British Columbia

Iranian-Canadians in B.C. worry about fallout from U.S. assassination of Soleimani

Iranian-Canadians in B.C. are watching with concern what the fallout will be for their friends, family, and the world after the U.S. assassination of a top Iranian general.

Life will become harder for those in Iran, many fear

Siamand Zandi left Tehran as a political refugee in 1984. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Iranian-Canadians in B.C. are watching with concern what the fallout will be for their friends, family, and the world after the U.S. assassination of a top Iranian general.

The U.S. Department of Defence confirmed that President Donald Trump ordered an airstrike near Baghdad's airport on Friday to target Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

The 62-year-old general had been responsible for fighters backing Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in that country's ongoing conflict, and for the deaths of U.S. troops in Iraq. Trump ordered the killing because he said Soleimani had been planning attacks on U.S. diplomats and service members.

Some fear the fallout over the assassination could trigger wider war.

According to census data from 2016, there are more than 200,000 people living in Canada with Iranian origins. Many escaped their home country's authoritarian rule and associated human rights issues.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has been in power since 1989 in Iran, which last year celebrated the 40th anniversary of the revolution that ushered in an Islamic regime.

Siamand Zandi left Tehran as a political refugee in 1984 and went to France. In 2002 he moved to Toronto and since 2006 has called Port Moody, B.C., home. He says he doesn't condone violence, but isn't sad about Soleimani's assassination.

"To be honest, I was happy," he said about hearing the news. "One of the known terrorists of the world is out of action now."

Still, he says he is concerned about what the killing will mean for his fellow Iranians in his home country who are living under U.S. sanctions, which target financial assets and oil exports. In November, thousands of people protested a hike in fuel prices in the country.

"Iran is a very rich country, but the people are really, really poor," said Zandi.

Fred Soofi came to Canada from Iran in 1974, but hasn't been back in more than 30 years. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

Fred Soofi came to Canada in 1974 at the age of 22 and flourished in the restaurant business. He now lives in Port Moody, B.C., and hasn't been back to Iran in more than 30 years over fears for his safety.

"It worries me," he said about further instability in the country. "I'm worried about retaliation."

Zandi and Soofi want Canada to put pressure on Iran to improve the lives of Iranians. Both want a new regime in Iran so that a new generation might flourish rather than live in fear and under poor conditions. 

'Diplomacy is how you avoid war'

Tehran has vowed retaliation against the U.S. There is a move to have U.S. forces leave Iraq and, on Sunday, Iran said it would no longer abide by any of the limits of a 2015 nuclear deal, abandoning key provisions that block Tehran from having enough material to build an atomic weapon.

Michael Byers, who studies international relations at the University of British Columbia, said he is doubtful the conflict will escalate into a shooting war, as the U.S. has superior resources. However, he said Trump's actions have created what he described as a dangerous situation in the Middle East.

He said Canada has a role in helping to de-escalate tensions.

"Escalation would harm everyone and therefore we do have to pull back and reinitiate diplomacy," he said. "Diplomacy is how you avoid war. Donald Trump is not a very good diplomat, but some people have to try."

On Friday, Canada's foreign affairs minister called on all sides to exercise restraint.

With files from Jon Hernandez

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