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



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.

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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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Chinese immigration to Canada record high from 2015, as some flee zero-COVID strategy



China’s zero-COVID lockdowns have been linked to a rare wave of protests across the country in recent weeks, and immigration industry experts say the strict pandemic rules are also fuelling a surge in requests to live in Canada.

Immigration from China has bounced back from pandemic lulls to hit a new peak, according to Canadian government statistics, and immigration consultants report an ongoing surge of inquiries.

Vancouver immigration lawyer Ryan Rosenberg, co-founder and partner at Larlee Rosenberg, said COVID restrictions have been a new motivator for potential Chinese immigrants.

“I think that what we are seeing is that COVID lockdowns really shocked people and it caused people to think that maybe China is not a good fit for themselves and for their families.”

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Rosenberg, who has been in the industry for more than 20 years, said the traditional driving forces for Chinese clients considering Canada were better education for their children, cleaner air and a healthier lifestyle.

Permanent resident admissions from China hit 9,925 in the July-to-September quarter, online statistics by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada show.

That is more than triple the pandemic low of 2,980 in the same quarter of 2020, and is also up 15 per cent from 8,690 recorded in the third quarter of 2019, before the pandemic hit.

Quarterly admissions from China are now higher than at any point since 2015, as far back as the online statistics go. A spokesperson for Immigration Canada was not available to confirm if immigration rates had been higher before 2015.

Politics is also a factor, Rosenberg said, citing the consolidation of power with President Xi Jinping, who was recently confirmed for a precedent-breaking third term.

“(The) latest extension of Xi’s rule in China has also scared certain people, mostly business owners … and they are wanting to look at Canada as an option for themselves and their family,” said Rosenberg.

“There is a strong vibe that we are picking up on people wanting to get out for those reasons more than anything.”

Tiffany, a Richmond, B.C., immigration consultant who only wanted her first name used for fear of reprisals against her family from China, said many of her clients say China’s zero-COVID strategy made them feel “their freedom and liberties have been stripped away.”

“Many could sense the pressure that (Chinese) society is shifting, from once being a bit open and relaxed to being strict, prompting them to think of escaping to other countries,” the consultant said in an interview in Mandarin.

Immigration consultant Ken Tin Lok Wong said his firm has also seen an increase in family reunion applications.

“Because of COVID-19, many decided to come here to visit their family members in Canada,” Wong said in an interview in Mandarin.

“After spending some time here, they realized that although they probably could make more money in their hometowns (in China), being close to family members is more important than anything in life.”

Rosenberg said the subject of immigration has become so sensitive that his clients in China are reluctant to discuss matters over electronic communication, fearing they might be monitored by the Chinese government.

“It’s coming to the point that the concern is getting in the way of people being able to have meaningful conversations about this in China, and that can somehow limit our ability to do really good work for them,” said Rosenberg.

China’s embassy in Ottawa did not respond to a request for comment.

The desire to leave China during the pandemic, combined with the caution of speaking about it openly, has sparked a coded term in Chinese online discussions: “run xue,” or run philosophy.

The bilingual term refers to studying ways to get out of China, and is widely used on Chinese-language websites and chat rooms.

A recent immigrant who moved from Beijing to Vancouver three years ago said he made his “run” for political reasons. He too asked not to be identified out of fear of reprisals from the Chinese government.

The engineer, who is in his late 30s, said he went on multiple trips to Taiwan after the island opened its doors to Chinese tourists in 2008.

“I remember, I stopped by at Freedom Square, a public plaza in Taipei, and saw some people running around carefree. Some were doing music rehearsals and others were even waving placards to express their political opinions,” he said.

“I didn’t see any police presence at the square and that was the awakening moment for me. I thought to myself: ‘Oh, I actually could live my life this way.’”

He said he was now content with his life in Vancouver, despite feeling lonely during holidays and having to work multiple jobs to make a living.

Rosenberg said young immigrants with lots of work years ahead of them were favoured for their ability to contribute to the Canadian economy in a “meaningful and direct way.”

