The discussion, hosted by the Iranian Canadian Congress (ICC), included a five-panel group of prominent Iranian-Canadian lawyers and academics.
Panellists included University of Toronto professor and philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo, Royal Military College professor and head of the Politics and Economics department Hussein Hassan-Yari, international trade lawyer and former Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade official Ali Ehsassi, lawyer and former Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade official Kaveh Shahrooz, and lawyer and Vice-President of Willowdale Provincial Liberal Association David Mousavi.
Each panellist had roughly ten minutes to express their views on the current political climate between Canada and Iran. Opinions on how Canada should approach Iran regarding its nuclear program were also given.
Topics identified different conflicts, including non-violent and alternative actions on Iran, Iran’s controversial rhetoric, exclusion of the Iranian-Canadian voice and the problems with Canada’s drafting of the Special Economic Measures Act.
Dr. Jahanbegloo, the first speaker, spoke little of sanctions, instead underlining that “the issues of war and peace are too important to be left only to generals and politicians.”
“We have to understand that attacking Iran will not destroy Iran’s nuclear capacity and its military installations,” said Jahanbegloo. “And actually, bombing Iran will not only weaken the Iranian civil society but also weaken the non-violent struggle of Iranian dissidents we have today.”
“There is no arguing that Iran must change,” added Jahanbegloo. “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for peace and democracy in Iran by drinking from the cup of war.”
Professor Hossein Hassan-Yari lectured on how the recent discord between Western powers and Iran began in 2005 with the introduction of a hard-line approach to foreign policy after the Iranian Presidency changed hands from Mohammad Khatami to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“In the past few months, the leadership of the Islamic Republic has introduced yet another approach in its foreign policy,” said Hassan-Yari. “They answer threats with threats.”
Dr. Hassan-Yari used several examples where Iran reacted to international pressures with threats of their own, including when Iranian Vice-President Reza Rahimi threatened to close the Straight of Hormuz, where much of the world’s crude oil is transported, after the European Union threatened to issue an embargo on Iranian oil.
Last Monday, the day after the panel discussion, the European Union officially issued the embargo while also freezing assets of Iran’s central bank.
“The only possibility to remove the threat of war against Iran would be a diplomatic resolution to the current situation,” added Hassan-Yari.
Ali Ehsassi began by saying he was “very much disturbed” by the Canadian government’s actions and blamed them for “ratcheting up rhetoric” towards Iran.
“When it comes to sanctions, I think it’s absolutely imperative that, to the extent possible at least, this government attempts to introduce smart sanctions which do not have an impact on all Iranians and to the extent possible they limit the application of these sanctions to members of the Iranian government as opposed to bludgeon the Iranian public,” Ehsassi said.
Lawyer Kaveh Shahrooz expanded on Ehsassi’s call for smart sanctions, saying “sanctions can’t and should not cripple the population and in fact the policy framework should empower the people to fight back against those that are oppressing them.”
“(The sanctions) harm ordinary immigrants with no ties to the government. And it harms students that can’t get visas to come here and it harms ordinary business people that can’t do business with this country,” said Shahrooz.
“But at the same time, it allows cronies of the Islamic Republic to come here with millions of dollars and buy homes in the Bridal Path,” Shahrooz added, referring to Mahmoud-Reza Khavari, the former head of Iran’s Bank Melli who allegedly fled to Toronto after a historic embezzlement scandal in Iran late last year.
The final speaker, lawyer David Mousavi, went into detail breaking down the Special Economic Measures Act that lists the provisions of Canada’s imposed sanctions on Iran.
“It’s like taking a sledgehammer to try and kill a fly,” said Mousavi. “It is way too broad.”
Mr. Mousavi described the sanctions as a “blanket prohibition” that affects innocent people and called for a consolidation of the three ministries that came together to enforce the sanctions. He also called the Canadian government to list Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist designated entity.
After the panel discussion, moderator and ICC member Alidad Mafinezam called Richmond Hill Liberal MPP Reza Moridi to address the audience. Dr. Moridi touched on how the Iranian regime’s 32-year reign has caused much suffering.
“For 32 years, the people of Iran have been living with the sanctions the Islamic Republic imposed on them,” Moridi said. “We, here in Canada, have forgotten all of this.”
“When the Prime Minister (Harper) says he cannot sleep at night due to the actions of the Iranian regime, I don’t blame him,” Moridi continued. “I also, as a human being, cannot sleep at night thinking that one day the Iranian regime may develop an atomic bomb.”
Things became heated at the final question and answer portion of the discussion. The first three people used their 30 seconds to chastise the panel for displaying pro-regime sentiments. The commotion lasted long enough to disrupt the Q&A period, resulting in few of the audience’s questions being answered.
There have been talks of late between federal ministries in Canada addressing “the effects that a devalued Iranian currency and a ban on financial transactions are having on Iranian-Canadians,” according to a Toronto Star report.
According to CBC News, Iranians form the fourth largest group of immigrant investors to Canada, and it is estimated that Iranian investor-class applicants are estimated to have contributed $350 million to the Canadian economy in the past five years.