EspañolAccording to the sworn affidavit of a former senior Iranian diplomat obtained by the National Post, the Iranian embassy in Canada funded efforts to “recruit Canadians to serve Iran’s interests under the guise of cultural outreach programs.” The embassy’s initiatives included the financial backing of the Iranian Cultural Centre in Ottawa, which housed a Farsi-language school.
“The embassy was obviously involved in the cultural center,” wrote former executive administrative manager of the Iranian Embassy in Canada, Jamal El-Hussein, in his affidavit. “The center also operated a Farsi school for children. The teachers at the Farsi school were paid by the embassy, and the embassy sometimes paid other expenses on behalf of the Mobin Foundation.”
The Mobin Foundation is an Iranian nonprofit organization with offices in Ottawa. Very little is known about the organization’s operations, other than it is a legally registered Canadian corporation, under the name of Director Seyed Adeli. The PanAm Post has filed a request with the Canadian federal government’s corporations registry, Industry Canada, for additional information and documentation on the organization. An Industry Canada spokesperson verified that the Mobin Foundation had filed all appropriate legal documentation for 2011-2013, but the paperwork for 2014 that should have been submitted by June has yet to be received.
According to El-Hussein, the Iranian embassy also operated “cultural” and “higher education” branches that were “responsible for all Iranian students who came to study in Canada.” The embassy paid the students’ living and academic expenses, while also providing “protection.”
Furthermore, the National Post reported that the Iranian cultural attaché “encouraged Iranians to ‘occupy high-level key positions’ in the Canadian government and ‘resist being melted into the dominant Canadian culture.'”
El-Hussein’s statements come as part of the Iranian government’s challenge to Canada’s Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act, which allows victims of terrorist acts committed anywhere in the world to sue perpetrators — including sovereign states — in Canadian courts.
In early September 2012, Canada severed diplomatic relations with Iran, closing the Iranian embassy in Ottawa, and expelling all Iranian diplomats. El-Hussein, who holds Canadian citizenship, has been allowed to stay in the country. The Iranian government has since appointed him the guardian of Iranian assets in Canada.
Along with ending formal diplomatic relations, Canada also placed Iran on a list of state-sponsors of terrorism, given their continued support for terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah. This move opened the door for legal action to be taken against Iran under the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act. In March, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ordered Canadian law enforcement to seize the bank accounts and property held by the Iranian government in Canada in order to compensate victims of Iran-sponsored terrorism.
Iran argues that seizures are illegal under international law, because the assets should be protected under diplomatic immunity.
At least one Canadian lawyer agrees. An unnamed professor at the University of Toronto submitted an affidavit calling Canada’s actions “a violation of international law.”
James Devine of Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick says the situation is very murky. “It’s a legal gray area. If you get three lawyers in a room, you are going to get three different answers. It’s hotly debated,” said Devine.
Iran currently holds US$2.6 million in at least 14 bank accounts in Canada, along with a number of properties. The Canadian government’s department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development published a list of all Iranian state-owned property in the country. The list includes 23 properties, five of which are considered “diplomatic” and therefore protected and not subject to seizure.
As Devine puts it, “If anything is seized there will be a court battle over it.”
Iran has scrambled to compose a legal defense in Canadian courts. According to Mohammed Asbaghi of the Centre for International Legal Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, this has been an extremely complicated process, given extensive sanctions imposed on Iran due to its attempts to enhance its nuclear program. “Under these complicated circumstances, and in particular because of the Canadian government’s unfriendly attitude and negative perception of Iran, selection of a lawyer in Canada was not a straightforward task.”
Devine agrees that road ahead is far from clear, for both Canada and Iran. “There are no formal diplomatic relations right now, which would normally allow this process to play itself out in the courts… It comes down to whether they [the Canadian government] can get away with it or not, and then, who’s going to fight back?”