By Laura Payton, CBC news, from CBC website, September 7, 2012
Canada has suspended diplomatic relations with Iran and is expelling Iranian diplomats from Canada, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird announced in a statement today.
Speaking to reporters in Russia, where he's attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-Operation summit, Baird said the government is formally listing Iran today as a state sponsor of terrorism under the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act. That will theoretically allow Canadians affected by terrorism supported by the Iranian regime to sue.
"Iran is among the world's worst violators of human rights. It shelters and materially supports terrorist groups," Baird said, adding: "Unequivocally, we have no information about a military strike on Iran."
In the statement, Baird said Canada has closed its embassy in Iran, effective immediately, and declared personae non gratae all remaining Iranian diplomats in Canada. Those diplomats must leave within five days. All Canadian diplomats have already left Iran.
"Canada’s position on the regime in Iran is well known. Canada views the government of Iran as the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today," he said in the statement.
The statement cited Iran's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, its failure to comply with UN resolutions on its nuclear program and its threats against Israel.
It also makes reference to Iran's "blatant disregard" of the Vienna Convention that guarantees the protection of diplomatic personnel.
Last November, Iranian students stormed the British Embassy in Tehran and ransacked its offices. Britain's Foreign Office summoned an Iranian diplomat in London amid complaints that Iran failed to provide proper security to the embassy and didn't do enough in response to the atta
Former diplomat Ken Taylor, who served as Canada's ambassador in Tehran during the 1979 Iranian revolution, says having a presence on the ground in a country is important. If the country's government won't interact, he said, there's still intelligence to gather.
"As a diplomat, I think you never give up. Of course, if it's a breach of diplomatic protocol, if in fact your diplomats are threatened, if in fact a country's conduct is not acceptable, this may proceed from persona non grata to the closing of the embassy," Taylor said.
"Obviously, though, the Canadian government is sending a message. Whether or not this is the best means to send a message is of course up to the government's cabinet. It's more than just a practical or technical severance of the relationship," he said.
Canada and Iran
Canada’s relations with Iran have been iffy since the 1979 Islamic Revolution:
1980: Canadian embassy closed for eight years after Canadians spirit U.S. diplomats out of Tehran during the post-revolution hostage crisis.
1996: Two countries cap a gradual return to normal diplomatic relations with an exchange of ambassadors.
2003: Relationship chills after Zahra Kazemi, a freelance photographer with dual Canadian-Iranian citizenship, is killed in custody in Iran, in what Canada describes as a state-sanctioned murder. Canada recalls its ambassador.
2012: After months of increasingly tough talk from Ottawa, Canada suspends all relations, citing several factors including treatment of foreign diplomats, Iran's support for Syria and its threats against Israel.
Of course, no one is surprised that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu praises the move, as evidence of strong Canadian support for Israel.
However, it is former Canadian Ambassador to Iran at the time of the U.S. hostages in 1979, Ken Taylor, who opposes the move. Surely, Foreign Affairs, and Minister Baird would have contacted Taylor prior to this decision, and sought both his counsel and his off-the-record views.
The timing is especially interesting, a mere one day following the Democratic convention in Charlotte NC, a day after President Obama, not the best friend of Israel and Netanyhu, accepted the nomination of his party for a second term. Is Baird trying to raise the stakes in the U.S. election, sounding hawkish, as a diplomatic overture of support not only for Netanyahu and Israel, but also for the Republican candidate for president, who also sounds much more hawkish on most fronts than Obama, and certainly on Israel.
In fact, Romney needs the Jewish vote if he is to be successful in securing the White House, and while we have no specific evidence to this effect, it would not surprise me that Baird was acting at this time in concert with both Netanyahu and Romney and directing attention to the Iranian "crisis" to bring world opinion to a more elevated and hawkish level, should there be a strike (by Israel alone, or in concert with the U.S.) against Iran in the offing as the Israeli Prime Minister has hinted in recent days.
And while there is unlikely to be any public disclosure of the Canadian government's real reasons, (several somewhat plausible public ones appear in the CBC news piece above), playing a bigger hand, and playing it more "strutt-fully" is consistent with Harper's aim of increased international bravado by Canada.