- Constituent Services
Citizenship & Immigration Minister Jason Kenney used a phone line and public address system to engage a town hall meeting on Iranian issues, held in West Vancouver’s Sentinel High School Gym last Saturday, December 8th. MP John Weston organized the meeting, with the help of several volunteers from the Canadian-Iranian community, including Davood Ghavami, head of the Iranian Canadian Congress, and Nassreen Filsoof, head of the Canadian Iranian Foundation. Over 100 people attended the meeting, which was observed by phone from Ottawa by representatives of the Prime Minister’s Office and the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
The meeting attempted explicitly to let the Government explain its recent moves concerning Iran and to let people most directly affected explain to the Government how Embassy closures, sanctions, and other measures affect anyone dealing with Iran.
Minister Kenney covered issues relating to closure of the Canadian Embassy in Iran; expulsion of Iran’s diplomats, both in September; immigration patterns from Iran; and the effect of Canada’s economic sanctions. The questions poured in after Minister Kenney’s address, and Kenney and Weston responded on the spot.
Kenney made it clear that sanctions and other measures intended to pressure the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran were not intended to hurt Iranian people. Much of the meeting dealt with the consequences of such measures.
One of the participants asked why the Government of Canada allowed people to read the Koran in public places. Weston responded that freedom of religion was the key freedom that facilitated other critical freedoms, such as freedom of speech and association. Other questions and their responses follow.
The following is a paraphrase of questions and answers in the December 8th Town Hall meeting.
Question: “Do you think closing the Canadian Embassy in Tehran influenced the Iranian Government?”
Kenney: We never had influence on the Iranian Government through our Embassy. At most, we got access to mid-level Iranian officials, since downgrading relations in the wake of Zahra Kazemi’s murder. If we had substantial influence on the Iranian Government that could have justified the risk to our personnel, our decision might have been different.
Question: “Has Canada ‘dealt itself out of the game’ by closing its Embassy?”
Kenney: In fact, Canada is the world leader adressing the human rights abuses of the Iranian Regime. For the seventh straight year, Canada has led the pursuit of a resolution to condemn Iran’s abuses at the United Nations General Assembly.
Question: “How has the Embassy closure affected the ability of Iranians to travel to Canada?”
Kenney: Visitor Visa acceptance rates have climbed to about 70%. Such visas are now processed through our Embassy in Ankara, Turkey. Processing times have increased but the number of visas issued has increased to an historic high. We know the change has caused inconvenience to people in Iran as they need to travel to Turkey. The Iranian Government also prohibits them from sending their passports across the Iranian Border by courier or mail. However, applications have increased, not decreased, since we closed the Visa Processing Department of our Embassy in March, leading up to the closure of the Embassy last September.
Question: “Removing our Canadian diplomats from Iran was for their security but why did our Canadian Government expel the Iranian diplomats?”
Kenney: Many people in the Iranian Community in Canada reported that the Iranian Embassy in Canada was a base for espionage against Canadian interests. Especially people who speak out in favor of human rights and the rule of law in Iran felt menaced by personnel in that Embassy. It was in the Canadian national interest to expel those diplomats but we had to wait until we closed our Embassy in Iran to make the move.
Question: “Expelling the Iranian diplomats from Canada has inconvenienced people in Canada who carry Iranian passports who have only Canadian Permanent Residence Status, not yet Canadian Citizenship. When the Iranian passport expires, what can the Iranian person do?”
Kenney: The US and Iran have not had diplomatic relations since the US hostage crisis in Iran in 1979. Pakistan’s diplomats look after the interests of Iranian Nationals in the US. In the language of diplomacy, Pakistan is known as a “Third Party Protector”. So far, Iran has not named a Third Party Protector in Canada. Iranians can in the meantime process paperwork relating to their Iranian travel documents through Pakistani diplomats in Washington, D.C.
Question: “What about the needs of Canadian Nationals in Iran?”
Kenney: We are grateful that Italy has through its embassy in Iran agreed to look after the needs of Canadians in Iran. The Department of Foreign Affairs can also be reached at [See DFAIT Website] in the case of emergencies encountered in Iran or elsewhere. Canada advises Canadians not to travel to Iran, for security reasons.
Question: “What can Canada do about Iranians with ties to the Iranian Government who are in Canada or seeking to come here?”
Kenney: We do not knowingly admit as immigrants people who are members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard or the Basij. People who are security risks to Canadians should be reported to the Canadian Border Security Agency or CSIS ( Canadian Security Intelligence Service). People who have come to Canada based on misrepresentation or who have obtained their citizenship fraudulently may have enforcement taken against them. I am introducing changes to the law in Parliament to make this process easier.
Question: “Iranian students in Canada are hit especially hard by the economic sanctions. What can they do to receive funds?”
Kenney: Such students can take advantage of at least four measures. Despite the sanctions, they can receive up to $40,000 from Iran if the transfer is ‘non-commercial’ in nature. They are allowed to work and earn income on campus. They are allowed to hold a part-time job off campus. They can apply for Canadian Permanent Residence Status in the new ‘Canadian Experience Class’ I have created if they complete a full-time degree in Canada.
Question: “Some people of Iranian background are finding that Canadian banks are closing their bank accounts. What can we do about that?”
Weston: “Sanctions are a combination of measures passed by the United Nations and by Canada. The Canadian sanctions are created by the Department of Foreign Affairs and intended to be consistent with the UN provisions. They are implemented by the banks. I have discussed this type of problem with the Canadian Banking Association and have committed to relay to the banks through the CBA examples where the sanctions appear to be misapplied. I will consolidate examples provided to me by December 17th in a brief to the CBA.”
img class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-3437″ title=”West Vancouver Town Hall” src=”http://www.johnweston.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Iranian-towh-Hall-copy.jpg” alt=”” width=”950″ height=”390″ /