OTTAWA — More than 10,000 members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard will be forever barred from Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday as he announced the federal government is bringing in tough new immigration measures against the Iranian regime.
"We are using the most powerful tools at our disposal to crack down on this brutal regime," Trudeau said Friday afternoon at a news conference on Parliament Hill.
He said Canada intends to list the Iranian regime, including the leadership of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, under the most powerful provision of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. This will mean the top 50 per cent of the Revolutionary Guard leadership will be deemed inadmissible to Canada, which Trudeau said is a permanent decision.
Trudeau said this has been used against regimes that committed war crimes or genocide, such as in Bosnia and Rwanda, and will "raise the bar internationally in holding Iran accountable."
The prime minister did not say whether this will result in any visitors or permanent residents being expelled from Canada. He said more details would be coming next week, on how Ottawa plans to make sure it is "going after the right people, be they in Iran or in Canada."
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who joined Trudeau for the announcement, said Canada will also expand its sanctions and hold members of the Revolutionary Guard, which she called a "terrorist organization," to account.
Canada does not list Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist entity.
"We intend to massively expand targeted sanctions … to hold to account those people most responsible for Iran's egregious behaviour," Trudeau said.
To that end, the prime minister said Ottawa will create a new sanctions bureau and allocate $76 million to bolster the ability of Global Affairs Canada and the RCMP to implement sanctions.
Jessica Davis, a leading expert in terrorism financing, says Canada has long been behind its peers in enforcing existing sanctions.
She said recent Liberal and Conservative governments have failed to invest in fighting financial crime, making Friday's announcement overdue.
"My No. 1 question is where are the people coming from, that have the expertise in this. We don’t have a deep bench when it comes to financial crimes and enforcement in Canada," she said in an interview on Friday.
Davis, who leads security-analysis firm Insight Threat Intelligence, said the Liberals will have the same issue in bringing into force legislation they already passed to not just seize assets from sanctioned people, but distribute them to victims.
"No judge will say 'yes you can have this person's assets' without a really solid financial trail," she said.
A brutal crackdown on women's and human-rights activists in Iran, who have been protesting the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of the morality police, has put the federal Liberal government under mounting pressure to deem the Revolutionary Guard a terrorist group.
"The Canadian Criminal Code is not the best tool to go after states, or state entities, but we will continue to look at all tools we can use to do it," Trudeau said.
Vancouver-based immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said he fears Friday's announcement on banning entry for senior members of the Revolutionary Guard will put Iranians already living in Canada into a dragnet, making it hard to re-enter the country, or even move within it.
He argued officials will have to flag thousands of people as possibly subject to Section 35 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act before deciding whether they can enter Canada. That is the section that bans entry to Canada for permanent residents or foreigners on the grounds of violating human or international rights.
"There is a cascade of bad luck that is going to follow every Iranian who is ensnared by Section 35, even though years down the road it will turn out they're exempt," he said.
"It's going to take time to separate wheat from chaff."
Kurland said many Iranians in Canada are already being punished for the U.S. having listed the Revolutionary Guard as a terror group.
It has resulted in people who were conscripted into minor roles years ago being unable to enter the U.S., Kurland said. They are also often flagged for extra screening on domestic flights within Canada, because of shared traveller databases.
Iran's violent response to the protests has coincided with the 1,000-day anniversary of the downing of Flight PS752 near Tehran, which killed 176 people, most of whom were headed through Ukraine to Canada. That included 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents.
Relatives of those killed when Iran's military shot down the Ukraine International Airlines jetliner in January 2020 say Canada is harbouringregime officials.
"Canada has become a safe haven for the criminals of the Islamic Republic of Iran," Hamed Esmaeilion testified Thursday afternoon to the House of Commons justice committee.
Esmaeilion leads a group representing grieving families, many of whom are aware of numerous people who have worked for the regime, or are related to senior officials, moving freely in Canada.
"This is a big concern for Iranian people," he said.
While the Liberals say they had sanctioned people proposed by the Iranian diaspora, Esmaeilion named a handful of officials in Iran and Canada whom he said his group asked Ottawa to ban a year ago.
He chalked that up to a naive bureaucracy that sees Iran as a normal country.
“It's mainly the legal teams or the advisers; they still believe in negotiation with Iran because they don't see Iran, or the Iranian regime, as a Mafia group,” he testified.
“If you change your mindset, that you're not negotiating with Switzerland or a democratic country, then it would solve the problem.”
Esmaeilion's group has also pushed for Canada to refer those in charge of the downing of the flight, which killed his wife and daughter, to the International Criminal Court and the International Civil Aviation Organization.
Liberal cabinet ministers have noted that Canada must exhaust all options of working with Iran before escalating the case to international bodies.
"This doesn't move as quickly as we'd like, partially because the Iranian regime has been absolutely determined not to accept any responsibility for these acts of violence," Trudeau said Friday.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 7, 2022.
Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press