Canadian invitees to conferences hosted by the Iranian government this spring and summer, aimed at burnishing the country’s image, included a former candidate for the Green Party of Canada and Ontario, as well as a University of Alberta professor.
On Aug. 2 and 3, more than 1,000 Iranian expatriates were welcomed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the “Grand Conference of Iranians Living Abroad” in Tehran. Successful and well-placed Iranians were identified by Iranian embassies, and then offered an all-expenses-paid trip to the conference, with a side trip to a tourist destination. Organizer Mohammad Sharif Malekzadeh said expats are exposed to negative images about Iran because of “lying media organizations outside the country.” The conference would correct this misconception. But according to Potkin Azarmehr, an Iranian blogger based in London, its purpose was to demoralize Iranians “by hiring and bribing a mish-mash of sycophants and turncoats, to say to the Iranian people, despite all their suffering and sacrifices, Ahmadinejad’s administration and not them enjoy widespread support outside Iran.”
The Tehran conference followed an earlier gathering in May in the city of Shiraz, geared toward encouraging foreign investment. Among Canadian delegates was, reportedly, Akbar Manoussi, chair of “clean energy education” at the Willis College of Business, Health, and Technology in Ottawa. He ran federally for the Green Party of Canada in 2008, and for the Green Party of Ontario in 2007. He was, until recently, CEO of the Green party’s Ottawa-Vanier riding association.
Manoussi’s online Green party profile for the 2007 campaign says he is “secretary general” of the “Iranian Scholars Association of Canada”—an organization that appears to exist only on the Internet, and to which few, if any, of the many recognized Iranian academics in Canada belong. He is also identified as “director general” of the “Iranian Cultural Centre” in Ottawa, which shares the same address as the Iranian Embassy. According to a CBC online profile of 2008 election candidates, Manoussi was an advisory member of the RCMP’s “cultural diversity committee” in the National Capital Region. He is listed among foreign participants on the May conference website, and an Iranian journalist now living in Canada told Maclean’s that a colleague had identified Manoussi in photos of the event. One week after he was contacted by Maclean’s, Manoussi emailed and said he was in Iran and would consider responding to an interview request when he returned to Ottawa. In his email, he claimed to be president of the “Canada-Iran Friendship Council,” which received a letters patent from Canada’s Department of Industry in 2007, but which shows up on Internet searches only among lists of Manoussi’s credentials and affiliations.
Davood Rafiei, an associate professor in the department of computer science at the University of Alberta, attended the August Tehran conference. In an email to Maclean’s, he said he did so because he wanted to explore the possibility of co-operating with Iranian universities.
His attendance “was not (and should not be treated as) politically motivated in any form and does not support the practices of Ahmadinejad’s government,” he wrote. “In fact, I am against the handling of the latest presidential election and the treatment of protesters and political prisoners. I also have reservations about the economic and the foreign policies this government is adopting. The same view was shared by many other participants I had a chance to speak to in the congress.”