Kathryn Blaze Carlson Jul 11, 2012 – 11:30 PM ET | Last Updated: Jul 12, 2012 8:43 AM ET
Tyler Anderson/National Post files
The embassy in Ottawa is known to use cultural events as a way to spread their propaganda, Nazanin Afshin-Jam says.
One of Canada’s most recognizable Iranian-born activists says Iran’s embassy in Ottawa should be shut down amid allegations the Islamic regime is using its office here to recruit Iranian-Canadians to serve Tehran’s interests.
“[The embassy] has no purpose here,” said Nazanin Afshin-Jam, a human rights activist who fled Iran in 1979 after her father was imprisoned and tortured. “The embassy in Ottawa sometimes uses cultural events as an excuse to spread their own propaganda.”
Ms. Afshin-Jam’s call for an eviction follows news of an alleged mobilization effort described by Hamid Mohammadi, Iran’s cultural counsellor in Ottawa, in an interview with an Iran-based website aimed at Iranian expatriates in Canada. In his Farsi-language interview with Iranians Residing Abroad, Mr. Mohammadi said, “We need to put into effect very concentrated cultural programs in order to enhance and nurture the culture in this fast-growing [Iranian-Canadian] population. It is obvious that this large Iranian population can only be of service to our beloved Iran through these programs and gatherings.”
On Tuesday, Canada’s Foreign Affairs department warned Iranian diplomats against interfering in the “choices” of Iranian-Canadians who have “rejected the oppressive Iranian regime and have chosen to come to Canada to build better lives.”
Iran’s top diplomat to Canada has denied the embassy is recruiting ethnic Iranians here to be of service to Tehran, but Iranian-Canadian activists have been trying to shut down the office for years because they say it monitors and intimidates Iranian newcomers
Ms. Afshin-Jam, who is married to Defence Minister Peter MacKay, said she believes embassy officials attended and recorded her March 28 appearance at an Advocates for Civil Liberties conference in Toronto. She said she and her relatives have over the years received death threats — from whom, she is not sure — saying that if she does not stop speaking out against the Iranian regime, “we’re going to come get you.”
I don’t want to see Canada become a safe haven for the Islamic regime and those affiliated with the dictatorship
“Generally, I feel safe in this country, but more and more I feel unsafe,” said Ms. Afshin-Jam, adding that she has hired security for some of her speaking engagements.
Although Ms. Afshin-Jam said the Iranian embassy in Ottawa is “not legitimate” and “does not represent our voices,” she also said she did not want “innocent Iranians like students or family members needing visas to suffer as a result” of an embassy closure.
Iran’s top diplomat to Canada has denied the embassy is recruiting ethnic Iranians here to be of service to Tehran, but Iranian-Canadian activists have been trying to shut down the office for years because they say it monitors and intimidates Iranian newcomers.
“[Iranian-Canadians] call it the ‘house of terror,’” said Sayeh Hassan, a Toronto-based criminal lawyer who fled Iran 25 years ago and has for years pressured Ottawa to close the embassy. “I don’t want to see Canada become a safe haven for the Islamic regime and those affiliated with the dictatorship, rather than a safe haven for people who are running away from the dictatorship.”
Ms. Hassan said the embassy uses its ties to university student associations to infiltrate campuses, pointing to a recent event hosted at Carleton University in Ottawa last month that celebrated the religious and political teachings of Iran’s former theocratic ruler, Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini.
The event was organized by the Iranian Culture Association of Carleton University and the Cultural Centre of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The cultural centre confirmed on Wednesday it is affiliated with the Iranian embassy but declined to comment on the allegations. Last month, Maclean’s magazine revealed the head of the Carleton culture association is Ehsan Mohammadi — the son of the Iranian cultural counsellor who recently mapped out the embassy’s plan to ensure Iranian-Canadians “occupy high-level key positions” and “resist being melted into the dominant Canadian culture.”
Ms. Afshin-Jam was among the seven activists and academics who last month wrote to Carleton objecting to the June 2 event, which, according to the cultural centre’s own report “provided the perfect image of how great the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran truly was.”
“I was incensed upon learning that Carleton University collaborated with the Iranian Embassy and gave a platform to regime supporters,” Ms. Afshin-Jam wrote in a June 7 email to Carleton’s president, Roseann O’Reilly Runte. “[Ayatollah Khomeini] was a man who was personally responsible for the death and torture of countless innocent Iranians.”
I was incensed upon learning that Carleton University collaborated with the Iranian Embassy and gave a platform to regime supporters
The younger Mohammadi told Postmedia News last month that Ms. Afshin-Jam and the other letter-writers were not justified in their concerns because “it is against the principles of Multiculuralism, Charter of Rights and Freedoms, freedom of speech which are the significant principles of the Constitution of Canada.”
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