Law professor Payam Akhavan questions Harper government's decision to close Tehran embassy
An Iranian-Canadian international legal expert says the Canadian government could end up hurting Iranian expatriates by cutting off contact with the regime in Tehran.
McGill law professor Payam Akhavan told the Georgia Straight by phone that the Iranian embassy in Ottawa has been "using cultural activities as a front for infiltration of the Iranian diaspora". According to him, this has included harassment and espionage against opponents of the regime and human-rights activists.
"So I think that at the very least, there should have been a downgrading of diplomatic relations," he said. "I'm concerned that the closure of the embassy, both in Tehran and in Ottawa, and the termination of diplomatic relations may be going a bit too far because it will affect a lot of ordinary Iranian Canadians in adverse ways. We still have two Canadian Iranians on death row in Iran."
Akhavan added that there is a "very significant population" of Iranian Canadians who travel between the countries.
"And we have a context where there's talk of military conflict and increased tensions—at which time diplomatic relations are very important," he emphasized.
As one example of how Iran has acted against Canada's interest, he cited the creation of a school in Montreal, allegedly for the children of members of Iran's much-despised Revolutionary Guards.
Earlier this summer, the Iranian-born wife of Defence Minister Peter MacKay, Nazanin Afshin-Jam, called for the closure of the Iranian embassy in Ottawa.
In an interview with the National Post, Afshin-Jam, an outspoken human-rights activist who was raised on the North Shore, claimed that Iranian embassy officials recorded her appearance at a civil-liberties conference in Toronto. She also said that her relatives had received death threats.
Akhavan, who is also a harsh critic of the Iranian government, said that it's important to keep the lines of communications open.
He also questioned why Canada would close the embassy before adopting targeted sanctions similar to those applied by the United States and the European Union.
"If the point is to put pressure on the regime rather than to take measures to affect ordinary Iranians, Canada should adopt targeted sanctions against Iranian officials responsible for human-rights abuses—just like the United States, just like the European Union—which have imposed travel bans and asset freezes on a hundred Iranian officials implicated in human-rights abuses," he stated.
Akahavan claimed that Vancouver and Toronto are "major money-laundering centres" for Iranian officials.
"So a student at my university has problems getting his parents to transfer $6,000 via a bank to pay his tuition fees, but it seems regime insiders have no trouble in bringing in $600 million to build apartment complexes and to launder their money," he charged.
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