Is the Iranian embassy in Ottawa recruiting Iranians who have emigrated to Canada to be utilized as a sort of fifth column on behalf of the Islamic Republic, including possibly being exploited for future activity against the U.S.? That’s what the Canadian government is worried about after an alarming interview published with an Iranian diplomat. The Ottawa Citizen first reported this on Tuesday:
Absent diplomatic relations with the United States, Iran is using its embassy in Canada to recruit ethnic Iranians to “be of service” to Tehran — causing U.S. terrorism experts to warn of a possible attack from north of the border.
The mobilization effort is taking place under the guise of the embassy’s cultural outreach program, and Iranian-Canadians opposed to the regime in Tehran say the Islamic republic’s intentions are revealed in an interview that Hamid Mohammadi, Iran’s cultural affairs counsellor attached to the Iranian embassy in Ottawa, gave in Farsi to an Iran-based website directed at Iranian expatriates in Canada.
In the interview, the Iranian diplomat estimated Canada’s Iranian immigrant population at 500,000 whom he encouraged to work in senior Canadian government positions. The Ottawa Citizen provided an English translation of some of the diplomat’s interview to the website Iranians Residing Abroad:
He says recent Iranian immigrants have “decisively preserved strong attachments and bonds to their homeland,” while the “younger second generation” is already “working in influential government positions.”
Mohammadi urges all Iranian-Canadians to aspire to “occupy high-level key positions” and “resist being melted into the dominant Canadian culture.”
Chillingly, he described how Iran uses cultural outreach programs to recruit former Iranians in service of the regime:
“So, therefore, we need to put into effect very concentrated cultural programs in order to enhance and nurture the culture in this fast-growing population. It is obvious that this large Iranian population can only be of service to our beloved Iran through these programs and gatherings.”
Canada’s Foreign Affairs Department quickly responded, issuing a warning to Iranian diplomats. The National Post reports:
“Iranian-Canadians have rejected the oppressive Iranian regime and have chosen to come to Canada to build better lives,” a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said in a statement to the National Post. “The Iranian Embassy should not interfere in their choices. Canadian security organizations will act to prevent threats and intimidation of Canadians.”
The National Post quoted Iran’s top diplomat to Canada -- Kambiz Sheikh-Hassan, the Iranian charge d’affaires -- who dismissed the Ottawa Citizen report and said Iran is following Canadian and international laws:
“We strongly dismiss baseless allegations by [some] media that [the] ‘Iranian Embassy has been recruiting ethnic Iranians in Canada to be of service to Iran.’”
A former Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) officer warns The National Post these activities could pose a danger to the U.S. north of the border.
“The embassy is in and of itself a menace to public safety and our national interests; it should have been closed down yesterday,” said former CSIS intelligence operative David Harris, who is director of the international and terrorist intelligence program at Insignis Strategic Research Inc. “I think we’re at grave risk of being considered a problem-state rather than a serious ally to those countries to which we have been closest.”
There’s a real danger to the immigrants, too. Harris believes that if Iranian officials or loyalists obtain information on the immigrants’ relatives in Iran, it could be used as leverage to force the newcomer into spying.
Martin Rudner from Carleton University’s Canadian Center of Intelligence and Security Studies tells The National Post:
“I could picture the Iranian embassy making a phone call to an individual who doesn’t necessarily want to help them and say something along the lines of, ‘You have relatives back in Iran, and those relatives could be in jeopardy if you don’t help us.’”
Iranian immigrants who oppose the Islamic regime tell The Ottawa Citizen that the embassy’s “education advisory” section is the main sponsor of a three-day Iranian Students Convention taking place this summer in Ontario. One opponent of the Iranian government tells The Ottawa Citizen:
“Multiculturalism is killing Canada. I am sick and tired of political correctness in this country,” said Shabnam Assadollahi, an Ottawa-based Iranian-Canadian, who helped translate the Mohammadi interview as part of her activism against the regime in Tehran. “When you become a Canadian citizen, virtually no one can touch you, and so these people can easily get to the United States. The only solution is to close the Iranian embassy in Ottawa.”
The paper explains that even though Iranian-born Canadians are fingerprinted at the U.S. border even when they travel on Canadian passports, Canadian-born children of Iranians can enter the U.S. without any more difficulty than any other Canadian.