Canada to Start Sharing Diplomatic Missions with UK

The UK offered the Canadian government office space in its embassy in Myanmar, pictured above, during their meeting on September 24th (Google Maps)

The Canadian and British governments announced last week that they had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that will have the two countries share diplomatic missions in order to cut costs and expand their diplomatic reach.

The agreement was signed during a visit by UK Foreign Secretary William Hague to Ottawa, Canada on September 24th, and was accompanied by an exchange of offers of diplomatic office space between the countries, with the UK offering Canada space in the British embassy in Myanmar (Burma) and Canada offering the UK space in the Canadian embassy in Haiti.

Some in Canada have expressed concern that the joint missions would put Canadian diplomats at risk in countries with anti-British sentiment, while others have said it endangers Canada’s independence in foreign policy.

Promoters of the partnership cite the potential efficiency gains in sharing diplomatic resources and the cultural links between the countries as reasons to support the decision.

Before his meeting with Canadian political leaders last week, Mr. Hague described the closeness between the UK and Canada by quoting British Prime Minister David Cameron: “As the prime minister said when addressing the Canadian parliament last year: ‘We are two nations, but under one Queen and united by one set of values.'”

Italy to Represent Canadian Government in Iran

Italian embassy in Tehran, Iran. Italy has announced that it will represent Canada's interests in Iran following the closure of the Canadian embassy in the country. (Google Maps)

Italy announced this week that it will represent the Canadian government in Iran following the departure of Canadian diplomats from the Middle Eastern country. The Harper government announced on September 7th that it had closed the Canadian embassy in Tehran and ordered the Iranian embassy in Canada closed and Iranian diplomats to leave Canada within five days.

Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, known to be a strong ally of Israel’s hard-line Likud government, said that diplomatic relations with Iran were being cut because “[Iran] routinely threatens the existence of Israel and engages in racist anti-Semitic rhetoric and incitement to genocide”.

Many in the Canadian diplomatic community, including three former Canadian ambassadors to Iran, have criticized the decision however. Kenneth Taylor, who was Canadian ambassador to Iran from 1977 to 1980 and famously helped American diplomats escape Iran during the hostage crisis, said about the move: “I really can’t see the rationale of this move … It’s a very bold stroke to sever diplomatic relations and close the embassy within five days.”

Former Canadian ambassador to Iran from 1972 to 1977, James George, said in an interview with the Globe and Mail that having a Canadian embassy in Iran was important “in defending our citizens who are on death row in Iran, and not have to go through another embassy that has other priorities.”

Mr. George, who is 93, said the move makes a Middle East war more likely: “[the embassy closure] fuels speculation about a possible attack, adds to the tension and the likelihood that something will happen. I think it was the wrong move for that reason.”

John Mundy, who was Canada’s ambassador to Iran until 2007, also weighed in with strong words about the decision:

“This is the first time in decades that a Canadian prime minister, Liberal or Conservative, appears to be advocating approaches that reduce diplomatic opportunities for peace during an international crisis”

Despite the criticism, the move has been received positively by the majority of the Canadian public, with 72 percent of Canadians in a recent Angus Reid survey saying they supported cutting diplomatic ties with Iran.

Iranian Immigrants Being Singled Out For Extra Scrutiny by Canadian Government

Iran's largest car manufacturer, Iran-Khodro, is one of the hundreds of companies sanctioned under Canada's Special Economic Measures Act (SEPA). An employment history with the firm can potentially cause difficulties for Iranians seeking to immigrate to Canada.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said this week that Iranians applying for immigration to Canada are being “rigorously” screened by the Canadian government for links to the Iranian political leadership.

Kenney cited the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), saying it bars any one linked to “the Iranian Revolutionary Guard … the Basij or senior members of the regime” from immigrating to Canada.

This week the Harper government placed Iran and Syria on its list of state sponsors of terrorism, and section 34 of the IRPA which Kenney referred to deems members of organizations believed to be engaged in terrorism to be inadmissible to Canada.

A number of Iranian-Canadian human rights and dissident group activists have for years urged the Canadian government to prevent individuals linked to the Iranian regime from immigrating to Canada. They say that senior members of the Iranian government have managed immigrate to Canada and worry that they will be able to extend the reach of the Iranian government into Canada and intimidate Iranian-Canadians who oppose the regime.

Prominent Iranian-born human-rights activist and former Miss Canada Nazanin Afshin-Jam, who is married to Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay, said in July that the Iranian embassy in Ottawa should be shut down, saying it “has no purpose here” and is used to spread “propaganda”.

The Harper government has heeded their calls and put in place two rounds of sanctions against Iran, in July 2010 and November 2011, as well as shutting down the Iranian embassy in Canada and the Canadian embassy in Tehran and putting Iran on its list of state sponsors of terrorism this week.

