March 29, 2023 | National Post

Canada must put Iran’s Revolutionary Guard on terrorist list under Criminal Code

“Excuses.” That’s how Hamed Esmaeilion, the former spokesperson for the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims, recently described Ottawa’s rationales for refusing to sanction Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) pursuant to Canada’s Criminal Code. He’s right. It’s long past time for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to act.

Esmaeilion has a stake in the outcome. His wife and daughter died in 2020 when the IRGC shot down Ukrainian International Airlines Flight PS752 shortly after takeoff from a Tehran airport, killing all 176 passengers on board, including 85 Canadian citizens and permanent residents. A Canadian judge ruled in 2021 that the attack was “intentional” and an “act of terrorism.”

That’s par for the course for the IRGC. Founded in 1979 at the outset of the Islamic Revolution, the IRGC is a paramilitary force charged with preserving and advancing the regime’s radical Islamist values. The IRGC’s foreign operations arm, known as the Quds Force, trains, funds, and arms Iran’s terrorist proxies across the Middle East, including the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the Syrian regime, and Yemen’s Houthis. It conducts terrorist attacks, takes hostages, and plots assassinations throughout the world.

The IRGC’s volunteer Basij militia and related IRGC intelligence agencies enforce Tehran’s harsh religious restrictions at home. These organizations have played a key role in violently suppressing nationwide protests. They enforce the regime’s mandatory headscarf laws, the primary trigger for the unrest that began in September.

In other words, the IRGC meets the basic definition of a terrorist organization: It deliberately deploys violence against civilians to achieve political and religious ends.

Ottawa seems to grasp that reality to some degree. In October, it designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization pursuant to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, thereby denying more than 10,000 IRGC officers and senior members access to Canadian territory. And since September, Canada has imposed several rounds of sanctions against Iranian human rights abusers, including multiple IRGC leaders.

Yet Trudeau has stopped short of the most impactful step he could take: designating the IRGC as a terrorist organization pursuant to Canada’s Criminal Code, which would dramatically increase economic and political pressure on the group. What accounts for Ottawa’s reticence?

Trudeau hasn’t publicly explained his reasoning. But in November, Attorney General and Justice Minister David Lametti argued that since the 125,000-strong IRGC relies on mandatory conscription, a Criminal Code designation would punish innocent Iranians who lacked any choice but to serve. Yet Ottawa could resolve this concern.

Rather than applying a blanket criminalization of all conscripts, Ottawa could use a Criminal Code designation as the basis for requiring economic institutions and travel agencies to apply enhanced due diligence of draftees before engaging in transactions with them. In this respect, Ottawa could give special consideration to older IRGC members who served, through no choice of their own, in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War and are unlikely to pose a threat today. If a former IRGC member feels unfairly targeted in a particular case, Canada could allow the conscript to appeal.

In this context, Thomas Juneau, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa, suggests Trudeau may oppose an IRGC designation because enforcing it would require a considerable amount of resources from Canada’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies. That’s true, but also beside the point. A potential inability to fully enforce the designation doesn’t mean that Ottawa should simply let a terrorist organization off the hook in its entirety.

Another possible reason for Trudeau’s inaction: He may believe that the IRGC’s status as a state actor precludes a Criminal Code designation under Canadian law. Yet there is a precedent for this sort of designation. As Andrew House, the chief of staff to former public safety minister Vic Toews, points out, the Taliban bears a Criminal Code designation even though it governs Afghanistan.

The downing of Flight PS752 was a watershed moment in Canadian-Iran relations that demands a forceful response. Designating the IRGC pursuant to the Criminal Code would be one more step towards long-overdue justice for Esmaeilion and Tehran’s many other victims, who continue — so far in vain — to demand Trudeau’s elementary recognition of reality. No more excuses.

Toby Dershowitz is senior vice president for government relations and strategy at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). Tzvi Kahn is a research fellow and senior editor at FDD. Katie Romaine is a government relations associate at FDD. Follow the authors on Twitter @TobyDersh@TzviKahn, and @Katie_Romaine. FDD is a Washington, DC-based nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy. 


Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Sanctions Iran-backed Terrorism Sanctions and Illicit Finance