Trudeau says government monitoring after CSIS reports Iran has issued death threats against Canadians

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he's aware of reports that Iranians are "interfering" with the lives of Canadians and is monitoring the threats.

'I don't feel safe in Canada,' says human rights activist who fled Iran decades ago

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes questions as Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly looks on at the Francophonie Summit in Djerba, Tunisia on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he's aware of reports that Iranians are "interfering" with the lives of Canadians and his government is monitoring the threats.

CBC News reported Friday that Canada's spy agency is investigating what it calls multiple "credible" death threats from Iran aimed at individuals in Canada. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) said the threats undermine Canadians' safety and it is working with allies to respond.

"We are constantly watching and evaluating the threats posed to Canadians from foreign interference from a range of countries," Trudeau said at the Francophonie Summit in Djerba, Tunisia on Sunday.

"But obviously Iran is a significant concern these days, with not just the extraordinary heroics of women and girls in Iran standing up to the regime … We also know there are significant concerns about Iranians interfering with the wellbeing of Canadian citizens here in Canada."

WATCH: Trudeau reacts to reports of death threats against Canadians

Trudeau says he's aware of significant concerns about Iranians interfering with wellbeing of Canadians

4 months ago
Duration 1:07
CSIS told CBC News there are 'credible' death threats from Iran against individuals in Canada

Trudeau pointed out that the federal government announced a series of sanctions in recent weeks to ban Iran's leaders — including officials in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — from entering Canada. He said the goal is to ensure they can "never benefit from Canada, interfere in Canada or consider Canada a safe haven."

Reports of death threats come as Iran enters its third month of anti-government demonstrations triggered by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by the so-called morality police and died in custody after allegedly wearing her hijab improperly.

At least 341 people — including teenagers and children — have been killed and more than 15,800 have been detained in relation to Iran's protests, according to Human Rights Activists News Agency, an organization of Iranian activists. Experts suggest the true numbers could be much higher, given the regime's crackdown on the release of real-time information online.

Iran has kidnapped and assassinated activists, journalists and intellectuals abroad who speak out against the regime. Between 1988 to 1998, dozens of prominent Iranian dissidents abroad went missing or were killed.

WATCH/ CSIS investigating death threats from Iran against people in Canada

CSIS investigating death threats from Iran against people in Canada

4 months ago
Duration 2:04
CSIS is among a group of international spy agencies investigating ‘credible’ death threats originating from Iran against people abroad — including in Canada.

Kaveh Shahrooz, a Canadian-Iranian human rights activist and lawyer, is now calling on Canadian police and intelligence agencies to take the threats seriously. 

He said "our pleas for protection have fallen on deaf ears for a long time" and he now wants Trudeau to give additional resources to Canadian authorities tasked with protecting dissidents.

"Our lives are in their hands now," Shahrooz told CBC's News Network on Saturday.

Shahrooz is an Iranian-Canadian who is an outspoken critic of Iran's regime. He was one of the organizers of a large anti-government protest last month in Richmond Hill, Ont. Police estimated more than 50,000 people attended.

He said Canadian authorities have not told him if he's a target and hopes people are being warned they could be in danger. 

"It is deeply frightening that it's happening in Canada and may be happening to people I know," said Shahrooz, who is also a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

WATCH/ Human rights activist says 'it's frankly terrifying'

Human rights activist and lawyer says ‘it’s frankly terrifying’ CSIS is investigating credible death threats against people in Canada

4 months ago
Duration 6:57
Kaveh Sharooz, a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, calls on Canadian authorities to take the threats seriously.

Canadian-Iranian Lily Pourzand fled Iran in 1999 but has always worried about her safety here.

"I don't feel safe in Canada," said Lily Pourzand. "I never felt safe in Toronto, the place that I am living for the past 24 years. We know regime people are here."

Her mother, Mehrangiz Kar, was a human rights activist and political prisoner who was detained in Iran. 

Her father, Siamak Pourzand, was a journalist who was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2002 over allegations of spying and encouraging others to commit acts of corruption. Pourzand supposedly killed himself in 2011 while under house arrest, but his daughter said he was murdered by Iranian authorities.

Simak Pourzand (seen left), Mehrangiz Kar (centre), Lily Pourzand (right), Azadeh Pourzand (baby) in Tehran in 1985. (Submitted by Lily Pourzand)

In September, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found Iran liable for hostage taking and torture, Bloomberg UK reported. Iran was ordered to pay Pourzand's family, which includes American citizens, more than $34 million in damages. His daughter said it's likely they'll never see a dollar, but the symbolism matters.

"It took may years," said Lily Pourzand. "But justice was the only thing my dad asked for."

She said she finally feels validated by the fact that western nations like Canada are finally listening to concerns activists here have raised for decades.

Plot in 2021 to capture 3 Canadians

Canada's government last year condemned Iran's "pattern of intimidation and foreign interference" after U.S. authorities laid charges in connection with an alleged Iranian plot to kidnap five people — including three individuals from Canada — and take them to Iran. FBI documents allege the Canadians were among those put under surveillance. 

Family members in Canada who have criticized Iran's government after losing their loved ones in the destruction of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 in 2020 have also reported to RCMP that they've been targeted for threats and intimidation by Tehran.

Flight 752 was shot down by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) shortly after takeoff on January 8, 2020, killing all 176 passengers and crew aboard.

MI5, the United Kingdom's domestic counter-intelligence agency, said last week that Iran's intelligence service is targeting dissidents abroad they "perceive as enemies of the regime" and is responsible for at least 10 potential threats to kidnap or kill British or U.K.-based people this year.


Ashley Burke

Senior reporter

Ashley Burke is a senior reporter with the CBC's Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa who focuses on enterprise journalism for television, radio and digital platforms. She earned the Charles Lynch Award and was a finalist for the Michener Award for her exclusive reporting on the toxic workplace at Rideau Hall. She has also uncovered allegations of sexual misconduct against senior military leaders. Her beats include transport, defence and federal government accountability. You can reach her confidentially by email: ashley.burke@cbc.ca or https://www.cbc.ca/securedrop/

With files from Nahayat Tizhoosh