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Iranian Canadians say they are being punished with travel restrictions for being conscripted as young men

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With the holiday season just around the corner, many are planning to travel, but Saskatoon resident Amir Abolhassani says he and many other Iranian Canadians will be shoveling snow at home.

Abolhassani sold his house in Saskatoon when his U.S.-based employer asked him to relocate to North Carolina. But at the Calgary airport this January, his family was not allowed to cross the border.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer told Abolhassani, who is a Canadian citizen, that it was because of time he spent as a conscript in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) more than a decade ago.

The Trump administration labelled the IRGC as a terrorist organization in 2019.

Abolhassani said all men in Iran above the age of 18 have to do mandatory service with one of the arms of the military, and one in three are assigned to the IRGC. He said refusing conscription would prevent a man from getting a passport or accessing civic amenities, and can sometimes lead to further punishment.

He said it’s not fair to be punished for having been conscripted.

“We are not Canadian citizens enough. Are we really Canadians at this point?” he said.

“There are people who are not able to say their last goodbye to their parents in the United States. A sick child who needs to be treated there can’t go.”

A man sits in a blue shirt with a wooden cabinet in his background.
Amir Abolhassani was recently asked by his employer about the status of his move to the U.S., but so far is being allowed to work remotely. He says he worries for his future and of his month-old daughter. (Kayla Guerrette/CBC)

CBC spoke with 25 Iranian Canadians who unanimously agreed that they are being treated as second-class citizens. All say their emails to local members of parliament and officials at the federal level have fallen on deaf ears.

Many say they are subjected to a secondary screening involving long, intrusive interviews and an extensive search of their belongings, cellphones and social media, even when entering Canada.

While all welcome Canada’s recent decision to ban senior IRCG officials, they want the government to not put former conscripts in the same basket.

A snapshot of a boarding pass.
Iranian Canadians with past conscription with IRGC often receive a ‘4S’ designation, which stands for Secondary Security Screening Selection, on their boarding passes. Vancouver resident Navid Sadeghiani and his family were given them in July while travelling to Paris. (Submitted by Navid Sadeghiani)

According to the recent census, there are 213,160 people of Iranian descent in Canada. Abolhassani said some 80,000 could be impacted by this issue, including his daughter, who is barely a month old.

“I’m in contact with over 200 families corresponding to some 600 Iranian Canadians in the same boat,” he said.

Global Affairs Canada declined to comment, redirecting the query to the Canada Border Services Agency.

In a written statement identical to one it provided after a previous CBC inquiry on the subject, CBSA said it does not track instances of Iranian Canadians being denied entry to the United States and other countries.

“The CBSA does not possess any power or authority to intervene in the immigration decisions made by other nations,” the statement read.

CBC News reached out to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and CBP for a comment, but did not receive a response.

‘Canada is offloading responsibility to the U.S.’: Alberta man

Abolhassani said he was recently asked twice by his employer about his move to the U.S., but so far he is being allowed to work remotely.

Mojtaba Siahpoosh, a resident of Okotoks, Alta., said he got a notice from his employer a week ago saying he would lose his position by the end of the year.

“They’ve been waiting for me, as I was hired to cover both Western Canada and the U.S., but I was given inadmissibility [to the U.S.] last October,” he said.

“I tried again this July. We arrived at the border around 8:30 a.m. and were interrogated for seven hours, including my wife and two very young kids, who were born and raised in Canada.”

A man and a woman sit on a bench with their two young kids in a pumpkin patch.
Mojtaba Siahpoosh says he and other Iranian Canadians are being discriminated against while Canada offloads responsibility to the U.S. (Elena Matkovska Photography)

Before 2019, the 44-year-old had been traveling to the U.S. for years.

Siahpoosh felt he was “being treated like a criminal,” as he was accompanied by the CBP officers even to bring baby formula from their car.

During his conscription period in 2006, Siahpoosh was tasked with archive and journal paperwork.

“I’ve never picked up any arms in my life. That day at the border was the most exhausting day in my life,” he said.

“We are being discriminated against and Canada is offloading responsibility to the U.S. I feel like a third-class citizen.”

‘Crushing a little boy’s dream to raise the Canadian flag’: Vancouver man

Vancouver resident Navid Sadeghiani agrees. His son Arshia Sadeghiani, a Canadian champion in robotics, was not allowed to enter the U.S. with the robotics team from his  West Vancouver school district to attend the world championship in Dallas.

