Islamic Republic Embassy in Ottawa

Islamic Republic Embassy in Ottawa – A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Tuesday that the Iranian Embassy (pictured) “should not interfere” in Iranian-Canadians‘ choices.

National Post:   Jul 11, 2012 – 1:30 AM ET | Last Updated: Jul 11, 2012 3:22 AM ET

Canada’s Foreign Affairs department issued a warning Tuesday to Iranian diplomats who are allegedly using their Ottawa embassy to recruit Iranian-Canadians to serve the Islamic Republic’s interests.

“Iranian-Canadians have rejected the oppressive Iranian regime and have chosen to come to Canada to build better lives,” a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said in a statement to the National Post. “The Iranian Embassy should not interfere in their choices. Canadian security organizations will act to prevent threats and intimidation of Canadians.”

News of the alleged mobilization effort emerged this month in a Farsi-language interview given by Hamid Mohammadi, a cultural affairs counsellor attached to the Iranian embassy in Ottawa, to an Iran-based website directed at Iranian expatriates in Canada. In his interview with Iranians Residing Abroad, Mr. Mohammadi apparently urged Iranian-Canadians to “occupy high-level key positions” and “resist being melted into the dominant Canadian culture.”

The embassy is in and of itself a menace to public safety and our national interests; it should have been closed down yesterday

Mr. Mohammadi, who estimated the Iranian-Canadian population at 500,000, said recent Iranian immigrants have “decisively preserved strong attachments and bonds to their homeland,” while the “younger second generation” is already “working in influential government positions.”

Most ominously, he mapped out how he says his country plans to recruit Iranian-Canadians under the guise of a cultural outreach program: “By 2031, the total immigrant population of Canada will increase by 64%, and the number of Iranians will increase due to birthrate,” he said. “So, therefore, we need to put into effect very concentrated cultural programs in order to enhance and nurture the culture in this fast-growing population. It is obvious that this large Iranian population can only be of service to our beloved Iran through these programs and gatherings.”

On Tuesday, Iran’s top diplomat to Canada said his embassy is following Canadian and international laws, outright dismissing Tuesday’s Ottawa Citizen report that Iranian-Canadians are being enlisted to serve Tehran.

“We strongly dismiss baseless allegations by [some] media that [the] ‘Iranian Embassy has been recruiting ethnic Iranians in Canada to be of service to Iran,’” Kambiz Sheikh-Hassan, the Iranian charge d’affaires, said in a statement.

Experts say Mr. Mohammadi’s startlingly blunt interview has not only jeopardized Canada’s national security reputation abroad, but also sparked very real fears of espionage, terrorist recruitment and a possible attack on the U.S. from north of the border.

“The embassy is in and of itself a menace to public safety and our national interests; it should have been closed down yesterday,” said former CSIS intelligence operative David Harris, who is director of the international and terrorist intelligence program at Insignis Strategic Research Inc. “I think we’re at grave risk of being considered a problem-state rather than a serious ally to those countries to which we have been closest.”

When you become a Canadian citizen, virtually no one can touch you, and so these people can easily get to the United States

Rick Roth, Mr. Baird’s spokesperson, said “it is well known that Iran is a serious threat to global peace and security,” and Mr. Harris testified a year ago before a Senate committee that the regime had already established an “aggressive presence” in Ottawa by “variously relying on, and victimizing, its expatriates.”

Even well-intentioned Iranian newcomers are at risk of being recruited, Mr. Harris said: If Iranian officials and loyalists manage to get their hands on details about an immigrant’s family back in Iran, that information could be leveraged to coerce the newcomer into becoming a spy.

“We have to be on the alert for adversaries who seek to exploit fellow Canadians for their own advantage,” said Martin Rudner, the founding director of Carleton University’s Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies. “I could picture the Iranian embassy making a phone call to an individual who doesn’t necessarily want to help them and say something along the lines of, ‘You have relatives back in Iran, and those relatives could be in jeopardy if you don’t help us.’”

Ottawa is officially tough with Iran, maintaining a Controlled Engagement Policy that forbids the country from opening consulates or cultural centres outside Ottawa. But Iranian immigrants active against the Tehran regime say an “education advisory” section of Iran’s embassy is the main sponsor of a three-day Iranian Students Convention planned for this summer in Cornwall, Ont. And a 2010 Maclean’s magazine report exposed an Iranian cultural centre in Toronto as having been founded by a well-connected Iranian diplomat and funded by Iran’s Ottawa embassy.

“When you become a Canadian citizen, virtually no one can touch you, and so these people can easily get to the United States,” said Shabnam Assadollahi, an Ottawa-based Iranian-Canadian who helped translate the Mohammadi interview as part of her activism against the Iranian regime.

“The only solution is to close the Iranian embassy in Ottawa,” Ms. Assadollahi said.

National Post, with files from Postmedia News