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Canada forbids Iran to open Vancouver consulate
Postmedia News Dec 19, 2011 – 10:20 AM ET | Last Updated: Dec 19, 2011 10:58 AM ET
Bill Keay/Postmedia News
Iran wants to open a consulate in Vancouver, pictured, to serve the city’s Iranian-Canadian population, who under some circumstances must go to Ottawa to get consular services, but a federal government policy prohibits it.
By Tara Carman
VANCOUVER — Iran wants to open a consulate in Vancouver to serve the city’s Iranian-Canadian population, who under some circumstances must go to Ottawa to get consular services, but a federal government policy prohibits it.
Many Iranians have business interests or family members in Iran, Kambiz Sheikh-Hassani, Charge d’Affairs of Iran’s Ottawa embassy said in a statement.
Because that country’s law does not recognize dual citizenship, they must use Iranian travel documents to enter the country.
The only place in Canada where these documents can be obtained is through Iran’s embassy in Ottawa. This means Iranian-Canadians living outside of Ottawa must put valuable documents such as birth certificates and passports in the mail, Sheikh-Hassani said.
Other transactions, such as the issuance of an Iranian birth certificate or power of attorney for valuable transactions, must be completed in person. This means the applicant must either go to Ottawa or wait for embassy representatives to come to them.
Embassy staff visited Vancouver in October and completed more than 400 transactions in two days in an attempt to clear the backlog, Sheikh-Hassani said, adding that there are about 120,000 Iranian-Canadians in the region.
“In our view, the productive and exemplary Iranian community in Canada has every right to enjoy easy and accessible consular services where they live and Canadian government is definitely in a position to show this courtesy to Iranian-Canadians,” he said, noting that Germany and Italy are among the countries that allow Iranian consulates outside their respective capitals.
The Canadian government, however, prohibits Iran from opening consulates outside Ottawa under its Controlled Engagement policy, which limits contact between the two governments and also prevents the establishment of direct air links between the countries due to strained diplomatic relations.
In 2005, Canada limited communication with Iran to four subjects: human rights, the country’s nuclear program, Iran’s role in the region and the case of Canadian Zahra Kazemi, who was beaten to death in an Iranian prison in 2003. Since then, Canada has implemented several rounds of sanctions against Iran, both under UN auspices and independently, over the nuclear issue.
Reaction to the prospect of an Iranian consulate in Vancouver is likely to be mixed among those in the community, depending on the reason they left Iran, said Sonja Be, a local Canadian of Iranian descent who runs a news website.
“It’s a touchy subject. Iranians that live here are here for different reasons, but I think they left Iran and moved here for a better life and maybe … [to be] farther away from the Iranian government. So, to bring them here in our own back yard, it’s almost like a ghost that’s following you — for some people,” she said, adding that she couldn’t speak for all Iranians.
But she said it’s also important to have a balanced perspective on the issue. “If this service is going to help people like the international students … then maybe that’s something worth looking into and seeing if, for them, it’s easier for them to travel back to Iran with [the consulate] here. That could be a benefit.”
Local Iranians should be polled anonymously on whether they want a consulate here, Be said.
Vancouver immigration lawyer Zool Suleman said he has many clients who are frustrated at the delays associated with dealing with the Iranian embassy in Ottawa, especially if they need something done relatively quickly. The three-hour time change also poses challenges for locals trying to contact the embassy during business hours, Suleman said.
The federal foreign affairs ministry did not respond to a request for comment by press time.