December 12, 2012 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 910

Canada-Iran Crisis: Canada Accuses Iran Of Subversive Activity On Its Soil

December 12, 2012 | By Yossi Mansharof*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 910


On September 7, 2012, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird unexpectedly announced that Ottawa had severed relations with Tehran, and that all Iranian diplomats were being expelled from Canada. He explained that, as of that date, Canada was considering Iran a terror-sponsoring country and formally listing it as a state sponsor of terrorism under the country's Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act.

Canada-Iran relations soured in 2003, with the rape and murder of Canadian-Iranian journalist Zahra Kazemi in Iran's infamous Evin Prison. Since then, Canada has been advancing a proposal for condemning Iran in the U.N. for human rights violations.[1]

Apparently, one of Canada's motives for unilaterally cutting off relations with Iran was a July 2012 interview given by the cultural affairs attaché at the Iranian Embassy in Ottawa, Hamid Mohammadi, to the Iran-based website for Iranian expatriates in Canada, Iranians Residing Abroad ([2] In the interview, he urged Iranian-Canadians to "occupy high-level key positions" and "resist being melted into the dominant Canadian culture." Also in the interview, he welcomed the increasing numbers of Iranians living in Canada, estimating them at about half a million and deeming this number advantageous for Iran, noting that part of this community, the second generation of which was already integrating into the influential government apparatus, was preserving strong attachments and bonds to its homeland.

Mohammadi went on in the interview to describe Iran's intention of recruiting Iranian-Canadians to serve Iran under the cover of cultural activity. He said: "By 2031, the total immigrant population of Canada will increase by 64%, and the number of Iranians will increase due to birthrate. 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."[3]

Hamid Mohammadi, Iranian cultural affairs attaché at the Iranian embassy in Ottawa

Canada's Foreign Ministry strongly objected to Mohammadi's statements, warning Tehran to stop using its embassy in Ottawa 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."[5]

Following Baird's announcement, Canadian Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney clarified that his county would not permit members or allies of the Iranian regime from setting up residency in Canada, and that officials were carefully reviewing applications from Iranian nationals to ensure that anyone allied with or part of the Iranian government would not be allowed to enter. He said: "We want to ensure that people who may be inadmissible – that is to say those who perhaps are associated with the [Islamic] Revolutionary Guard, the Qods Force, the Basij, or senior members of the regime – are not admissible to Canada."[6]

This paper will review Iranian reactions to Ottawa's severing of relations with Tehran, as well as some of the Iranian regime activity in Canada in recent years.

Iranian Reactions To Canada's Severing Of Relations

Many regime spokesmen in Tehran tried to downplay the importance of Canada's move.[7] Others were enraged, and several expressed fears of similar actions by other Western governments.[8] Iranian Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Salehi said angrily that the reasons given by Canada as justification for the severing of relations – that is, Iran's disregard of UN resolutions pertaining to its nuclear program and its military support of the Syrian regime – were groundless, and called the Canadian government "an extremist government... that itself helps extremist groups massacre the Syrian people."[9]

Majlis National Security Committee member Hossein Naqavi called Canada's closure of its embassy in Tehran "an act of suicide," and urged the Iranian regime to give Canada a 24-hour deadline to evacuate all of its diplomatic staff in Tehran.[10] Committee member Ahmad Bakhshayesh-Ardestani proposed that the regime respond by boycotting Canadian companies,[11] and committee chairman Mansour Haqiqat-Pour proposed that all Canadian ships passing through the Strait of Hormuz be subjected to inspection.[12]

Britain is behind Canada's severing of relations with Iran[13]

The regime newspapers also expressed their fury at Canada's move. An article in Kayhan stated that the Canadian Foreign Ministry is known in international diplomatic circles as a slave of the U.S. and Israel that is willing to commit suicide for their sake.[14]

Canada, the U.S.'s pet devil, turns its back on Iran[15]