The 13-year-old was denied on May 7 because his father had been conscripted in Iran more than 30 years ago.

The family, including their 10-year-old, often has to arrive four hours early when traveling to any country that is a U.S. ally and face extensive secondary screenings before boarding.

“My kids ask me, ‘Daddy, why do they ask us such questions?’ What should I tell them? When Trudeau says a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian, I don’t believe in that,” Navid said.

“Even when returning to Canada, we have to be redirected to immigration when we are Canadians. It feels like we’re being sent to jail.”

A masked boy tilts down his head while holding a trolly bag.
Arshia Sadeghiani, 13, does not want to continue his future in robotics after he was not allowed to enter the U.S. with the robotics team of his West Vancouver school district to attend the world championship in Dallas, his father says. (Submitted by Navid Sadeghiani)

The 50-year-old feels sad for his son, who was depressed after the refusal.

“He didn’t want to talk and now he doesn’t want to see a future in robotics because he can’t travel or pursue his higher studies there,” Navid said.

“They are crushing a little boy’s dream to raise the Canadian flag in the U.S. His future is being destroyed. Canada needs to act.”

Sara Ebrahimi, another B.C. resident, had to tell her daughter who wanted to pursue her education in New York the same thing, after the family was stopped last month at the border on their way to Seattle.

“It’s so offensive, after paying all the taxes here, I can’t visit my siblings and family in the U.S. It’s taking an emotional toll on us. I can’t go to most places in Europe and the Caribbean for vacation,” she said.

“We Iranian Canadian women have to pay the price. We thought we had independence here, but no we aren’t free.”

 

Canada bans top Iranian revolutionary guard members in new sanctions

 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland announced a new round of sanctions on Iran, banning the top 50 per cent of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps members from entering Canada.

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U.S. President Joe Biden steps aside as Democratic candidate, ending re-election bid

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WASHINGTON – U.S. President Joe Biden is removing his name as the Democratic candidate in the November election following weeks of mounting pressure over the 81-year-old’s mental acuity and ability to win the faceoff with Republican rival Donald Trump.

Biden says it has been his greatest honour to serve but he believes it is in the best interest of his party to stand down and focus solely on fulfilling his duties as president for the rest of his term.

Growing numbers of Democrats were urging Biden to drop out following a disastrous debate performance against Trump and multiple missteps on the world stage during the recent NATO leaders’ summit in Washington.

Biden told supporters Friday he was ready to get back on the road this week after recovering from COVID-19, which he contracted during a critical time for his campaign.

Biden criticized Trump’s acceptance speech at last week’s Republican National Convention, saying it presented a dark vision for the future, and indicated he would forge ahead with his own campaign.

But he issued a social media post on Sunday afternoon saying he would not be running, adding he will speak to the nation and provide more detail later this week.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 21, 2024.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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Joy in Newfoundland after ‘Lucky 7’ fishers survive harrowing days lost at sea

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NEW-WES-VALLEY, N.L. – There was a powerful word being repeated in the joyful Newfoundland community of New-Wes-Valley on Sunday: “Miracle.”

Over and over, residents out walking or chatting to one another in local stores said the fact that seven fishermen from the area had somehow survived roughly 48 hours in a life raft in the middle of the Atlantic ocean and were found by search and rescue crews was nothing short of miraculous.

“It’s once in a lifetime you’ll see something like this, when all the people survive,” said Frank Granter, who worked for the Canadian Coast Guard for 35 years. He was out walking through the sunny, seaside community on Sunday afternoon, stopping to talk to neighbours about the rescue ahead of an evening parade to celebrate the men’s survival.

Daphne Crocker leaned over her balcony and spread out her hands. “What a mighty God we serve,” she said about the fishermen coming home.

Granter agreed it was a miracle the Lucky 7 returned. “But October, November, it would have been a different story,” he said.

The Elite Navigator fishing boat and its crew seemed to vanish on Wednesday night. The craft was reported missing on Thursday after transmitting its final signal at around 8:30 p.m. the night before, the Canadian Coast Guard said. The vessel had caught fire and sank, forcing the crew to hastily disembark and wait for rescue on the life raft.

A massive search soon followed, involving four coast guard ships, a Cormorant helicopter, a Hercules aircraft and many local fishing vessels.

