Iranian immigrants 'rigorously' screened for regime links

Canada is carefully screening Iranians seeking to move to Canada, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says.

Immigration minister says Iranian-Canadians concerned regime members established in country

Canada is carefully screening Iranians seeking to become citizens, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Monday, a few days after it was announced Canada was closing its embassy. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Canada is carefully screening Iranians seeking to move to Canada, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said today.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird announced in a statement last Friday that Canada was closing its embassy in Tehran and kicking out Iranian diplomats.

Staff with the Canadian Embassy had already left Iran and Iranian diplomats in Canada had five days to leave, he said.

Immigration services had been removed from the embassy months ago. Speaking Monday in Ottawa, Kenney said that was in anticipation of the embassy's closure.

Those who want to apply to come to Canada must now go through the embassy in Ankara, Turkey, although Kenney says the Canadian government is looking at establishing a visa application centre through another country's embassy.

But Kenney warned that his department is "being very rigorous" in screening Iranian nationals for links to the regime of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"We want to ensure that people who may be inadmissible, that is to say those who may be associated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard ... the Basij or senior members of the regime are not admissible to Canada under Section 34 through 36 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act," Kenney said.

"Many in the Persian community in Canada have been concerned that people who have been close to, or members of, the regime and their relatives ... have in too many cases been able to establish residency in Canada," he said.

Concerns about Iran's threat to international security

Canada is joining the U.S. and Britain in cutting off diplomatic efforts.

Speaking to Evan Solomon, host of CBC News Network's Power & Politics, Kenney said the mission in Ottawa was being used for illicit purposes.

"There is licit listening, there is diplomatic listening and then there is national security violations. And there is harassment and intimidation and monitoring of our own community by forces of a dictatorship," Kenney said.

He also suggested the safety of Canadian diplomats was under threat with the American and British having left Tehran. The British closed their embassy last year after protesters stormed it and destroyed some of the offices. Iran was criticized for not providing proper protection.

"Who's next on the list for the Basij-related militia thugs to come in and intimidate?" Kenney said.

"Who is the lead country criticizing Iran at the United Nations General Assembly as the lead sponsor of the human rights resolution? What country is calling out Iran as a major threat to world peace and stability today, arguing for strong sanctions?"

A spokesman for the British foreign office said they understand Canada's concerns about the safety of its diplomatic personnel.

"We share many of Canada's concerns about Iran's threat to international security including its support to the Assad regime, which is prolonging the violence and uncertainty in Syria. We also have serious concerns about Iran's support for terrorist groups including the military wing of Hezbollah."

The U.S. hasn't had an embassy in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution in which 52 embassy staff were taken hostage for more than a year.

Anti-regime protesters praise move

Iranians arriving at the newly closed embassy in Ottawa have expressed frustration with the move.

Kiana Alizadeh, an Iranian-Canadian student from Montreal, said the government should have considered the needs of Iranians living in Canada.

The Raging Grannies protested in front of the newly closed Iranian embassy that Canada cut off its limited diplomatic relations with the country. (Tom Parry/CBC)

"These are the political things. I think it's not fair for the Iranians that are living here. They have to think of these people. So what should we do now?" she asked.

"I don't want to go back for living in my country but I have family there. You know, I have to go, for example, to see my parents."

The Raging Grannies protest group held an information picket outside the newly closed embassy on Monday. They held posters critical of the decision to remove the diplomats.

Representatives from anti-regime groups gathered in front of the Department of Foreign Affairs in Ottawa Monday afternoon.

Shahram Golestaneh, a spokesman for the Iran Democratic Association, said they have asked the Canadian government for years to cut ties with Iran. 

Canadian Friends of a Democratic Iran gathered in front of the Department of Foreign Affairs in Ottawa Monday afternoon to show their support for the decision to close the Canadian embassy in Tehran and to kick out all Iranian diplomats. (Tom Parry/CBC)

"I believe the very least it can do is send the right signal to the oppressed Iranian people," Golestaneh said. "I don't think that by itself it will [change the regime]. I don't think so. However, there has been many cases that Canada has led the way and other countries have followed. And I hope that this is also the case where other countries would follow."

Having diplomatic relations with the Iranian regime, Golestaneh said, only legitimizes it. 

While the Iran Democratic Association was thanking Baird publicly outside Canada's foreign affairs offices Monday, the group's activities are not without controversy: it has ties to the Mojahedin e Khalq, or MEK, also known as the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran.

MEK is currently listed by the Canadian government as a banned terrorist organization. In 2010, several Liberal MPs faced harsh criticism for travel sponsored by the IDA

MEK was financed by former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and used violent means to promote its objective of overthrowing the Iranian regime. But many Iranian opposition groups are affiliated with MEK.  

MEK renounced terrorism in 2001 and is relocating outside Iraq. The U.S. State Department is considering whether to de-list the group later this year and there are calls for Canada to do the same.

'Increasingly bad behaviour'

A spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry, Ramin Mehmanparast, called Canada's decision "hasty and extreme," and said Iran would soon respond, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

On Sunday, Harper said there was a long list of reasons for suspending diplomatic ties with Iran. He said one of the biggest reasons was increasing concern about the safety of embassy staff in Tehran, because the embassy is on a busy road and he was worried about attacks.

Harper, speaking at the conclusion of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Russia, said Canadian diplomats were recalled because of Iran's "capacity for increasingly bad behaviour."

"We know what Iran's record is, not just in terms of treatment of diplomatic personnel, but we know Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism that is pursuing a nuclear program contrary to its international obligations, that it engages in anti-Semitism and genocidal threats against the state of Israel, that [it] is arming the Assad regime.

"So I could go through the list — none of it's very good. Do I anticipate specific actions? No, not necessarily, but as I say, we should all know by now that this is a regime that does not stop at anything. So that's just the reality of the situation," he said.

With files from CBC News