suppose we need to keep bringing over thousands more new immigrants every year to make these foreign-sponsored organizations evern stronger here in Canada?

  9. And how’s that religious accommodation and Muslim prayer rooms in public schools policy working for you, Mr. McGuinty?

  10. 70000 Iranian in BC need to be awake !!!!!! Ther are so many things that we can do about the reminder of islamic rejim chart in CANADA !

  11. 70000 Iranian in BC need to be awake !!!!!! There are so many things that we can do about the reminder of islamic rejim chart in CANADA !

  12. Wow! The comments on this page are brutal, really shows how ignorant the readers of Macleans can be. A persons religion and culture does not make them a terrorist. Please don’t limit your mind to the liberal media theatre. You live in a country that has access to information, do your research and stop believing blindly what a journalist employed by a corporation is telling you.

  13. Keep these mongrels that support these despot dictators in fanatical countries out of schools

  14. I just wish they would stop linking the Iranian government with Islam. There’s next to nothing about Iran that’s Islamic except the false name it has given itself.

  15. Is it against the law to be associated with the Iranian governmemnt? No, well then I don’t care.

  16. Good on them if they want to host a cultural celebration at Carlton, just like the thousands of other cultural celebrations at Universities around the world every year. It’s embarassing that anyone would have a problem with that in Canada

  17. Good on them if they are trying to raise money for a fun cultural celebration. It’s embarrassing that any student group would be attacked so malignantly here in Canada