Canada, Iran and Human Rights

Background to Canada’s Severance of Diplomatic Relations with Iran (1980-2012) 

Iran’s illegal and egregious actions against Canadian citizens; its status as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism; its severe violation of the human rights of its own citizenry; and its flouting of the international community have generated tensions with Canada and other countries. As outlined below, the difficulties faced by both Liberal and Conservative governments in contending with the regime’s four decades of aggression, long predates the closing of the Iranian embassy in Ottawa in 2012:

(1980) Canada closes embassy in Tehran

  • Fear of retaliation after Canadian diplomats rescue U.S. diplomats from Iranian hostage takers.[1]

(1980 – 1988) Canada reluctant to reopen embassy

  • (given Iran’s history of kidnapping and torturing[2] the American diplomats)[3]  

(1980-1986) Iran demands “apology” from Canada for rescuing American diplomats [4]

(1990) Iran drops “apology” demands – low-level diplomatic relations established  [5]

  • Canadian embassy in Tehran re-opened (1988) – the ambassador returns. 

(1996) Canada imposes “Controlled Engagement” restricting bilateral ties

(2003) Iranian authorities torture, rape and murder Canadian Zahra Kazemi

  • Canadian ambassador recalled. 

(2003) Canada introduces UN resolution against Iran’s human rights abuses

  • Canada has introduced a similar motion every year since 2003. 

(2004) Canadian ambassador returns to Iran [6]

(2003) Iran reprimands Canada for human rights violations

  • Iran: Canada “has the worst, most backward and racist judiciary system.” [7]

(2006) Canada imposes sanctions on Iran for nuclear violations

(2006) Iranian Parliament: Canadian embassy is a “den of spies”

  • Iranian lawmakers asked for an investigation into the activities of the Canadian embassy and threatened to shut it down.[8]

(2007) Canada rejects two Iranian candidates for ambassador

  • amidst concerns about their involvement with storming of the U.S. embassy in Iran.[9]

(2008) Iran Continues to Imprison Iranian-Canadians and Permanent Residents

(2010) Canada Imposes SEMA Sanctions Against Iran

  • Special Economic Measures Act (SEMA) restricts economic activities between Canada and Iran. 

(2012) Canada passes the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act (JVTA)

  • Iran and Syria listed as State Supporters of Terrorism.

(Jul. 2012) Ottawa warns Iranian embassy over recruitment of expats in Canada  [10]

(Sept. 2012) Canada Freezes Relations with Iran, Expels Iranian Diplomats from Canada

(Sept. 19, 2012) Angus Reid: “72% of Canadians support suspension of relations with Iran”  [11]  


[1] Prior to the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, Canada and Iran maintained normal diplomatic relations. The first rupture with the Khomeinist regime erupted after Iranian revolutionaries seized the U.S. Embassy on November 4, 1979. 52 U.S. citizens were held by the hostage takers for 444 days. Some of these hostages were subject to torture. Six other American diplomats were hidden for more than two months by Kenneth Taylor, Canada’s ambassador to Iran, and then fled Iran using Canadian passports. The Canadian embassy staff were subsequently evacuated and the embassy was closed. see; and


[3] “Canada not in hurry to reopen embassy”, The Leader-Post. Ottawa. January 23, 1981. p. 2. Retrieved September 8, 2012 ;




[7] Iran accuses Canadian police officer of gunning down 18-year-old Iranian Kayvan Tabesh on July 14 in Vancouver. (The officer claimed self-defense after the teenager allegedly charged him with a machete.); Iran presents a 70-page report before the adoption of the resolution, alleging rights abuses in Canada.



[10]  DFAIT issues warning to Iranian diplomats who are allegedly using their Ottawa embassy to recruit Iranian-Canadians to serve the Islamic Republic’s interests. “Iranian-Canadians have rejected the oppressive Iranian regime and have chosen to come to Canada to build better lives.” (DFAIT spokesperson)


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