As Tehran condemns decision to list IRGC as terrorist group, Ottawa urges Canadians in Iran to come home

The federal government is urging Canadians in Iran to come home to avoid state retaliation – including arbitrary arrests – as Tehran condemns Ottawa’s decision to list the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization places.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani called the terrorism designation an “unwise and unconventional politically motivated step” and said Tehran reserves the right to respond accordingly.

“Canada’s action will not have any effect on the legitimate and deterrent power of the Revolutionary Guards,” Kanaani said, according to Iran’s Fars news agency, which has ties to the IRGC.

“We know this will have real consequences for members of the Iranian community in Canada and potentially their families back home,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday. “That’s why we had to take the time to do this the right way.”

Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly said the government’s decision to list the IRGC could expose Canadians to “an increased risk of arbitrary detention in Iran” and warned Canadians to return home immediately.

“For those who are in Iran now, it is time to come back,” Joly said. “For those planning to go to Iran, don’t go.”

WATCH | Canada lists IRGC as terrorist group:

Canada designates the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist entity

The federal government declares Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist entity under the Canadian Criminal Code after years of pressure. This means that the police can charge anyone who supports the group financially or materially and that banks can freeze their assets.

The government also added new warnings on Wednesday about the dangers of staying in Iran, after ministers announced the new “terrorism” designation following years of mounting public pressure.

Canada updated its travel advice, warning that the possibility of arbitrary detention was no longer just a possibility, but a major risk. The advice also changed from recommending Canadians leave to advising them to leave now.

“In the context of recent developments between Canada and Iran, Iranian authorities could take retaliatory measures that could pose a risk to the safety and security of Canadians, including Canadian-Iranians,” the spokesperson said. travel advice says.

Global Affairs Canada posted on social media that Canadians in Iran may be under heightened surveillance for activities considered “harmless” in Canada, including taking photos in public places, traveling to remote areas and interacting with locals .

‘Keep a low profile’

The government is now warning Canadians in Iran to “keep a low profile and not share your personal information with strangers.”

According to the report, more than 1,600 Canadians are registered in Iran Registration of Canadians abroad. Global Affairs said that since registration is voluntary, this figure could underestimate the true number of Canadians there.

The ministry advises people to leave Iran on commercial flights if it is safe to do so.

Canada severed diplomatic ties with Iran in 2012. Joly warned that the government cannot provide Canadians at risk in Iran with the same level of support they could access in countries where Canada has embassies.

“We don’t have an embassy in Iran,” Joly said. “We have been severing diplomatic ties for years and therefore we will not be able to provide the consular expertise that would be needed.”

Surveillance operations

Dennis Horak was head of the Canadian mission in Iran from 2009 to 2012, when the embassy closed. He said Iran has a “very active… cyber army” that monitors social media and online activity, including email; he said Tehran could decide to “step that up.”

When he was in Iran, he said, he and his colleagues assumed their phones were tapped and that embassy staff were tracked from time to time.

LOOK | Exposing how Iran tracks and threatens people:

Exposing how Iran tracks and threatens people in Canada

CSIS recently confirmed that there have been multiple “credible” death threats from Iran against people in Canada. CBC News’s chief correspondent Adrienne Arsenault meets several Iranians who describe their experiences of being followed and intimidated on Canadian soil.

Tehran could take retaliatory measures against individuals to send a message to other countries not to follow Canada’s example, Horak said. The US has already designated the IRGC as a terrorist entity. Britain has indicated it intends to do so and there is an effort underway for EU countries to also list the IRGC.

Horak said he does not think Iran is “too bothered by” the terrorism list, because it is mainly a “symbolic gesture.” But he warned that Iran could still try to send a message to the international community through arbitrary arrests.

A prison swap took place last week. Sweden has released a former Iranian official convicted for his role in a mass execution in Iran in the 1980s, in exchange for the release of two Swedish citizens held in Iran.

“The big concern is arbitrary detention,” Horak said. “We’ve seen this in the past with Canadian dual nationals and that’s always a risk. Iran has a habit of doing this… to try to get a message across.”

Horak called Canada’s travel advisory “smart,” but doesn’t think it will lead to an exodus of Canadians unless arrests are made. He said most Canadians in Iran have dual citizenship and live in Iran permanently or long-term.

Amir Arsalani told CBC News that his mother, a Canadian citizen living in Iran, is refusing to come to Canada despite Ottawa’s warning. She doesn’t want to leave her family behind, he said.

“She tells me she doesn’t leave home,” he said. “Of course I fear for my mother’s safety, but there is not much I can do.”

Arsalani lost his sister, brother-in-law and 16-month-old niece on flight PS752. The IRGC shot down the plane over Tehran airspace in 2020, killing 176 people, most of whom had ties to Canada.

Members of the Iranian community gather and mourn on the fourth anniversary of the downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 in Toronto on Sunday, January 7, 2024.
Members of the Iranian community gather and mourn on the fourth anniversary of the downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 in Toronto on Sunday, January 7, 2024. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

Arsalani said his family in Iran has been harassed, intimidated and threatened.

After his family did an interview with the BBC two years ago, three unknown people came to his father’s house in Iran, searched for devices, kicked him and broke his nose, he said.

He said his Canadian mother was also brought in for questioning by Iran’s secret intelligence services after posting content online about her loved ones lost on Flight PS752.

‘Inhumane’ pressure on families

Hamed Esmaeilion is a prominent Canadian critic of the Iranian regime; his wife Parisa and nine-year-old daughter Reera died on flight PS752.

Esmaeilion said his relatives in Iran have also been targeted by Iran’s Intelligence Ministry through repeated phone calls.

Hamed Esmaeilion speaks with members of the Iranian community as they gather and mourn the fourth anniversary of the downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752, in Toronto on Sunday, January 7, 2024.
Hamed Esmaeilion speaks with members of the Iranian community as they gather and mourn the fourth anniversary of the destruction of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 in Toronto on Sunday, January 7, 2024. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

His parents, who are permanent residents of Canada, have also been banned from leaving the country by the Iranian regime, he said. His mother was stopped at the airport in December 2023 and told she could not leave.

“I can go back, but after that it will be impossible to leave Iran,” he said.

RCMP speaks to diaspora communities

When asked by CBC News about the risk of Iran retaliating on Canadian soil, the RCMP said it would be “inappropriate for us to speculate.”

“Through established networks, the RCMP, in partnership with appropriate police forces across Canada, is working with the various diaspora communities to raise their awareness of this criminal behavior and encourage them to report these crimes,” RCMP spokesperson Robin Percival told CBC News in a media statement. .

Iranian-Canadians have reported being followed, threatened and followed on Canadian soil by those they believe are agents of the Iranian regime. Canada’s Security Intelligence Service also warned in 2022 that it was investigating “credible” death threats from Iran against individuals in Canada.

Esmaeilion is among those who reported suspicious activity to authorities. He said he believes his home in the Toronto area is being watched. He said that when his mother visited him last year, someone posted the information online as she flew back to Iran.

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