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Canada & Iran


Canada’s aggression against Iran isn’t widely known.

For example, did you know that over the past year or so Canadian naval vessels have been regularly patrolling Iran’s coast?

"About 800 Canadian sailors are patrolling the politically turbulent waters near Iran and Pakistan," explained an article in the National Post at the end of July. In February, the Ottawa Citizen reported that the HMCS Charlottetown was patrolling 1,500 metres from Iranian territorial waters as part of a 50-ship armada under the USS Harry Truman carrier strike group.

In early July, a National Post reporter on board a Canadian naval vessel explained: "The usual tense games were played this weekend as this Canadian warship responsible for refueling and replenishing a coalition task force in the Indian Ocean passed in a heavy haze through one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints. Iranian radio operators trying to hail the [Canadian vessel] Protecteur were interrupted by Omanis who firmly told their neighbours not speak to the Canadians who were making an ‘innocent passage’ through Omani territorial waters."

And what is the reason for Canada’s provocative military presence near the shores of Iran? To support Sousan Razani and Shiva Kheirabadi, who were sentenced to 15 lashes and four months in prison for participating in a May Day celebration in the city of Sanandaj earlier this year? Or Abdullah Khani, who got 91 days in prison and 40 lashes and Seyed Qaleb Hosseini who was sentenced to six months and 50 lashes? Or perhaps the Conservatives have sent Canadian sailors half way around the world to free Mansour Osanloo, a leader of Tehran’s bus workers, who remains in jail after being sentenced to five years in July 2007 for his union activities? Of course, Stephen Harper using military might to support Iranian union rights is absurd.

Everyone knows Canada’s central motivation is to support U.S. policy. If tomorrow the U.S. decided to once again support an undemocratic, repressive Iranian government (as it did the Shah’s regime for decades) would Canada’s warships remain? Of course not.

But the military assistance this country offers is only a small part of Canada’s contribution to the war on Iran. We also gather intelligence. The Canadian embassy in Tehran was accused of spying by Iranian parliamentarians a year and half ago and the book Unexpected War claims that some Foreign Affairs officials wanted Canada’s headquarters in Afghanistan located in the west of the country, "so that Canada could get a better window on Iran."

From the military sphere to the economic realm Ottawa is trying to squeeze Iran. Foreign Affairs’ trade website makes it clear that "doing business with Iran is thinly-tolerated and much-controlled," according to Embassy Magazine. At the UN, Canada has voted for the ongoing trade embargo in strategic materials on Iran.

The diplomatic sphere may be where Ottawa is most active in attacking Iran. That country has been blocked from proper diplomatic relations since Ottawa rejected Iran’s last two ambassadorial candidates. With scant evidence, the Canadian government claims the proposed ambassadorial candidates were connected to the 1979-81 U.S. embassy hostage crisis (in response Tehran sent Canadian ambassador John Mundy home).

Ottawa has worked diligently to discredit Iran’s human rights record. In November 2007, CanWest reported, "In what one western diplomat described as a ‘division of labour’, among western governments to keep up the pressure on Iran, the big European powers and the United States lead western efforts to convince Iran to roll back its nuclear program while Canada has spearheaded resolutions denouncing the way Iran treats huge numbers of its people."

For the past couple of years Canada has sponsored an annual UN resolution condemning Iran’s "ongoing systematic violations of human rights." Not coincidentally, the federal government funded "arms length" human rights NGO, Rights and Democracy, has also focused considerable energy attacking Iran. They gave their 2007 John Humphrey Freedom Award to Akbar Ganji, a leading Iranian dissident.

Similar to U.S. accusations that Iran is arming anti-occupation forces in Iraq, on Christmas day in Kandahar Defense Minister Peter MacKay accused Iran of arming the Taliban. The claim is absurd since the Iranian regime and the Taliban are longtime enemies. A couple days later MacKay’s allegation was even dismissed by Canadian Brigadier General Marquis Hainse, NATO’s second in command in southern Afghanistan. But even if Iran were arming the Taliban, it pales in comparison to Ottawa sending thousands of troops half way across the world to support a handful of warlords every bit as brutal as the Taliban.

MacKay’s accusations are part of a concerted campaign led by Washington to portray Iran as a threat. Maybe having forgotten that Canada has a couple thousand troops occupying a nation bordering Iran and that Canadian warships are running provocative maneuvers off the coast of Iran, not the other way around, Eugenie Cormier-Lassonde, spokeswoman with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade recently told the Calgary Herald: "Rather than seeking to intimidate its neighbours with its nuclear and missile programs, Canada calls upon Iran to abide by the UN Security Council resolutions, co-operate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency, halt its nuclear program and enter into negotiations to resolve its nuclear dispute with the international community."

Canadian hypocrisy is on full display regarding Iran’s drive to develop nuclear energy or atomic weapons. When the brutal Shah was in power, Canada was prepared to sell Iran nuclear reactors. Recently, Canada and Jordan signed a nuclear energy deal and there is an agreement with Turkey on the table.

Canada also appears ready to sign an agreement to export nuclear reactors and energy to India, even though India has refused to sign the International Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. "Canada has changed its policy on nuclear nonproliferation to accommodate India’s entry into the club of countries that can trade openly in nuclear fuel and technology, despite its nuclear weapons programs," noted the Globe and Mail at the start of August.

At a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Sept. 20 2007, Canada abstained in a vote that asked Israel to place its nuclear weapons program under IAEA controls (the same controls demanded of Iran). The resolution passed 53 countries in favor and 2 against (the U.S. and Israel), with 47 abstentions. In October of last year, Ottawa abstained from an important UN resolution calling for nuclear powers to remove their weapons from high alert status. Marius Grinius, Canada’s ambassador to the UN Disarmament Conference, explained that the resolution was incompatible with NATO policy, which argues that nuclear weapons are "a fundamental component" of the alliance’s defence strategy.

How would Canadians feel if Iran, or any other country, treated our country the way Canada treats Iran?

Yves Engler is currently finishing a book on Canadian foreign policy tentatively titled Uncle Sam’s nephew: tales of Canadian imperialism. He is the author of two books: Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority (with Anthony Fenton) and Playing Left Wing: From Rink Rat to Student Radical.

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