Brutal Iran crackdown reverberates in the Tri-Cities

As the body count grows in one of the most violent government crackdowns in years, Tri-City Persians call on the Canadian government to take a stand against the regime

In the two weeks since protests broke out in Iran following a 50% hike in gasoline prices, demonstrations have claimed the lives of at least 208 people as government security forces disappear thousands of dissidents and gun down protestors in the streets.

In the Tri-Cities, outrage in response has been swift as many residents of Iranian descent have relatives in Iran who have been affected by the protests. Along with North Vancouver, the Tri-Cities hosts one of the largest concentrations of Persian-speakers outside of Iran.

In all the years that Coquitlam resident Majid Mahichi has lived in Canada, he says he has never seen such solidarity among a population that is often divided by deep political divisions. Some who have fled Iran and settled in the Tri-Cities remain leftist or atheists, others still support the deposed monarch, and still more back the current regime.

“We have a complicated community. Different people,” said Mahichi. “For more than 20 years, I’ve never seen these people get together and share their ideas, get on the mic and find some common ground.” 

In footage shot by Mahichi and his colleagues (he’s the owner of the local Iranian television channel Parvaz TV), at least 100 protestors gathered on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery at a Nov. 24 demonstration in a show of solidarity with protestors in Iran, one speaker after another railing against the worst crackdown in modern Iranian history. 

A young girl takes part in protests in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery Sunday, Nov. 24
A young girl takes part in protests in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery Sunday, Nov. 24 - Parvaz TV

“It doesn’t matter how you think. It doesn’t matter with which group you belong. We can get together and be one voice… Being the voice of people who are suffering now,” said Tri-City resident Mahboubeh Mojtahedi, a former political prisoner who MCed the demonstration and said her husband was killed by the regime during a crackdown in the late 80s. 

“There’s a part of our souls that is in Iran and will remain in Iran,” said another speaker, a self-proclaimed monarchist who grew up in a leftist family and immigrated to Canada four years ago. “What I suggest is that all of us, of all of beliefs, come together.” 

Mahichi said the sudden openness to work across political fault-lines that have long divided the Iranian expat community shows just how bad this moment is.

“We just found that we can work together seriously,” he told The Tri-City News. “We want to continue.”

But while many among the protestors wore masks to hide their identities for fear they or their family would be targeted by the Iranian government, others have remained outspoken critics.

Fred Soofi, a local restaurateur who emigrated from Iran to Canada about 35 years ago, is one of several residents demanding the Canadian government do more to condemn the regime’s actions, both in Iran and at home in Canada.

In August, Soofi was part of a small group that raised bail money in an orchestrated escape of Canadian resident Said Malekpour from an Iranian prison. Out on a few days bail to visit his mother in Tehran, Malekpour was whisked into an undisclosed third country by a group of smugglers; he then had his Canadian papers fast-tracked by the local embassy and within a few days landed in Vancouver, reunited with his sister.

 

 

Since the crackdown in Iran began two weeks ago, Soofi has only ramped up his organizing, gathering more than 100 signatures for a petition that he presented to Liberal MP Ron McKinnon (Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam) Monday, Dec. 2. It demands that the Canadian government issue a statement explicitly supporting Iranian protestors and putting the regime on notice that it will be held criminally responsible for any human rights violations; that Ottawa apply any political pressure it can on the regime to open up the internet; and that it declare the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — blamed with some of the worst recent violence — a terrorist organization.

At home, Soofi has called on the government to investigate Iranians in Canada working on behalf of the regime. A day before the protest at the art gallery, Soofi attended an BC NDP convention held in Victoria where he called on all levels of government to address alleged money laundering by those affiliated with the Iranian government. 

 

Soofi speaks at an NDP convention in Victoria where he raised concerns that Iranian linked to the re
Soofi speaks at an NDP convention in Victoria where he raised concerns that Iranian linked to the regime are laundering dirty money through the purchase of Canadian real estate - Submitted

Since the protests broke out, Ottawa has warned anyone considering visiting Iran to exercise a high degree of caution “due to crime, demonstrations, the regional threat of terrorism and the risk of arbitrary detention.”

The Global Affairs travel advisory also warns Canadians, particularly dual Canadian-Iranian citizens, of the “risk of being arbitrarily questioned, arrested and detained.”

There are safety concerns closer to home, too.

Soofi, who has never returned to his homeland since immigrating to Canada and has no family there, said his criticism appears to have captured the attention of Canada’s spy agency. According to Soofi, an agent from the Canadian Security and Intelligence Agency (CSIS) contacted him about three weeks ago requesting a meeting. 

“They know me. They monitor us. They know I’m active. And they know there’s a lot of Iranians affiliated with the government in this area,” he told The Tri-City News.

Soofi said he told the agent (and later McKinnon) about his concerns regarding Iranian money laundering in Metro Vancouver and detailed his role in freeing Malekpour. And when she asked him whether he had received any threats, he told her “not yet.”

“I’m not afraid because I want to say the truth,” he said.

Unlike the threat to protestors on the streets of his native Iran, Soofi says that for someone in his position, having a spy agency like CSIS look over your shoulder is a relief.

“I feel more comfortable now," he said. "I know they’re watching."

In an email to The Tri-City News, a spokesperson for CSIS said the service’s “mandate is to protect Canadians from threats to national security at home and abroad” but “we do not publicly comment, or confirm or deny, the specifics of our investigations, methodologies or activities.‎”

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