But now we’re softening our approach to a country long criticized for human rights abuses and questionable nuclear ambitions.
Over 10 years ago Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin gave the regime’s ambassador to Canada a dressing down over one of then-Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s particularly anti-Semitic speeches.
Five years ago Stephen Harper shut down trade and closed shop on diplomatic relations over human rights issues.
But Justin Trudeau is taking a different approach. He promised during the 2015 campaign to restore diplomatic and economic relations and they’re now heading in that direction.
This all coming on the heels of President Obama’s nuclear deal with the country, which lifts sanctions and normalizes trade in exchange for what they hope is verification that the country only uses its nuclear capabilities for good. (Skeptical? You should be.)
The business landscape is a bit of a new frontier, with deals to be brokered and money to be made. Let’s jump right in, some say.
Not so fast, argue Conservative senators worried about just how readily and easily we’re making the normalization process.
Last year, Conservative Senator David Tkachuk put forward S-219, a bill that compels the foreign affairs minister to report to parliament Iran’s progress — or lack thereof — when it comes to human rights and state-sponsorship of terrorism.
If Canada wants to get back to business with the controversial regime, we need to know exactly what environment we’re delving into and implicitly endorsing via our partnership.
“Show some progress on human rights before any sanctions are removed,” Tkachuk told Postmedia in a phone interview. “We’re not asking to increase sanctions. All S-219 does is expand the sanctions to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, because they’re an arm of the government. And it requires the government report to parliament before it lifts its sanctions. It’s not that complicated.”
Yet it’s become that way, with some Iranians starting letter writing campaigns against Tkachuk and his Conservative colleague Senator Linda Frum, a vocal supporter of the bill.
“If you feel it’s important to re-engage with Iran economically and diplomatically, there are no measures that prohibit that,” Frum said in a telephone interview. “The bill matters because it sets a standard of how and why Canada should relax economic sanctions against Iran in the future. A reasonable standard and a principled standard.”
It’s hard to see what the problem is here.
However, both Independent and Liberal Senators are expected to vote against the bill. If it ever makes it to a vote, that is. Tkachuk is optimistic it will before the Christmas break, and at the very least force the hand of those opposed to it. Until then, it floats in legislative limbo.
Foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland’s department made a committee submission opposing the bill on the basis it would tie their hands on Iran dealings.
Well, yes, it would. It would tie their hands to speaking honestly and openly about human rights even if it restricts business.
Now, no government ever lets opposition MPs or senators fully chart their foreign policy, but the odd part is the Liberals haven’t even offered amendments despite Tkachuk’s openness to working with them.
Just last week, Trudeau delivered tough talk on human rights in Vietnam while simultaneously brokering trade relations. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Based on the response Tkachuk and Frum have received, Iranian-Canadians who came here starting in the 1980s to flee the regime seem to be on board with this bill. The opposition appears to come from a new crop of regime apologists.
Ask yourself which group the Liberals should be backing.