As It Happens

Canadian truck driver who shares last name with Iranian general says he can't cross U.S. border

A Canadian truck driver says he's worried about his livelihood after he was denied entry to the United States by border guards who questioned him about last name — one he happens to share with an executed Iranian general.

'I'm not part of any government,' says Toronto's Babak Soleimani. 'I'm not a part of any political system'

Babak Soleimani is an Iranian-Canadian truck driver who has been denied entry to the United States. He believes it's because he shares a last name with an assassinated Iranian general. (Submitted by Babak Soleimani)
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A Canadian truck driver says he's worried about his livelihood after he was denied entry to the United States by border guards who questioned him about his last name — one he happens to share with an assassinated Iranian general.

Babak Soleimani is a Canadian citizen who left Iran in 2009. He says he has no connection, familial or otherwise, to Qasem Soleimani, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps general who was killed on Jan. 3 in U.S. drone strike.

"I tried to explain it for U.S. border [guards], and I want to explain it for you — this is a very popular last name in [the] Middle East," Soleimani told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"I'm a truck driver. I'm not part of any government. I'm not a part of any political system."

Questioned about his name, military record and opinions 

The Toronto resident has been working for a cross-border shipping company for the last four years and says he's never had any trouble crossing the border before this month.

But on Jan. 10, he says he was stopped at the crossing between Windsor, Ont., and Detroit, Mich., where he was held for seven hours and questioned repeatedly about his name, before being denied entry and sent back to Canada.

"The worst thing is that my wife, she was very worried about me," he said. 

I have a newborn girl and that's the big problem for us right now. I'm worried for her. She got my last name too."​​​​​- Babak Soleimani, truck driver

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) confirmed in an email that Soleimani was "deemed inadmissible and was refused entry into the United States" at the Detroit crossing on Jan. 10, but did not say why.

"Applicants must demonstrate they are admissible into the U.S. by overcoming all grounds of inadmissibility including health-related grounds, criminality, security reasons, public charge, labour certification, illegal entrants and immigration violations, documentation requirements, and miscellaneous grounds," CBP said.

Soleimani showed As It Happens his Notice of Refusal of Admission slip from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which also says that he was denied entry without citing a reason. 

The Canada Border Services Agency declined to comment, directing questions to the CBP.

According to an email from a U.S. border officer obtained by CBC News, U.S. border officers working at multiple Canada-U.S. border crossings were instructed to target and interrogate Iranian-born travellers in early January.

Gen. Qassem Soleimani was killed in a U.S. drone strike on Jan. 3. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader/Associated Press)

Soleimani says U.S. border agents took away his phone and passport. Then, he says a man who was not wearing a uniform questioned him about his last name, his Iranian military record and his political opinions. 

Soleimani says he served two years in the Iranian military when he was 18, which is mandatory in Iran.

But he says he hasn't had any contact with the Iranian military since. In fact, he says he left the country to get away from the Iranian regime, of which he was an outspoken opponent.

"I am a Canadian. When I'm going anywhere. I'm going to introduce myself [as] Canadian," he said. "I thought that I'm escaping Iran, I'm running from all madness in Iran."

When the agents asked him his opinion about the ongoing tensions between Iran and the United States, Soleimani says he told them that Trump ordering the execution of Gen. Soleimani led to Iran shooting down Ukrainian International Airlines Flight PS752 on Jan. 8.

Of the 176 passengers and crew killed, 57 were Canadian citizens and 29 were permanent residents.

"I answered them honestly," he said. "Maybe that's my fault."

A newborn at home 

Soleimani says he hoped this incident at the border was an outlier. But when he tried to cross again the next day between Port Erie, Ont., and Buffalo, N.Y., he says he was turned away by two men who identified themselves as FBI agents and told him not to return to the United States. 

Now he says he's worried about his employment prospects in the future.

"I cannot cross the border," he said. "They try to keep me as a local driver around Toronto, but definitely I cannot make the same money I make before. But I have no idea about [the] future and how long they can keep me like this."

Soleimani's employer, a cross-border shipping company, did not respond to a request for comment.

In the meantime, he says he's most worried about his family. 

"I have a newborn girl and that's the big problem for us right now," he said. "I'm worried for her. She got my last name too."


Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Morgan Passi and Benjamin Jamieson. Interview produced by Morgan Passi.