The punitive actions have affected many with no links to the regime however. The closure of the Iranian embassy in Ottawa this week left thousands of Iranian students without consular services in Canada and no where to turn to receive them.

Likewise, Canadian economic sanctions, ostensibly put in place to prevent the Iranian government from funding its nuclear program, resulted in a major Canadian financial institution, TD Bank, shutting down the bank accounts of over 100 Iranian-Canadians.

It has also led to a few cases of Iranians with no relationship to the Iranian government having their application for immigration to Canada rejected in the last phase of the selection process. The reason given was that they had an employment history that included positions at companies sanctioned due to their links to the Iranian government.

For Iran’s professional class, avoiding employment at firms with links to the Iranian government is nearly impossible in some cases, as Iran’s government and Revolutionary Guard have major stakes in almost every large commercial entity in the country, so the effect of these sanctions is to prevent many of Iran’s best and brightest, who have no political links, and are seeking a better life in a new country, from being able to immigrate to Canada.

Would-be Iranian immigrants have also been facing extra difficulties in the immigration process due to the effects of financial sanctions imposed last year, which require any one wanting to send their money from Iran to Canada to first acquire a special permit from the federal government that can take any where from four to eight weeks to issue.

In Surprising Move, Harper Gov Orders Expulsion of Iranian Diplomats and Closes Canada’s Embassy in Iran

The Harper government ordered the Canadian embassy in Tehran, Iran, picture above, to be closed and has given all Iranian diplomats five days to leave Ottawa, Canada.

In a surprise announcement today, the Harper government said that it is closing the Canadian embassy in Tehran and expelling all Iranian diplomats from Canada.

Many political commentators were puzzled by the abrupt decision, as there have been no recent public developments in the Iranian-Canadian relationship that seemingly could have motivated the move.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, a known anti-Iran hawk and supporter of Israel’s hard-line Likud government, said that “[Iran] routinely threatens the existence of Israel and engages in racist anti-Semitic rhetoric and incitement to genocide” to explain the cause of the closure. Baird also said the closure was motivated by worries about the safety of Canadian diplomats in Iran.

One potential explanation for the timing of the closure is that the Harper government is facing a deadline from the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act, legislation it passed in March that makes countries on a special list exempt from immunity to lawsuits for culpability in terrorist attacks worldwide. The deadline for the compilation of that list was six months after the passing of the legislation, a date coming up next week.

Reacting to the news, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparst described the Harper government as having a “radical foreign policy” that placed Israel’s interests ahead of those of Canadians. A message on the website of the Embassy of Iran in Canada said:

“According to the hostile decision of the Canadian government, the Iranian embassy in Ottawa has been closed and inevitably any consulate services for fellow Iranians has stopped. Please avoid sending any consulate affairs documents. The Embassy is closed”

Many in Canada’s large Iranian-Canadian community expressed shock at the decision. The termination of diplomatic relations will affect the many Iranian-Canadians who regularly visit family in Iran by eliminating consular services on both sides of the trip.

Most Canadian consular services for Iranian nationals were already moved to the Embassy of Canada in Ankara, Turkey when the Visa and Immigration section of the Embassy of Canada in Tehran was closed in April, so the effect of the closure will be more pronounced for Iranian consular services in Canada than Canadian consular services in Iran.

Several Iranian pro-democracy activists also expressed concern about the termination of diplomatic contact as they said it would close off the most important avenue through which the Canadian government exerts pressure on the Iranian government to release Iranian-Canadian political prisons and commute death sentences.

Canadian Visa Section in Tehran Embassy Closed – Relocated to Turkey

Citizenship and Immigration Canada announced yesterday that the Visa and Immigration section of the Embassy of Canada in Tehran is being closed, and its services for Iranian nationals are being transferred to the Embassy of Canada in Ankara, Turkey, effective immediately.

The department said in a statement that it regularly “evaluates its network of immigration offices and explores ways of doing business more effectively and efficiently”, and that the closure was part of these efforts.

This move will affect the processing of temporary resident applications. Permanent resident services were transferred from the Canadian embassy in Tehran to the embassy in Ankara several months ago.

There have been a number of downgrades in diplomatic relations between Canada and Iran in the past few years. Tensions between the two governments have increased since 2007, as the showdown over Iran’s nuclear program has ratcheted up.

               The Embassy of Canada in Tehran

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Overseas Canadian Immigration Officers will be Anonymous

Canadian visa officers will be anonymous to reduce risk of corruption and threats

According to a bulletin released by the Canadian Immigration Ministry last October, Canadian visa officers working abroad will be made anonymous, with their names not being published in official Canadian documents, in order to reduce the risk of corruption and possible threats against them.

Some visa officers abroad have been subject to threats and harassment after refusing to issue visas to applicants, and in some countries visa officers currently are given a security detail.

The bulletin stated that immigrants and their representatives will continue to be able to get the names of the visa officer in charge of their case through a written request to an embassy, an access of information request or a request by their MP.