With so much on the line, why deny Iranian-Canadians a chance to vote in the upcoming election?

Many Iranians in Canada are eager for increased engagement between Ottawa and Tehran, as well as for greater opportunities to travel and participate in Iran's burgeoning economy. But the federal government won't set up extraterritorial polling booths.

The U.S. will have 55 different extraterritorial polling booths set up. Canada will have none

Many Iranians in Canada are eager for increased engagement between Ottawa and Tehran. (Nahlah Ayed/CBC)

On Friday, Iranians will head to the polls and likely either re-elect incumbent President Hassan Rouhani, or turn to his main rival, Ebrahim Raisi to form a new government. A number of Iranians residing outside the country — including nationals in the United States and Europe — will participate using extraterritorial polling booths.

But one place they won't be voting from? Canada.

Despite recent efforts at restoring diplomatic ties between Ottawa and Tehran, the Liberal government will not facilitate a way for the tens of thousands of Iranian nationals residing in Canada to participate in the upcoming election. The U.S. on the other hand, which broke off relations with Tehran in 1980, will have 55 different extraterritorial polling stations set up. Canada will authorize none.

Ottawa reportedly denied Tehran's request for polling stations due to Iran's lack of diplomatic presence in Canada (which didn't seem to be a problem for Washington, mind you). The decision comes two years after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first promised to re-engage and ultimately restore ties with Iran's government.

Severed relations

In 2012, Prime Minister Stephen Harper unilaterally severed all relations between Canada and Iran. That decision, as John Mundy, Canada's last ambassador in Tehran, wrote at the time, was primarily intended to further "isolate and delegitimize Iran" on the global stage. According to Mundy, the Harper government "acted to reduce the diplomatic opportunities for peace during a [nuclear] crisis" in the Middle East.

Since then, however, Iran's relations with the international community have undergone significant shifts. In 2013, Rouhani was elected to try to resolve the nuclear issue and end Iran's isolation from the West. The product of that objective was the historic nuclear agreement, which curbs and monitors Iran's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

In concert with the nuclear negotiations, Iran and the European Union have developed a political framework for strengthening relations, including improved dialogue on issues ranging from green energy to capital punishment. In the greater Middle East, Iranian support has been vital in assisting the Iraqi government's rout of ISIS militants from Iraqi territory, and Tehran is working alongside Russia and Turkey to spearhead Syrian peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan. And just last week, Canadian officials made their first official visit to Tehran since the embassy closed in 2012.

These developments, including calls for greater integration into the global economy, underscore the significance of this week's elections for Iranians living abroad, especially those who wish to exercise their democratic rights as citizens.

Many of Rouhani's government's policies have yet to translate into tangible economic benefits for millions of ordinary Iranians. (Ebrahim Noroozi/Associated Press)

Rouhani's agenda of "constructive engagement" is being challenged by opponents who claim that the economic windfall promised through the implementation of the nuclear accord has failed to materialize. Although Iran's economy, under Rouhani's watch, has experienced modest growth following the lifting of sanctions early last year, many of his government policies have yet to translate into tangible benefits for millions of ordinary Iranians.

To oust the president, his main political rivals have deployed campaigns driven by populist rhetoric, focused on ending poverty and combating corruption at home. For Raisi, engagement with the West — particularly the United States — is simply not a priority, particularly in light of the Trump administration's decision to put Iran "on notice."

High stakes

The truth is, since 1979, Iranians have elected vastly different leaders, each of whom has left his mark on the country's political landscape for years after leaving office. This time around, the stakes are just as high.

Many Iranians in Canada are eager for increased engagement between Ottawa and Tehran, as well as for greater opportunities to travel and participate in Iran's burgeoning economy.

Regardless of political stripe, Iranians place significant stock in the outcome of the country's presidential elections. The president is constitutionally empowered to make many high-level political appointments, to nominate cabinet members and ambassadors, to manage the treasury, to implement a budget and advance legislation with the will afforded by popular support.

With so much on the line why deny Iranian-Canadians political agency?

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.


Sam Khanlari is a Toronto-based writer and editor. His work has been featured in the Toronto Star, VICE, and Muftah magazine.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?