In New-Wes-Valley, which is an amalgamation of three small fishing communities along Newfoundland’s northeast coast, people braced for the worst. Fishing is among Canada’s deadliest professions, and tragedy is a common thread linking people in fishing communities across Atlantic Canada.

But on Friday night, out on the Atlantic ocean, searchers saw a light from a flare. It brought them to a life raft, where the seven fishermen — the Lucky 7 — were waiting.

Fisher Toby Peddle was among them. He said he was terrified as he jumped off the sinking fishing boat as it was pulled down into the depths. He can’t swim, he said, and he didn’t have a survival suit on.

“It was either jump and risk drowning or stay and be burned,” he said in an interview Sunday. “There was no time to think about it. I just knew I had to jump.”

He said the captain and another crew member, Jordan Lee King, had made a plan to reach him as soon as they hit the water.

“Jordan had said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll catch you before you even get in the water,’” recalled Peddle.

Sure enough, when Peddle jumped, King kept him afloat and quickly brought him to the raft, the fisherman said.

“I was relieved I made it to the raft. I couldn’t swim a stroke to save my life,” he said.

Peddle praised the actions of the captain.

“He did the best job he could have possibly done. He kept everyone calm in the life raft for over 48 hours. He’s a hero.”

“He just kept telling us, ‘We’re going to be fine. They know where we are, they’ll find us,’” he added.

He said it was very hard hearing the sound of helicopters flying overhead and realizing pilots were unable to see the life raft through fog. It was “the worst feeling of all,” he said.

They fired the final smoke flare in the boat at dusk on Friday, and it was spotted by the coast guard, he said. When he saw a helicopter flying overhead, “it was a moment of relief.”

At the wharf in New-Wes-Valley on Sunday afternoon, Peter Barfoot’s phone was pinging relentlessly in his pocket. He is good friends with David Tiller, one of the rescued fishermen, and he’d just launched a fundraising campaign to buy Tiller a new guitar.

The instrument went down with the Elite Navigator and Barfoot said it was “a no-brainer” to mount an effort to buy him a new one. He’d raised about $1,600 by Sunday afternoon.

“They’re heroes,” Barfoot said, shaking his head in disbelief. “How often do you hear this? It was a dire situation that turned into what it is now … They’re alive. They got a second chance at their life.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 20, 2024.

— With files from Michael Tutton in Halifax

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Second B.C. university issues trespass notice to pro-Palestinian protesters

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VICTORIA – The University of Victoria in British Columbia says it has begun the process of removing the pro-Palestinian encampment on campus, telling protesters they are trespassing on school property.

The school says in its latest encampment update that it has “taken a calm, measured and reasoned approach” to the protest since it was set up on May 1, but administrators “see no further prospect for a successful dialogue.”

On its social media page, protesters naming themselves “People’s Park UVIC” confirm the school has issued them a trespass notice, adding the administration has told them to “vacate by 8 a.m. Monday.”

The group did not specify their plans while asking the public to “stay tuned for updates from camp and plans going forward.”

Protesters at the university have been demanding the school cut financial and academic ties with Israeli entities due to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, and the latest development comes about a week after Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, B.C. launched legal action against protesters there for allegedly ignoring a deadline to leave their camp.

Vancouver Island University says it had issued its trespass notice to protesters on July 11.

University of Victoria says in its update that the school had been working toward “a peaceful conclusion of the encampment” since June through facilitated discussions with protesters.

“Unfortunately, we have not successfully achieved agreement on the process and timeline for decampment,” the school update says. ”The university was disappointed to learn of this impasse through social media posts from People’s Park UVic.”

The protest group says on its social media page that protesters “have negotiated in good faith” but described the school’s last proposed resolution as having “no concrete commitments” and containing “ineffective policy” that fails to address what they are calling a genocide in the Israel-Hamas conflict.

The group also reposted a statement from July 19, saying it is “unfortunately no surprise to once again witness our administration betraying the integrity of this process and emphasizing that these negotiations have been and always will be on their terms.”

A camp at the University of British Columbia was vacated by protesters voluntarily on July 7.

The recent developments come after an Ontario court granted the University of Toronto an injunction on July 2 that ordered protesters there to dismantle their encampment on the grounds that it is a violation of the school’s property rights.

Legal experts have said the decision sets a powerful precedent and creates a road map for other schools to follow in seeking legal recourse in removing protest encampments on campus.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 21, 2024.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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