On September 10, the Resalat daily called Canada's severing of relations "political suicide for Ottawa," adding that the move "reflected the influence of the U.S., Britain, and the Zionist lobby in the Canadian government." It went on to state: "The Canadian government must pay a steep price for its emotional and irrational judgment... [The severing of relations] will not harm Iran's progress... The hasty actions of the Canadian government give Iran an opportunity to expose Canada's aggressive essence... What is important is the price that the [Canadian] government will pay in the future."[16]

Examples Of Iranian Regime Activity In Canada In Recent Years

The main means through which the Iranian regime operated in recent years in Canada included the Iranian embassy in Ottawa, via the cultural affairs attaché and the Cultural Center of Iran in Canada, which is headed by the attaché[17]; the Islamic Ahlul Bayt Assembly of Canada;[18] and the Center for Islamic Guidance in Toronto, which, according to the online daily Rooz, is a branch of the Qom-based Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute, run by the very conservative Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-e Yazdi.[19]

1. Anti-West and Anti-Zionist Activity

Along with religious activity, the Iranian cultural attaché in Canada conducted distinctly political activity, spreading the revolutionary, anti-West and anti-Zionist agenda of the Iranian regime.[20] For example, on May 28, 2012, the Cultural Center, which he heads, announced that the "first international independent filmmakers festival," called "New Horizon," would be held in Tehran June 30-July 5, 2012. It added that the theme of the festival, the motto of which was "Towards Justice," would be "the tremendous changes in the world, and the expansion of the wave of [antiestablishment] awakening in Europe, America, and the Islamic countries," and that it would focus on the following topics:

"1. The international Occupy Wall Street movement

"2. The awakening movements in Islamic countries

"3. Political and social movements in Europe and America

"4. The economic crisis in Europe and America

"5. The role of the Zionist lobby in the current American and European crises

"6. Getting to know prominent political figures opposing global Zionism and imperialism

"7. Resistance against occupiers

"8. "Islamic resistance against the Zionist regime

"9. War threats against Iran and anti-war movements

"10. Thirty four years of Islamic revolution in Iran

"11. Iran phobia and Islam phobia

"12. A world toward sustained justice

"13. A world without Zionism

"14. A World without terrorism and nuclear weapons"[21]

It should be noted that the English version of the website omitted all explicit mention of antiestablishment activity in the West and of anti-Zionist activity.

New Horizon banner, from the website of the Cultural Center of Iran in Canada [22]

Tehran Seminar On "Islamic Awakening And Liberating The Holy City of Jerusalem," July 2012

On July 9, 2012, the Cultural Center of Iran in Canada called on all those interested to submit articles for a seminar to be held August 13 in Tehran, on "The Islamic Awakening and Liberating the Holy City of Jerusalem." According to the center, the topics on the seminar's agenda included: "A New Intifada in the Occupied Lands and the Obstacles It Faces"; "The Role of the Media in Actualizing the Liberation of Jerusalem"; and "Drawing Up a Plan to Liberate the Holy City of Jerusalem In Light of the Changes in the Islamic Awakening."[23]

Marking Qods Day in Canada, August 18, 2012

At an August 18 Qods Day ceremony held by the Iranian embassy in Ottawa,[24] a film on the Palestinian resistance was shown. During the ceremony, the chargé d'affaires for the Iranian embassy, Kambiz Sheikh-Hassani, praised the Palestinian resistance, saying: "For nearly 70 years, the Palestinian nation has been imprisoned under the harshest of circumstances in its homeland, and has been confronting the wildest opposition of the most oppressive regime – but to date the exemplary resistance has preserved its existence, its honor, and its faith."[25], which is identified with the Global Al Ahl Bayt organization, based in Qom, Iran, reported that 3,000 people had participated in a Qods Day demonstration in Toronto in August 2012 – among them Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, members of the Jewish ultra-orthodox anti-Zionist sect Neturei Karta, and anti-war groups. According to the report, the demonstrators chanted: "From the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free," "Yes to Judaism, no to Zionism," "Long live Palestine," and "Zionism equals racism." The speakers at the event congratulated the United Church of Canada, Canada's largest Protestant church, on its support of a boycott of Israeli products.

