United Nations — Absent diplomatic relations with the United States, Iran is using its embassy in Canada to recruit ethnic Iranians to "be of service" to Tehran — causing U.S. terrorism experts to warn of a possible attack from north of the border.
The mobilization effort is taking place under the guise of the embassy's cultural outreach program, and Iranian-Canadians opposed to the regime in Tehran say the Islamic republic's intentions are revealed in an interview that Hamid Mohammadi, Iran's cultural affairs counsellor attached to the Iranian embassy in Ottawa, gave in Farsi to an Iran-based website directed at Iranian expatriates in Canada.
Estimating the Iranian population in Canada to be 500,000, Mohammadi describes them as having "characteristics" that "set them apart" from other immigrants. He says 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."
Mohammadi urges all Iranian-Canadians to aspire to "occupy high-level key positions" and "resist being melted into the dominant Canadian culture."
Most ominously, he maps out how his country intends to lure current and future Iranians in Canada into helping Iran: "By 2031, the total immigrant population of Canada will increase by 64%, and the number of Iranians will increase due to birthrate," Mohammadi recounts for the website Iranians Residing Abroad (found at iranyad.ir).
"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."
Canada is officially tough with Iran. Each year it leads a UN censure of the Islamic republic's appalling human rights record. It also conducts government-to-government relations according to a "Controlled Engagement Policy" (CEP), which limits contact to just four topics, one being the 2003 murder in an Iranian jail of Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi.
But while CEP forbids Iran from opening consulates or cultural centers beyond Ottawa, Iranian embassy officials appear to be finding ways around the directive.
Iranian immigrants active against the Tehran regime say an "education advisory" section of Iran's Ottawa embassy is the main sponsor of a three-day Iranian Students Convention planned for this summer in Cornwall, Ont.
In 2010, a report by the newsmagazine Maclean's exposed an Iranian cultural centre in Toronto as having been founded by a well-connected Iranian diplomat and funded by Iran's Ottawa embassy.
"Foreign embassies are allowed to undertake domestic outreach activities in Canada, however, we expect them to do so in accordance with Canadian laws," said Rick Roth, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, in a statement that some anti-Tehran activists say falls short of showing a strong commitment to curtailing Iran's activities in Canada.
"Multiculturalism is killing Canada. I am sick and tired of political correctness in this country," said Shabnam Assadollahi, an Ottawa-based Iranian-Canadian, who helped translate the Mohammadi interview as part of her activism against the regime in Tehran.
"When you become a Canadian citizen, virtually no one can touch you, and so these people can easily get to the United States. The only solution is to close the Iranian embassy in Ottawa."
David Harris, director of the International and Terrorist Intelligence Program at Insignis Strategic Research in Ottawa, testified more than a year ago before a Senate committee that Iran already had an "aggressive presence" in the Canadian capital by "variously relying on, and victimizing, its expatriates."
But now terror experts from south of the border are raising the alarm.
"Definitely there is recruitment — they want Iranians with Canadian passports, Iranians with U.S. passports," said Steven Emerson, executive director of the authoritative Washington-based Investigative Project on Terrorism, and executive producer of the upcoming documentary Jihad in America 2: The Grand Deception.
"Canada is not of the highest rank among the enemies of Iran, and so it is more likely this (cultural program exists) for possible recruitment for use in the United States — anything from intelligence gathering, to being an intermediary in the recruitment of others, or to actually carrying out an attack."
The Iranian recruitment effort comes as tension between the United States and Iran is rising. Increased Western-led sanctions aimed at persuading the Tehran regime to abandon its nuclear program are hurting Iran economically, leading experts to fear the Islamic republic — which Washington lists as a state sponsor of terrorism — will find a way of striking back.
As recently as last year, U.S. authorities accused Iran of being involved in a failed plot to assassinate Saudi ambassador Adel A. Al-Jubeir in Washington. In the past, the U.S. has expelled Iranian guards with Iran's mission to the UN for alleged spying, and intercepted numerous terror-related fundraising schemes favouring Iran's Lebanon-based terror proxy, Hezbollah.
Iran's focus on Canadian-born Iranians is quite logical, according to Homayoun Mobasseri, director of the U.S.-based human rights activist group Neda for a Free Iran.
While Iranian-born Canadians would face fingerprinting at the border even if they travelled with Canadian passports, Canadian-born children of Iranians could expect to pass without any more difficulty than any other Canadian.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security referred inquiries on Iran's activities in Canada to the State Department, which in turn referred questions to the Canadian government.
Iran's Ottawa embassy did not return a call seeking comment, while Iran's mission to the UN said only its embassy in Ottawa could speak to the matter.