Politicians warned of Iranian ‘call to arms,’ activists say
Emails flagging recruiting efforts sent last month
The Iranian- Canadian activists who blew the whistle on Iran’s alleged recruitment program in Canada say they privately warned numerous politicians and officials of the Islamic republic’s activities in the weeks before government ministers spoke out in reaction to the Citizen’s report on the scheme.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews publicly admonished Iran after the Citizen’s July 10 frontpage article told how a senior Iranian Embassy official in Canada was calling on Iranian-Canadians to “be of service” to Tehran.
Activists Shabnam Assadollahi and Shadi Paveh of the Ottawa region say they dispatched emails last month flagging what some terror experts described as an Iranian “call to arms.”
“I was fuming when I heard Vic Toews’ reaction,” Assadollahi told the Citizen, signalling she considered the minister’s admonishment to be tardy.
She said she personally asked Toews at an Ottawa event in May for a meeting to discuss what she later called threats by “extremist groups” in Canada.
She added she was pleased when Toews asked Karma Macgregor, chief of staff of the government whip in the Senate, who was also at the event, to “make sure” the meeting got arranged.
But then she and Paveh came across the “call-to-arms” interview given by Hamid Mohammadi, the cultural affairs counsellor at Iran’s Ottawa embassy.
In the interview — which appears in Farsi on an Iran-based website directed at Iranian expatriates — Mohammadi boasted that “younger second generation” Iranians were already “working in influential government positions,” and called on other Iranian-Canadians “to occupy high-level key positions” in Canada.
Assadollahi dispatched the Farsi version to Macgregor June 16, saying it shows that Iran “goes beyond cultural activities.” She marked as “Urgent & Immediate Attention” the version she and Paveh translated into English, and sent June 26 to Macgregor.
Others in government to whom the activists sent the “Immediate Action” translation included an official in the office of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) Minister Jason Kenney, and almost 100 senators — among that group Sen. Pamela Wallin, chair of the Senate’s national security and defence committee.
Macgregor did not immediately respond Sunday when asked by email whether she had forwarded the Iranian “call-to-arms” interview to Toews’ office.
Julie Carmichael, spokeswoman for Toews, said Sunday that the minister’s office received “no correspondence” on the interview.
She did confirm that Macgregor had contacted Toews’ office about Assadollahi’s meeting request, but refused comment on “private meetings” or “any action taken in respect of national security issues.”
The official in Kenney’s office to whom Assadollahi sent the “immediate action” email June 26 was Kasra Nejatian, a Canadian of Iranian descent, who serves as director of strategic planning. Assadollahi said she sent the Farsi version to him as early as June 3, explaining “as soon as I saw it, I sent it to CIC so it would reach the minster for review.” She sent him the Farsi version again June 16.
Nejatian, whom Kenney rehired last year following the young lawyer’s resignation in March 2011 over a fundraising controversy, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday on action he took.
Neither did Wallin, who testified as chair of her Senate committee last fall about Canada’s energy sector being “one obvious target” for Iranians seeking “dual-use” technology for Iran’s nuclear program, which the West believes is aimed at developing a nuclear bomb.
Paveh sent and signed the email to the senators June 28, saying he and Assadollahi had “joined together to expose the Islamic Republic of Iran’s activities in Canada,” and flagging the Mohammadi interview as “very important.”
“Please be warned by us … that this regime is infiltrating Canada and using the warm Canadian acceptance of other cultures and political correctness as a tool,” he wrote. “For these reasons this regime sees Canada as the most fertile ground for their activities.”
Others in government who received the activists’ “Immediate Attention email” June 16 were Royal Galipeau, Conservative MP for Ottawa-Orléans, and Iranian-born Canadians Reza Moridi, Liberal MPP in the Ontario legislature, and Amir Khadir, the first and only elected representative for the politically left and sovereignist Québec Solidaire in the Quebec National Assembly. The text was sent in Farsi only June 16 to Kim Sheldrick, office manager at the constituency office of Lisa Macleod, Progressive Conservative MPP in the Ontario Legislative Assembly.
Kambiz Sheikh-hassani, Iran’s top diplomat in Canada, last week rejected claims Iran was using its Ottawa embassy to “recruit” Iranian-Canadians, calling the allegations “baseless.”
But terrorism expert David Harris called the Citizen report a “direct, straightforward portrayal of the penetration problem that should long ago have preoccupied policymakers.” As director of the international and terrorist intelligence program at Insignis Strategic Research in Ottawa, Harris testified more than a year ago before a Senate committee that Iran already had an “aggressive presence” in the Canadian capital by “variously relying on, and victimizing, its expatriates.”
Toews reacted to the Citizen report by expressing concern about “the role of Iran in fomenting unrest and inappropriate violent behaviour.”
“We don’t approve of any foreign country recruiting Canadian nationals for the type of purposes described by some of the media,” he said.
After a spokesman in Baird’s office said ahead of the Citizen report that foreign embassies were “allowed to undertake domestic outreach activities in Canada,” his foreign affairs office took on a stronger tone following the article.
“Iranian-canadians have rejected the oppressive Iranian regime and have chosen to come to Canada to build better lives,” said a spokesperson. “The Iranian Embassy should not interfere in their choices. Canadian security organizations will act to prevent threats and intimidation of Canadians.”