Please find attached the letter that the ICC's Public Relations and Communications Chair Tayaz Fakhry wrote on behalf of the Iranian Canadian Congress responding to an opinion piece published by Michael Petrou on CBC's website .
Attention: CBC News Comment Editor, Robyn Urback, and CBC Contributor, Michael Petrou
On May 15th, 2017, an opinion piece by Michael Petrou, entitled “What does Canada get out of restoring diplomatic ties with Iran?” was published on your networks. In it, Petrou severely downplays the benefits of restoring diplomatic ties with Iran, suggesting that re-engagement may only result in “more convenient travel for Iranian Canadians and their relatives ... and the possibility of modest trade and business deals down the road.” In fact, the benefits of re-engagement with Iran are significantly more pronounced.
It is Iranian-Canadians themselves who have suffered disproportionately in the years since the former government broke diplomatic relations and instituted strict sanctions on Iran. When relations were broken in 2012, Iranian-Canadians suddenly found themselves unable to access consular services and were faced with considerable difficulty when attempting to acquire visitor visas for their relatives still living in Iran. Ironically, Iranian-Canadians have had to travel to Washington, DC, where Iran maintains an Interests Section, to access consular services--an option that now makes them vulnerable to United States President Trump’s travel restrictions. Petrou’s reference to the opportunity for “more convenient travel” is therefore quite an understatement. It is disparaging to the hundreds of thousands of dual citizens who are at risk of not being able to renew their student visas, work visas, or passports, or are unable to see aging relatives at home as a result.
The sanctions imposed on Iran also created often insurmountable barriers for honest and hard-working Iranian-Canadians. Many business owners who were dependent on the trade between Iran and Canada for their livelihood suddenly found their legitimate business activities rendered illegal. Additionally, banks refused to deal with those who had or were perceived to have any financial links to Iran (whether personal or business), due to the supposed legal risks. This even resulted in the closure of the bank accounts of Iranian-Canadians, including Canadian citizens, for no reason other than their nationality.
In his opinion piece, Petrou also sorely understates the economic benefits of re-engagement with Iran. Canadian businesses at large have not been able to access Iran’s untapped market of 80 million people. This is no small figure. A 2016 study found that Canada lost between 1.18 and 4.69 billion dollars in the years between 2010-2014 in exports as a result of sanctions on Iran. In the meantime, Canada’s G7 and NATO allies have been re-engaging with Iran both politically and economically since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was put into effect by the P5+1 and the EU. As sanctions eased on Iran, many international businesses, especially European companies, entered the Iranian market, while Canadian companies have been lagging behind due to our lack of relations and the uncertainties surrounding SEMA. For example, in the first nine months of 2016 alone, the European Union's trade with Iran has increased by 63 per cent. Several major contracts have been signed over the past 12 months, including major deals with Boeing and Airbus, worth billions.
Petrou also claims that re-engagement with Iran cannot help Canada “hold Iran to account on human rights.” It is quite clear, however, that without establishing diplomatic and economic relations, Canada cannot achieve any of its goals in Iran. Nader Hashemi, Director of the Center for Middle East Studies, University of Denver (March 29th, AEFA Committee), states that sanctions “prevent Canada from playing a more constructive role in terms of supporting Iranian civil society and the pro-democracy movement within Iran.” The Iranian Canadian Congress therefore maintains its position that to advocate for human rights in Iran and around the world, Canada must implement a policy of constructive engagement through diplomacy. In order to be effective, Canada must be fair and unbiased in promoting respect for human rights around the world; singling out countries like Iran for human rights concerns through the imposition of sanctions and diplomatic isolation while ignoring the human rights violations of other countries, including close allies, weakens Canada’s influence and image abroad.
We also ask that you publish this letter in the same manner as that of Mr. Petrou in the interests of journalistic fairness and balance.
Public Relations Chair of the Iranian Canadian Congress (ICC) Tayaz Fakhri
On behalf of the Board of Directors of the Iranian Canadian Congress