Qods Day demonstration, Toronto[26]

2. Exporting Islamic Revolutionary Thought

On June 2, 2012, the Cultural Center of Iran in Canada, in cooperation with the Iranian Culture Association of Carleton University in Ottawa – which is headed by attaché Mohammadi's son Ehsan Mohammadi[27] – held the 2012 Imam Khomeini Conference at the university; the conference's title was "The Contemporary Awakening and Imam Khomeini's Thought." According to the announcement (below), the speakers were to include Moulana Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi, a founder and senior member of the Ahlul Bayt Assembly, and Phil Wilayto, editor of The Virginia Defender, author, and political commentator for Iran's Press TV.[28]

Iranian-Canadian academics wrote a letter to Carleton University criticizing its hosting of the conference honoring Khomeini, in which they stated that the conference had provided an academic cover for the spread of Iranian regime propaganda, that it had no academic value, and that it provided no objective analysis of the thought of Khomeini. In response, the university said that it had no connection to the event, and that views expressed by speakers there did not reflect the views of the university as a whole.[29]

3. Activity Of Other Iranian Organizations In Canada

Iran's religious activity in Canada is carried out by the Islamic Ahlul Bayt Assembly of Canada, which operates on behalf of the Iranian regime and via the Center for Islamic Guidance in Toronto.

The Islamic Ahlul Bayt Assembly of Canada

The Islamic Ahlul Bayt Assembly of Canada is a branch of the Qom-based Global Ahlul Bayt, which is directly subordinate to the office of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.[30] In an interview with an Iranian website affiliated with the Qom seminaries, Muhammad Zaki Baqri, a senior member of the organization, described Khamenei as "one of the boons bestowed by God upon the Islamic world," and added, "Today we are ready to carry out any order issued by Khamenei, willingly and anywhere in the world, and we will not cease this, even for a moment."[31]

As stated on the website of the Cultural Center of Iran in Canada, the Islamic Ahlul Bayt Assembly of Canada, established by the Iranian regime in 1993, aims to "maintain a relationship and coordination among more than 80 Islamic Shi'ite centers in Canada, hold large scientific conferences, and teach the precepts of Islam to all who are interested."[32]

As early as May 2009, the Iranian website, which, as mentioned above, is identified with the Global Ahlul Bayt, called for spreading Shi'a among the Christians in Europe and North America, including Canada, and assessed that Muslims would become a majority on both continents thanks to their high natural birthrate and to Muslim immigration.[33]

The founder and chairman of the Islamic Ahlul Bayt Assembly of Canada, Ayatollah Reza Hosseini Nassab, is an alumnus of the Qom seminaries who studied under Iranian clerics – including Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, the deposed heir to Ayatollah Khomeini. Previously, Hosseini Nassab taught at Qom seminaries and at the Islamic Center in Hamburg, Germany, and established the Ahlul Bayt Assembly of Germany; he is also a founder and a senior partner in nearly two dozen other Islamic centers in Germany, Canada, and Switzerland.[34] During a recent trip home to Iran due to his father's illness, he gave a speech about "spreading Islam in the Western world."

Ayatollah Reza Hosseini Nassab[35]

The Center for Islamic Guidance in Toronto

On September 9, 2012, the Rooz online daily reported that the Qom-based Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute was operating a branch in Toronto to train preachers: "In Toronto, there is an Islamic guidance center identified with the Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute, run by [Ayatollah] Mesbah-e Yazdi. The institute, which is considered one of the largest Islamic guidance centers in Toronto, has several hundred religious students and researchers. Ayatollah Mesbah-e Yazdi paid annual visits to Canada until his health deteriorated a few years ago. The Toronto center is the largest center for training preachers operating under his oversight outside Iran."[36]

The Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute was founded in Qom in 1995, by Ayatollah Mesbah-e Yazdi, with partial funding by the regime.[37] It should be noted that MEMRI research has found no further details on the Toronto center.

