Border agency cited crackdown on protesters as minister considers blacklisting Iranian officials

The Canada Border Services Agency cited examples of Iran’s use of violence against civilians since 2019 to convince the federal government to bar senior Iranian officials recently in power from entering Canada.

CBC News obtained from the agency a list of evidence it recently provided to Public Security Minister Marco Mendicino as he considered taking action against Iran in response to its recent violent crackdown on protests .

The list shows that the CBSA pointed to Iran’s cyberattacks on the Albanian government, its plot to kidnap or kill Israeli tourists and the death of 23-year-old Mahsa Amini. Her death while in the custody of Iran’s so-called « morality police » sparked the recent wave of protests.

The agency also cited threats against the families of the victims of Flight PS752 as examples of Tehran’s behavior.

The federal government has come under intense pressure from Iranian-Canadians and the conservative opposition to crack down on Iran.

Mendicino officially listed the Islamic Republic of Iran on November 14 as a regime engaged in terrorism and systemic human rights abuses.

« This means that tens of thousands of senior Iranian regime officials, including many members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, are now inadmissible to Canada, » the official government notice reads.

The designation fell short of what many members of the Iranian-Canadian Diaspora have demanded and the United States has already executed – a federal order listing the entire Revolutionary Guard Corps of the Islamic Republic (IRGC) as a terrorist group under the Criminal Code.

Federal officials said the government does not want to target Iranians who have simply been conscripted into the IRGC and is instead taking a more targeted approach through the Refugee and Immigration Protection Act. The government has estimated it could blacklist around 10,000 officers and senior members of the Iranian regime — including IRGC officials in power since November 2019 — from entering Canada.

When asked why the government only blacklists members of the Iranian regime in office since 2019, Mendicino told CBC News that he relied on « the in-depth analysis conducted by the CBSA » .

This still from video taken by an individual not employed by The Associated Press and obtained by the AP outside Iran shows Iranian police arriving to break up a protest to mark 40 days since the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, 22, in Tehran on October 26. (The Associated Press)

« 2019 was the time when there was an uprising, as well as a number of similar protests in defense of human rights, » Mendicino told CBC News.

« Shortly after, of course, there was the crash of flight PS752, which saw many Canadians and permanent residents as well as foreign nations (…) killed as a result of the actions of the Iranian regime. »

Iranian-Canadian human rights lawyer and activist Kaveh Shahrooz said the decision to only target those in power since 2019 was « completely arbitrary and defies logic ».

« The IRGC has been a terrorist organization since its inception, » said Shahrooz, a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

“For many years he terrorized Iranians inside the country and killed many inside the country. If we want to hold them accountable and prevent them from entering Canada, we need to apply the ban much more broadly.

There is no deadline for the designation period, which means that the blacklist designation may continue to apply to senior officials serving in the Iranian regime in the future.

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University of Ottawa Iran expert Thomas Juneau said he wonders why the federal government chose 2019 as the deadline. He said Iran’s atrocities date back decades and he suspects it would have been « simply too much work » for the CBSA to go back to 1979 for designation purposes.

“The goal here was to establish that Iran has committed a sufficient number of atrocities to warrant sanctions,” he said. « I think the government can very easily do that, regardless of the precise endpoint. »

The CBSA said it used open-source data from international media, non-governmental organizations and research bodies to provide Mendicino with examples of wrongdoing.

The evidence « was not intended to be an exhaustive catalogue », but was intended to provide the minister with sufficient evidence to consider designation, the CBSA said.

The agency also said that while it did not consult with allies, it had reviewed public statements made by the governments of the United States, New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom against Iran.

What role did the death of Mahsa Amini play?

The CBSA told Mendicino that the high-profile death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini is an example of the extrajudicial execution of people detained by the Islamic Republic of Iran, which it called « a flagrant violation of the rights of the man ».

Iran’s vice police arrested Amini in September for « inappropriate dress » because she wore the mandatory hijab « inappropriately ». She died in police custody on September 16.

Citing eyewitnesses, Amini’s family said authorities beat her in the police van after her arrest. An Iranian coroner’s report blamed his death on pre-existing medical conditions – which his father denied, pointing to bruises found on his body.

His death has fueled ongoing anti-regime protests and strikes in Iran and around the world, including in Canada.

Women hold signs depicting the image of Mahsa Amini, 22, who died in the custody of Iranian authorities. (Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images)

Mendicino also reviewed evidence suggesting that Iranian authorities have « engaged in a campaign of harassment and abuse » against the families who lost loved ones on Flight PS752, the CBSA said.

The IRGC shot down the commercial plane in January 2020 with surface-to-air missiles, killing 176 people on board. Among those killed were 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents.

« Based on interviews with family members of the victims and others with direct knowledge of the families’ treatment, Iranian security agencies arbitrarily detained, summoned, abusively interrogated, tortured and otherwise mistreated the family members of the victims, » ​​the CBSA said.

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The CBSA cited the nationwide protests in Iran in 2019-2020 – which are collectively known as “Bloody November” – as examples of the regime’s use of “deadly violence” to suppress protesters. demonstrations.

In November 2019, Iranian security agencies attempted to quell political protests that erupted across the country in response to high gasoline prices with arrests and lethal force. In its report to Mendicino, the CBSA cited a Reuters news agency report that more than 7,000 people were arrested and around 1,500 people died during the two weeks of protests.

« According to information provided to Reuters by senior Iranian officials in December 2019, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered his top security and government officials to ‘do whatever it takes to stop [the protesters] »,” the CBSA wrote.

A petrol station shows damage after it was attacked and set on fire during protests against rising government-set petrol prices in Tehran on November 20, 2019. (Ebrahim Noroozi/Associated Press)

The CBSA cited a report by Human Rights Watch that said satellite images of the protests, interviews with victims and witnesses, photos and videos « strongly suggest that security forces used unlawful force » .

Shahrooz said there were strong calls for the federal government to take action against the IRGC in 2019. He said the terrorism designation should have happened at the time.

“Unfortunately, it took immense political pressure, including a [Canadian] rally to bring 50,000 people to the streets, for our government to act,” he said. “I think it’s unfortunate.

CBSA points to examples of terrorism

The CBSA said Canada put Iran on the list of foreign state sponsors of terrorism a decade ago when it severed ties with Iran and closed its embassy in Tehran.

Since then, the CBSA said, Turkish authorities reported in June that they had halted an Iranian plot to kidnap or kill Israeli tourists in Turkey, including Israel’s former ambassador to Turkey and his wife.

“At the same time, Israel issued an urgent appeal to all its citizens to leave Istanbul immediately and reconsider non-essential travel to other parts of Turkey, warning that Iranian agents were ready to kidnap or kill Israelis, as Iran sought revenge for the deaths of IRGC officers, for which it blamed Israel,” the CBSA said.

The CBSA also noted that Albania severed diplomatic relations with Iran and expelled all Iranian diplomats this year in response to allegations that Iranian state actors launched ransomware attacks against the Albanian government in retaliation for having hosted thousands of members of Iranian opposition groups in the country.

In 2020, the Albanian government also expelled two Iranian diplomats for allegedly endangering the country’s national security.


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