THE government of Canada's sudden decision to close our country's embassy in Tehran and expel all Iranian diplomats from Canada will upset anyone familiar with Iran or with IranianCanadians.
The extreme move appears to have been provoked in part by an Iranian in the Ottawa embassy, who dared to suggest that Canadians of Iranian heritage should strive to attain their full potential in Canadian society for the betterment of themselves, the Iranian diaspora and ultimately the home country.
For a Chinese, Indian, or Israeli diplomat to say such a thing would be unremarkable, but for an Iranian to express the same idea is unforgiveable. It is deeply upsetting that so far as the government of Canada is concerned, a hard-working, ambitious and successful Canadian of Iranian heritage must be a spy, or a die-hard supporter of the current Iranian regime.
The government also cited concern for the safety of our embassy staff as a reason for the abrupt severing of diplomatic relations with Iran. This strikes me as a remarkable claim, given that Canada currently staffs an embassy in Afghanistan. The embassy's website proudly affirms that it is "one of Canada's largest," and is growing significantly. Are the streets of Tehran really more dangerous for our diplomats than the streets of Kabul?
Meanwhile, economic sanctions ostensibly crafted to curb Iran's alleged military designs continue to inflict more collateral damage than any tangible progress towards the purported goal. Why are Iranian Canadians, unlike their countrymen of Chinese and Russian heritage, prohibited from transferring even small amounts of money to or from family back home, when China and Russia are just as supportive of Syria's Bashar al-Assad as Iran is? For that matter, why is Iran singled out with such urgency for its alleged (read: totally unproven) nuclear weapons program, when India, Pakistan, and Israel all have actual weapons, all built with the connivance of western powers? Why is Canada calling Iran the single most important threat to global security and peace without serious challenge, when such a comment is demonstrably ridiculous? Do we really believe that Iran's government is determined to provoke its own absolute destruction, the certain consequence of any conflict with Israel, which has hundreds of nuclear warheads and multiple means of delivering them?
What about pursuing a policy of greater engagement and cultural exchange with ordinary Iranians, given that Iranians familiar with and connected to the world are far more likely to demand higher standards from their leaders than Iranians who are isolated from the world?
This is the very logic that underpins our diplomatic engagement with countries like Saudi Arabia, whose human rights record is appalling and whose links to extremism are well-documented. Our government's hysterical, just-short-of-war mentality is suffocating dialogue while making life miserable for everyone who has family in Iran who simply want to visit, study, or - gasp! - become Canadian.
For now, Iranian Canadians have to move past Iranian politics and get involved in Canadian politics. Iranian Canadians don't have to agree on everything to stand together in defence of innocent friends and relatives at home, and in opposition to any war that will leave Iran in bloody anarchy like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya. Iranian Canadians must become, for a time, single-issue voters until they are accorded the respect they deserve.
As for the rest of us, shouldn't all Canadians be worried that Canada is steadily shedding its once-enviable international image as a neutral party, a country that doesn't fan conflicts but strives to resolve them? Why is Canada increasingly asserting itself as a nation that eschews diplomacy and engagement in favour of accusatory rhetoric and aggressive posturing? Canada was right not to leap aboard the bandwagon that blundered disastrously into Iraq nine years ago, in murderous search of imaginary weapons and very real oil.
If you have always wanted Canada to be an indistinguishable appendage to the United States, you should be rejoicing these days. I however, hope that we will reverse course immediately and reassert ourselves as an independent and principled actor that will always pursue peace before punishment.
Tieg Martin is a Lynn Valley resident and a carpenter by trade.