October 21, 2021 | Insight
In His Second Term, Trudeau Must Fix His Iran Policy
October 21, 2021 Insight
In His Second Term, Trudeau Must Fix His Iran Policy
Last month’s re-election of Justin Trudeau as Canada’s prime minister provides an opportunity to reflect on Ottawa’s relationship with the Islamic Republic in Iran. Iran policy is an issue of great importance to hundreds of thousands of Canadian-Iranians and their allies. So far, however, Trudeau’s Iran policy has been weak to nonexistent.
He does pay occasional lip service to supporting Iranian human rights and achieving justice for the 55 Canadian-Iranians killed when the regime shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 last year. But this is all talk.
When push comes to shove, Trudeau and his government choose either to accommodate Tehran or simply say nothing. Tellingly, Trudeau failed even to mention Iran or PS752 during the recent Canadian election. And Trudeau’s foreign minister, Marc Garneau, ignored PS752 during his recent speech before the UN General Assembly.
This silence reflects Trudeau’s wish to avoid antagonizing Iran. Canada’s current Iran policy centers on supporting the Biden administration’s efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and on keeping the door open to a more positive diplomatic relationship with the regime. Ottawa fears that applying pressure against Tehran could undermine these goals.
However, President Joe Biden’s failed attempts to persuade Tehran to resume compliance with the JCPOA should demonstrate to Ottawa that achieving an acceptable nuclear deal with Iran will require leverage through sustained pressure. Indeed, the JCPOA’s prospects grow dimmer every day as the regime refuses to fulfill its nuclear obligations or even to return to the negotiating table. New Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s ultra-hardline government and new nuclear negotiating team will likely continue to pursue nuclear and foreign policies that put Iran at odds with the international community, including the United States and Canada.
Likewise, the door to a positive relationship with Tehran closed a long time ago. The Islamic Republic is unlikely ever to reform or pursue policies in line with Canada’s democratic principles, especially since Iran now has a mass murderer as president.
Meanwhile, the regime’s conduct, from shooting down Flight PS752 to supporting terrorist groups across the Middle East and even on Canadian soil, poses a direct threat to Canada’s national security. Ottawa needs to start fighting back.
In his second term, Trudeau should adopt a policy aimed at thwarting the regime’s malign activities, protecting Canadian national security interests, and advancing the interests of the Iranian people.
As a first step, Ottawa should join the United States in designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization pursuant to the Canadian Parliament’s recommendation in 2018. The IRGC is Iran’s most powerful military and security actor, responsible for supporting and directing Tehran’s various terrorist proxies.
In fact, IRGC personnel were responsible for downing Flight PS752 in 2020. The regime has refused to provide a full accounting of the PS752 shootdown, and according to former Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif, the IRGC is responsible for hiding the truth. So far, Ottawa has not taken any action against the IRGC, depriving Canada of leverage necessary to convince the regime to provide clear answers. Canada should couple sanctions against the IRGC with a concerted push for international bodies such as the International Civil Aviation Organization to hold the regime accountable for shooting down Flight PS752.
In addition, Ottawa should crack down on Iran’s malign presence in Canada. This should include efforts to counter the regime’s foreign influence network, money-laundering, and other illicit activities in Canada.
Ottawa should also re-examine its policy of tolerating regime officials on Canadian soil. For example, former Iranian Vice President Razm Hosseini has admitted to living in Canada in the past, and his family continues to reside in Canada while he works in Iran. As a former governor of Kerman, a city in southeastern Iran, Hosseini received political support from the late IRGC Qods Force leader Qassem Soleimani. Another example is Mahmoud Reza Khavari, the former director of Iran’s Bank Melli, who fled to Canada after the regime accused him of stealing billions of dollars.
Finally, Ottawa should demonstrate its solidarity with the Iranian people by imposing sanctions targeting human rights abusers in Iran. While Trudeau and his government have verbally condemned Iranian human rights violations, they have done little to back up their words with action. While Canada has followed and enforced UN and international sanctions on Iran, it has not imposed Global Magnitsky sanctions on individual Iranian human right abusers.
Ottawa’s soft line on Iran has clearly proven itself incapable of defending Canada’s values and interests. It is long past time for Trudeau to get tough on the clerical regime.
Alireza Nader is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he contributes to FDD’s Iran Program and Center on Economic and Financial Power (CEFP). For more analysis from Alireza, the Iran Program, and CEFP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Alireza on Twitter @AlirezaNader. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_Iran and @FDD_CEFP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.