Figure 1: A man and woman head toward the Iranian Embassy (, 2012)

In an unexpected move, the Canadian government on Friday announced that it would suspend all diplomatic ties to Iran and would give Iranian diplomats in Canada five days to leave the country.

John Baird gave the announcement at the APEC Summit in Russia

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird made this announcement at the APEC summit in Russia. In a statement to the press, Baird explained that “Under the circumstances, Canada can no longer maintain a diplomatic presence in Iran.” In the statement, he explained that Iran was the “most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today,” citing Iran’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, its history with terrorist groups, its hostility towards Israel, the 1979 hostage crisis, its human rights record, and its nuclear program.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, eight Canadian diplomats are to leave Iran, while 17 Iranian diplomats are set to leave Canada. The federal government is discouraging Canadians from travelling to Iran, while Canadians currently in Iran are being told to contact the Canadian embassy in Turkey. However, the embassy in Turkey will be only used for routine passport services; there will a hotline available for emergency services.

A Rocky Relationship

The relationship between Canada and Iran has been a shaky one. Canada first established an embassy in the country in 1961. The 1979 Iranian revolution raised tensions between the countries, and during the Iranian Hostage Crisis the embassy was evacuated to avoid retribution against the Canadians.

For the next 11 years relations between the countries have been extremely unstable, and Canada was reluctant to resume diplomatic ties due to alleged human rights abuses.

In 1996, Canada and Iran re-established full diplomatic relations. Though Canada has operated on a policy of “controlled engagement” when dealing with Iran due to the human rights situation and its nuclear program.

From 2005 to 2012 Canada continued to restrict its contact with Iran, such as implementing sanctions in 2010 to discourage Iran’s nuclear program.

“It makes me anxious”

The reaction to Canada’s abrupt decision has been mixed. Many Iranian-Canadians have expressed concern that Canada’s decision was uncalled for and would have unintended consequences.

“An armed conflict needs to be avoided at all costs.” said Mahan Nekoui, a grade 12 student at Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute, “These nations need to put aggression aside and come to a diplomatic solution. Canada’s decision, while sending a strong message of disapproval, also sends a strong message of anti-diplomacy. The decision makes me concerned that the issue can only escalate.”

“Instead of addressing the global problem at hand, it alienates the Persian-Canadian population.” he added.

Some students at Marc Garneau, while not directly affected by the decision, nevertheless shared the same view.

“I don’t see what recent event prompted such an abrupt decision,” said Tommy Donnelly, “and also I’m worried that Canadian citizens currently in Iran are being put in unnecessary danger.”

“Our government claims to be concerned with Iran’s abuse of human rights and hostility to other countries. But if you read the current travel report on Iran by the Canadian government, it says that Iran’s irritation at this decision may cause further scrutiny of Canadians, which could lead to arbitrary detainment and harassment. If we recognize that cutting diplomatic ties leads to increased international tension and a higher danger of human rights violations, why would we cut ties with Iran as a protest of these same issues? It sounds like we know we’re making the problem worse, but doing it anyway.”

Others were more denouncing of Canada’s actions.

“I thought Canada was a country about diplomacy, not rhetoric.” said another Persian-Canadian student, “Some of John Baird’s comments are simply propaganda and there’s no reason given for ‘why now?’ It will make things much more difficult for Iranian-Canadians, especially students from Iran.”

On a personal level, he said, “It makes me anxious. It may mean that I cannot visit my family in Iran safely.”