During the 2015 election, the Liberals pledged to restore diplomatic relations with Iran, and until last month, the government consistently stuck to that message. However, on June 12, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his caucus voted in favour of a Conservative motion that, although non-binding, signalled an abrupt departure from their previous policy on Iran.
The government is to be commended for this apparent change of course.
The most significant element of the motion is a call to “immediately cease any and all negotiations or discussions with the Islamic Republic of Iran to restore diplomatic relations.” The principle of maintaining diplomatic relations with as many states as possible is reasonable enough. But it is a different matter entirely to effectively condone and reward a government by restoring ties that have already been severed, when that government has done nothing to remediate the very malfeasance that led to the disintegration of the relationship in the first place.
Since 1979, when militant Iranians stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held 52 people hostage for 444 days, Iran has continuously engaged in terrorist activities and systematically perpetrated human-rights abuses against its own people. Best exemplified by the brutal death of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, the regime is also notorious for arbitrarily imprisoning, torturing and murdering citizens of other countries. It is therefore no surprise that a subsequent portion of the motion calls for a “demand that the Iranian regime immediately release all Canadians and Canadian permanent residents who are currently detained in Iran.”
It is essential, however, that Ottawa not set the release of these individuals as the sole condition for the resumption of negotiations, as was implied recently by some Liberal officials. Iran has a long-standing practice of imprisoning foreigners – essentially taking hostages – in order to extract concessions from their home countries. The Trudeau government must not fall into this trap. Other malevolent Iranian behaviours, which are catalogued in the motion, must remain prerequisites to any re-engagement.
For instance, Iran should be expected to curtail its involvement in terrorism. Appropriately, both parties agreed in the motion to “strongly condemn the current regime in Iran for its ongoing sponsorship of terrorism around the world, including instigating violent attacks on the Gaza border.” Hamas and Hezbollah both receive critical support from Iran. A top regime official recently acknowledged that Iran knowingly helped Al-Qaida terrorists – including some of the 9/11 attackers – travel secretly through the Middle East. And in early July, an Iranian diplomat working in Vienna was arrested on suspicion of being involved in a plot to bomb a meeting of Iranian opposition groups in France.
A related feature of the motion stipulates the immediate designation of “the islamic revolutionary guard corps (irgc) as a listed terrorist entity under the criminal code of canada.” One branch of the IRGC – the Quds Force – is already considered a terrorist organization in Canada. But as Liberal MP Michael Levitt recently pointed out in a letter to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, previous Canadian designations of Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist entities correctly established a precedent of listing these types of organizations in their entirety. The branches of the IRGC are not watertight compartments, but an integrated whole: revenues and personnel from one branch fund and support the activities of other branches.
Iran should also be expected to cease its incitement to hatred and genocide against Jews and Israelis, which the motion also specifically denounces. As a signatory of the Genocide Convention, Canada is in fact legally obligated to combat any government’s genocidal incitement.
Credit goes where it’s due. The Liberals were right to support the motion and the Tories must now ensure the government adheres to its commitments. Canada must stand strong against the world’s most egregious state sponsor of terror, which has answered our diplomatic overtures with nothing but blatant contempt.