Over the last several weeks, terror victims have squared off against the Islamic Republic of Iran in a Toronto courtroom, seeking to hold that regime civilly liable for its sponsorship of terrorism. In court, Judge Glenn Hainey wondered aloud whether the legal proceedings were “academic,” given Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion’s recent comments about restoring Canada-Iran relations.
Dion indicated that Canada would be lifting sanctions imminently against the Islamic Republic. He also referred to the previous Conservative government’s decision to cut diplomatic ties with Iran as “ideological and irresponsible,” and expressed a desire to re-open the Canadian Embassy in Tehran.
Meanwhile, one analyst has suggested that the Canadian designation of Iran as a state sponsor of terror under the Justice of Victims of Terrorism Act (JVTA), a bill passed in 2012 that allows civil lawsuits against supporters of terrorism, is a “booby trap” preventing reconciliation between the two countries.
Within this context, Hainey’s confusion is understandable. Having conveyed interest in re-establishing diplomatic relations and enabling corporate Canada to benefit from business, the Trudeau government has made itself vulnerable to Iranian demands. It would come as no surprise if evidence were to emerge that Tehran is heavily pressuring Ottawa to remove the economic sanctions against Iran under the Special Economic Measures Act (SEMA) and to rescind the label of state sponsor of terror as conditions for wider rapprochement.
Ottawa must not bow to these demands. The Iranian regime is a prolific sponsor of terrorism and violator of human rights, and should be treated as such.
Iran has the highest per capita rate of capital punishment, with 2015 – under the leadership of “moderate” President Hassan Rouhani – boasting the highest execution rate in the past 25 years. Under Iranian law, girls are held criminally accountable from the age of nine and can be sentenced to death. According to the latest report by the UN’s special rapporteur for human rights in Iran, the Islamic Republic engages in numerous forms of torture, including the surgical removal of eyes, hand amputations and flogging. Journalists and human rights activists are jailed. Members of the Baha’i faith are systematically persecuted as a matter of government policy. And Iranian theocrats regularly call for the eradication of the State of Israel, in contravention of the international convention of genocide.
In response to the July 2015 nuclear deal of the P5+1 (the five permanent UN members plus Germany), the Liberal party declared, “Iran must be held to account for its support of terrorist organizations, its long-standing human rights violations, its aggression toward Israel, as well as its nuclear program.” In January 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged “to work alongside our allies to ensure that we are behaving in a responsible way to move Iran away from its position of violation of human rights, of nuclear ambitions, and indeed of sponsoring terrorism around the world.”
Trudeau has also promised to play a constructive role in helping resolve the Syrian conflict. In doing so, he should keep in mind that the Iranian regime, by supplying Bashar Assad with funds, weapons, advisers and fighters, is as culpable as ISIS for the violence, death and displacement in the region.
De-listing Iran as a state sponsor of terror or lifting all economic sanctions would not only be at odds with the stated commitments of the Canadian government, but would also be offside Canada’s closest international allies. The United States, for example, which doggedly led efforts to reach a nuclear deal with Iran, insists that Iran will remain a state sponsor of terror under American law and subject to sanctions for terrorism and human rights abuses.
Re-engagement with Iran must elicit responsiveness to Canada’s longtime concerns about the regime’s conduct. The victims of the regime’s crimes cannot afford to have the terms of the Canada-Iran relationship dictated by the bullies in Tehran.
Sheryl Saperia is the director of policy for Canada at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow her on Twitter @sherylsap