The Iranian community in Prince George numbers only about 10 people, but they have grave concerns they will suffer longterm repercussions in the wake of Canada's decision to end diplomatic relations with Iran.
Behrooz Dalvandi, a 24-year-old UNBC graduate now working in Prince George as a technical analyst for Northern Health, fears that with the services of a consulate no longer available to Iranians living in Canada, he will be unable to renew his passport and will have difficulty receiving criminal background checks from his native country to give to prospective employers in Canada.
"It is a big problem, and we don't really know what the consequences will be or if they will affect us when we apply for permanent residency or citizenship," said Behrooz. "There are many questions and we had no idea this was coming."
Behrooz, who last visited his family in Tehran in March, said while the Canadian government is targeting the Iranian regime in its actions, it is ordinary citizens who will feel the most adverse effects. There are an estimated 120,000 people of Iranian ethic origin now living in Canada.
"These kinds of decisions are not wise decisions because all they do is put pressure on the people and not the government, and that's not what Western politicians promised a year ago when they started doing these sanctions," said Behrooz.
"It affects many people who are trying to get visas, and many of our parents who are trying to visit Canada are in serious trouble now. I did have plans to go back in six months but right now I can't think of it, because if I go back I'm not sure I can make it back. It's full of uncertainty."
Canada closed its embassy in Tehran and gave Iranian diplomats in Ottawa five days to leave the country over concerns it could no longer guarantee the safety of its 10 diplomats in Iran, who have since returned to Canada. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird called the government of Iran "the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today."
Jalil Sayfaei, an economics professor at UNBC, has had to fly to Ottawa for consular services to prepare travel documents for previous trips out of the country. Now, following Friday's decision, that option is no longer open to him.
"If my passport is expired, getting it renewed is going to be a challenge," said Sayfaei.
"It's unfortunate it has come to this, it's quite an abrupt radical step to be taken and most of us are in the same boat, we don't know exactly what's behind the scenes. This won't be fixed anytime soon, there are a number of global issues and regional issues that have to be sorted out before the situation can be taken care of."
Sayfaei, his Iranian-born wife and their oldest son moved to Canada from Isfahan 19 years ago and have lived in Prince George for 12 years. Now a father of three, Sayfaei says he likely won't be returning to Iran for a visit his extended family any time soon.
"I used to go back every few years but this is going to change things," he said. "I will be more cautious and more concerned this time around. My family [in Iran] doesn't know much about this because such things are not communicated well through the state media and of course they will only tell their own side of the story."
In closing the Canadian embassy, Baird cited concerns Iran is building a nuclear weapons program, it continues to violate human rights, is openly hostile toward Israel, and is supplying military assistance to the Syrian government.
Iran has promised an immediate response, accusing the Canadian government of being racist. Iran’s parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani cancelled a visit to Ottawa for a meeting of legislators in late October.
“The current Canadian government led by (Prime Minister) Mr. Stephen Harper is known for its extremist policies in the field of foreign policy," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told the Tehran Times.
"Various and hostile measures of this government against the Iranian nation and the Iranian community residing in Canada, such as the closure of the visa section of the Canadian embassy in Tehran, the freeze on accounts of Iranians residing in the country, and the ban on the transfer of money to Iranian students in Canada, have been (in line with) those policies. The hostile actions of the current racist government in Canada are in fact (just) the pursuit of Zionist and British dictated policies."
Canada's relationship with Iran has been on a downward drift for several years. In 2003, Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi died while in custody at a Tehran prison. Diplomacy between the countries took a further step backward in late November after Britain's embassy In Iran was attacked and looted.
Canada joins the United States, Britain and Norway as countries which have severed diplomatic ties with Iran. The U.S. impasse started with the fall of the Shah in 1979 during the early days of a revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini's Islamic fundamentalists. That led to the takeover of the American embassy in Tehran and the 444-day hostage crisis in which 52 Americans were held prisoner.
In November, a group tied to the radical Basij militia attacked British embassy buildings in Tehran and diplomatic staff were forced to take refuge in secure rooms. Britain closed its embassy on Nov. 30, and Norway followed suit by closing its embassy the same day. Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, later apologized for the attack, saying diplomatic conventions should be respected, but the British embassy remains closed.
While the Iran government has a three-decade history of radical extremism and a reputation for harbouring terrorists, Dalvandi says he does not feel his Iranian background brings out discrimination or prejudice from Canadians.
"That's one of the things I like about Canada and Canadians," he said. "I'm not sure if they have this prejudice but at least they don't bring it up and that's a great thing."
Ottawa has issued a travel advisory warning Canadians not to travel to Iran. In Iran, Sayfaei says Canadians are looked upon favourably by most Iranian people and there are usually no problems for Canadian travelers to that country, but the severing of diplomatic ties could prompt a change in that attitude.
"If you are a pro-government person and want to walk the line of the [Canadian] government that will put you off because that will be perceived as a hostile move," Sayfaei said.