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Canada ends diplomatic relations with Iran

Stephanie Read | Fulcrum Contributor

WITH THE RECENT closing of the Iranian embassy in Ottawa, and the subsequent end of diplomatic relations between Canada and Iran, I find myself re-evaluating what it means to be Canadian.

The former chargé d’affaires for Iran’s embassy, Kambiz Sheikh-Hassani, described the move as “unwise, uncivilized, and hostile.” It was the Conservative government that decided to pull its representatives out of Iran and expel Iranian diplomats from Canada, all with a bewildering sense of urgency. The decision divided Canada’s political scene with both sides of the fence presenting valid arguments. On one hand, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird have stated they are concerned with national security. In such times of political unrest, who isn’t? On the flip side, shutting the door on communication won’t achieve anything except make the Iranian government virtually unknown to Canada.

The most pertinent question surrounding the decision is: Why now? Surely, the concerns Harper raised in his explanation for ending relations with Iran have been present for years. The abrupt decision will have resounding consequences not only for Iranian-Canadians and their families, but also for Canadians who are imprisoned in Iran, such as Hamid Ghassemi-Shall, a Canadian currently confined in Iran.

To the researchers, professors, and students who, despite considerable political and cultural roadblocks, have fostered constructive interaction between Canada and Iran, the news has come as quite a blow. Suddenly, the option of any positive contact between our two countries—new work and study initiatives, or daring artistic ventures—has been hastily cut short.

Reactions to the closing of the embassy have been overshadowed by the explosive protests in response to the viral video titled Innocence of Muslims. The video’s frivolous depiction of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad has sparked uproar in the Muslim world. With focus shifted away from Harper’s decision and onto the video, perhaps for the time being the only results we can be sure of regarding pulling away from Iran are heightened sensitivities for everyone involved.

Canada has always been known for its peacekeeping political stance. This country has been referred to as an “honest broker” in its past relations with the Middle East. What does this sudden development between Canada and Iran mean regarding the future of this diplomatic tradition? Perhaps that we are less and less able to identify with the tolerant, peace-seeking Canada of yesteryear. We might face new challenges, but instead of hastily cutting ties, we should strive to uphold the standards of diplomacy and discretion established under the leadership of former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson. However, if this abrupt decision is a sign of things to come, maybe next time I travel I’ll think twice about that Canadian flag sewn on my rucksack.