March 18, 2022 | Insight

Canada Must Bar Iranian Officials From Entering the Country

March 18, 2022 | Insight

Canada Must Bar Iranian Officials From Entering the Country

It was, at first glance, an unremarkable sight.

A man in his 60s, sporting a green T-shirt and blue shorts, walks on a treadmill in a Toronto-area fitness center. Younger men and women exercise on adjacent machines, wearing ordinary gym clothes. One woman, just a few feet away, boasts tight black leggings. Another woman has donned a tank top exposing her midriff.

Yet the man on the treadmill is no ordinary gym rat. He is Morteza Talaei, the police chief of Iran’s capital city of Tehran from 2001 to 2006. In this capacity, he helped enforce a stringent dress code on Iranian women, including mandates to wear a headscarf and to abjure even mildly revealing outfits. Talaei also enforced bans on mixed parties.

Talaei’s workout, caught on video in January, reflects the fundamental hypocrisy of the clerical regime in Iran. Even as its leaders publicly lambast the supposedly corrupting influence of Western culture, they often later take advantage of the freedom and prosperity that countries like Canada provide.

Ottawa shouldn’t let them. Instead, Canada should deny visas to former regime officials and impose sanctions on them, welcoming only Iranians who seek to escape Tehran’s persecution.

Under Talaei’s stewardship, Tehran’s police force, then known as the Law Enforcement Force (LEF) of the Islamic Republic of Iran, had an infamous record. In 2006, Talaei established a new unit in Tehran consisting of 50 cruisers to ensure public compliance with the national dress code.

“In our campaign, we will confront women showing their bare legs in short pants,” he said. The patrols would also “combat women wearing skimpy headscarves” and “short and form-fitting coats.” The unit would even punish taxi drivers for transporting women who fail to adhere to the dress code.

But Talaei’s human rights abuses extend beyond his treatment of women. In 2003, the LEF and other security agencies arrested an untold number of people, including students, for joining or supporting month-long pro-democracy protests in Tehran.

In particular, authorities detained Iranian-Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi as she photographed families of incarcerated dissidents outside the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran. The LEF and other security agencies alternately retained custody of Kazemi. Yet nearly three weeks after her apprehension, she died in a Tehran military hospital. An examination of her body showed signs of torture and rape. Canada responded to the murder by withdrawing its ambassador from Iran.

Kazemi’s killers remain unpunished to this day.

Before his tenure with the LEF, Talaei served as a commander in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a paramilitary force tasked with advancing the clerical regime’s radical Islamist ideology. Talaei, who rose to the rank of brigadier general, thus bears complicity in the IRGC’s decades-long, bloody campaign to become a regional hegemon unencumbered by dissent at home.

The IRGC and the LEF, renamed as the Law Enforcement Command (LEC) in late 2021, often work together. The two groups, after all, have similar missions. While the LEC nominally seeks, like any other police force, simply to maintain law and order, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has asserted that the police must preserve “moral and social” security as well. In other words, the LEC, like the IRGC, must safeguard the regime’s authority and enforce the Islamist creed that drives it.

Talaei’s presence in Canada has triggered a public outcry. In February, eight human rights organizations released an open letter criticizing the government for allowing Talaei to enter the country — even as Ottawa inexplicably turns away many Iranian refugees legitimately seeking safe harbor.

The letter calls on Ottawa to consider sanctioning Talaei pursuant to the 2017 Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, also known as the Global Magnitsky law. Sanctions imposed under this statute, which targets foreign nationals responsible for or complicit in gross violations of human rights, would bar Talaei from entering Canada and prohibit Canadians from conducting financial transactions with him.

Ironically, Talaei has responded angrily to the publicity surrounding his presence in Canada, declaring that his travel is nobody’s business. But as many critics pointed out, that’s hardly the position he took about the personal lives of the Iranian people. Talaei’s “brutality runs deep,” the open letter states. Canada should act accordingly.

Tzvi Kahn is a research 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 Tzvi, the Iran Program, and CEFP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Tzvi on Twitter @TzviKahn. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_Iran and @FDD_CEFP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy.


Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Sanctions Sanctions and Illicit Finance