*Y. Mansharof is a research fellow at MEMRI.


[1] Relations went downhill when the Iranian regime rejected Canada's demand that the events be investigated and the perpetrators prosecuted., September 10, 2012. For more on the Zahra Kazemi affair, see Inquiry & Analysis No. 148,

The Torture and Death of Canadian Photojournalist Zahra Kazemi At The Hands of Iran's Judicial Authority, September 26, 2003.

[2] The interview was apparently removed from, but quotes from it were posted on many other websites, for example,

[3], July 11, 2012. The Tabnak website, identified with Expediency Council secretary Mohsen Rezai, criticized Mohammadi's statements, claiming that they provided a sufficient pretext for Canadian authorities to subject Iranian-Canadians to pressure and scrutiny. Tabnak (Iran), July 11, 2012.

[4], April 2, 2012.

[5], July 11, 2012.

[6] The Star (Canada), September 9, 2012.

[7] For example, Assembly of Experts member and Friday preacher Ahmad Khatami said that Canada is not a significant country and that the severing of relations was trivial and would be bad for Canada. ISNA (Iran), September 9, 2012. Majlis speaker Ali Larijani said that the severing of relations was futile attempt by Canada to downplay Iran's political achievement in hosting the Non-Aligned Movement conference in August 2012. ISNA (Iran), September 9, 2012. Basij commander Mohammad-Reza Naqdi said that it is the West that needs Iran, not the other way around. ISNA (Iran), September 8, 2012. Kayhan editor Hossein Shariatmadari said that Canada carries no weight at all in the international arena. ISNA (Iran), September 12, 2012. Columnist Hassan Hanizadeh, who is close to regime circles, said that Canada plays no role of any kind in Middle East issues, and that the severing of relations reflects its hasty attempt to isolate Iran, which will fail because it will have no impact on Iran's relations with the West. ISNA (Iran), September 9, 2012.

[8] For example, Majlis National Security Committee member Hossein Sobhani-Nia at a committee meeting with Foreign Ministry representatives. Mehr (Iran), September 10, 2012. A similar fear was expressed in an op-ed by academic Davoud Hermidas-Bavand, in the reformist daily Arman (Iran), September 10, 2012.

[9], September 20, 2012. Salehi also predicted that Canada's support for Zionism would lead to popular protests against it.

[10], September 9, 2012.

[11] Javan (Iran), September 10, 2012.

[12], September 8, 2012.

[13] Fars (Iran), September 10, 2012.

[14] Kayhan (Iran), September 9, 2012.

[15] Fars (Iran), September 10, 2012.

[16] Resalat (Iran), September 10, 2012.

[17] While the English-language website of this center ( tries to obscure its affiliation with the Iranian embassy and the Iranian regime, the Farsi version of the website ( explicitly identifies itself as the website of the cultural affairs attaché at the Iranian embassy. The site states that attaché works, inter alia, to strengthen the relationship between the regime and the Iranian expatriate community in Canada.

[19], September 9, 2012.

[20] The Canadian National Post daily revealed that Islamic schools in Canada had used antisemitic books imported from Iran. National Post (Canada) May 10, 2012.

[21], May 28, 2012.

[22], May 28, 2012.


[24] Qods Day, marked annually on the last Friday of Ramadan, was established by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Revolution regime in Iran, to denote the Iranian aspiration for the liberation of Palestinian lands from Israel.

[25] Fars (Iran), August 18, 2012.

[26], August 21, 2012.

[27], June 20, 2012.

[28], May 30, 2012.

[29] Macleans (Canada), June 15, 2012.

[34] See

[35] See

[36], September 9, 2012. In May 2007, the Asr-e Iran website reported that Ayatollah Mesbah-e Yazdi went to Canada to give a speech on cooperation and consultation between Shi'ites and Christians at a three-day conference at the University of Waterloo in Canada. Asr-e Iran (Iran) May 27, 2007.

[37] Sharq (Iran), July 18, 2012.

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