Defence minister's wife opposed to Canadian troops in Iran

Nazanin Afshin-Jam, the human rights activist and wife of Defence Minister Peter MacKay, says the Iranian regime should be crippled in any way possible short of military intervention.

Iranian-born human rights activist Nazanin Afshin-Jam wants Iran's embassy closed

Human rights activist Nazanin Afshin-Jam, with her husband, Defence Minister Peter MacKay, says Canada should try to cripple the Iranian regime in any way possible outside of military intevention. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Cripple the Iranian regime in any way possible, outside of military intervention, human rights activist Nazanin Afshin-Jam said Friday.

The Iranian-born activist and wife of Defence Minister Peter MacKay said she's against a military mission in the country, but that Canada should shut down the embassy in Ottawa to send a message to Tehran, the country's capital.

"I'm very much against the idea of military intervention on Iran, so I'm always trying to find ways of crippling this regime in other ways," Afshin-Jam told Robyn Bresnahan, host of CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

"And one way would be showing symbolically that they're not welcome. Among other things, I believe shutting down Iranian embassies around the world would send a strong diplomatic message back to Iran. And I truly believe, why should we be giving an embassy for those who imprison, torture, and execute innocent people?"

Afshin-Jam is a prominent human rights activist who founded Stop Child Executions, and met MacKay when she was lobbying the Canadian government to save the life of a young Iranian woman sentenced to death for killing a man who tried to rape her. At the time, MacKay was the foreign affairs minister.

Afshin-Jam says she's told MacKay what she thinks about the Iranian embassy.

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"I've shared my views with him but I don't represent the opinion of the government or even my husband. I know there are reasons why they are keeping this [Iranian] embassy open."

Iran frightens prime minister

"It's not my one and only advice on what we should do to further advance the lives of freedom-loving Iranians. It's among many other kinds of symbolic and diplomatic measures short of military intervention, because as I said off the top I don't believe in military intervention, so we have to do everything before that," said Afshin-Jam.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said earlier this year that he and U.S. President Barack Obama have discussed "the full range of questions" around how to handle the aggressive Iranian regime, which has been repeatedly accused of building nuclear weapons.

Harper told Peter Mansbridge, CBC News' chief correspondent, that the Iranian regime, led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is dangerous and frightens him.

"While there's, I think, a growing belief of a number of governments that my assessment is essentially correct, I think there's still big uncertainty about what exactly to do," Harper said.

"Trade sanctions are something that just about everybody agrees on at some level, and everybody is doing at some level, but beyond that, these are not easy questions for the world."

Afshin-Jam said the Iranian embassy in Ottawa is illegitimate because it's run by a regime that abuses its citizens on a daily basis. She fears officials there monitor human rights and political activists, and "spew propaganda," charges the embassy denies. Afshin-Jam said her family and friends have been threatened and that she's sometimes scared, hiring security guards for her speaking engagements.

"I don't feel as safe and comfortable in Canada as I used to, but that's the unfortunate part. Because a lot of Iranians fled Iran to get away from the repression and to get away from the abuses that this regime imposes on the people. And my family brought me here to have a safe life and now I feel like sometimes I have to look over my shoulder to see if I'm safe."

Inconsistent with diplomatic mission

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said the Iranian government has no right to interfere with Canadians who left Iran to build a better life.

"Obviously we're concerned by some of the reports that we've heard," Baird said Friday.

"It is completely inconsistent with any diplomatic mission for the Iranian mission in Ottawa to interfere in the liberties that [Iranian-Canadians] enjoy in Canada. Any police organization will certainly take a look at any serious allegations that are raised in terms of their conduct. And obviously my department will watch very closely and will be pleased to hear any representations on anything that the embassy has done that is inconsistent with their function as diplomats in Ottawa."

Afshin-Jam said the idea of shutting down the embassy doesn't just apply to Tehran's representatives in Canada, but to other governments that torture and unfairly imprison their citizens.

"I have held protests outside the Chinese embassy before for their human rights abuses, and other governments as well. I think communities from those parts of the world should rise up if they believe in the same thing," Afshin-Jam said.