“So, the bias is towards people who are a bit younger, highly educated, and can speak English or French, and then having experience in Canada, (rather) than experience earned outside of Canada,” said Rosenberg.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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Girl Guides of Canada announces two potential new names for Brownies program



Girl Guides of Canada is asking its members to vote on two new name options for its Brownies program — comets or embers.

Last month the national organization told members it would be changing the name of the program for girls aged seven and eight because the name has caused harm to racialized Girl Guides.

Girl Guides says that some Black Canadians, Indigenous residents and people of colour have chosen to skip this program or delay joining the organization because of the name,  adding a change can ensure more girls feel like they belong in the program.

Members were invited to vote for one of the two new name contenders in an email sent Tuesday.

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The email says the name comets was chosen because they inspire as they travel through space, boldly blazing a trail, and the name embers were selected because they are small and full of potential that can ignite a powerful flame.

Girl Guides says members can vote until December 13 and the new name will be announced in late January.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2022.

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Veterans’ cases raise fresh concerns about expanding assisted dying law



Revelations that some Canadian veterans have been offered medically assisted deaths while seeking help from the federal government are adding to worries about Ottawa’s plans to expand such procedures to include mental-health injuries and illnesses.

Veterans’ organizations are instead calling on Ottawa to increase access to mental-health services for former service members, which includes addressing the long wait times that many are forced to endure when applying for assistance.

“Mental-health injuries can be terminal only if they’re untreated, unsupported and under-resourced,” said Wounded Warriors executive director Scott Maxwell, whose organization runs mental-health support programs for veterans and first responders.

“That should be where we’re focused: resourcing, funding and investing in timely access to culturally competent, occupationally aware mental-health care.”

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While medical assistance in dying was approved in 2016 for Canadians suffering from physical injuries and illness, the criteria for MAID is set to expand in March to include those living with mental-health conditions.

While that plan has already elicited warnings from psychiatrists across the country, who say Canada is not ready for such a move, Maxwell and others are also sounding the alarm about the potential impact on ill and injured ex-soldiers.

Those concerns have crystallized in recent weeks after reports that several former service members who reached out to Veterans Affairs Canada for assistance over the past three years were counselled on assisted dying.

Those include retired corporal and Canadian Paralympian Christine Gauthier, who told the House of Commons’ veterans affairs committee last week that she was offered an assisted death during her five-year fight for a wheelchair ramp in her home.

The federal government has blamed a single Veterans Affairs employee, saying the case manager was acting alone and that her case has been referred to the RCMP. It also says training and guidance has been provided to the rest of the department’s employees.

The issue has nonetheless sparked fears about what will happen if the criteria for MAID is expanded in March, particularly as many veterans with mental and physical injuries continue to have to wait months — and even years — for federal support.

Those wait times have persisted for years despite frustration, anger and warnings from the veterans’ community as well as the veterans’ ombudsman, Canada’s auditor general and others about the negative impact those wait times are having on former service members.

“My fear is that we are offering a vehicle for people to end their lives when there are treatment options available, but those treatment options are more difficult to access than medically assisted death,” Oliver Thorne of the Veterans Transition Network recently testified before the Commons’ veterans affairs committee.

And despite the government’s assertions that a single Veterans Affairs’ employee was responsible for proposing MAID as an option, Royal Canadian Legion deputy director of veterans’ services Carolyn Hughes said the reports have added to longstanding anger and fears in the community.

“Many veterans have been angered and retraumatized by this situation, seeing it as an extension of the perception of ‘deny, delay, and die’ from VAC to veterans,” she told the same committee.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that the government is looking at striking the right balance between providing access to assisted deaths and protecting vulnerable Canadians, including veterans.

But the Association of Chairs of Psychiatry in Canada, which includes heads of psychiatry departments at all 17 medical schools, is calling for a delay to the proposed MAID expansion, saying patients need better access to care including for addiction services.

The Conservatives have also called for a delay, with democratic reform critic Michael Cooper underscoring the need for more study and preparation.

“Many veterans who turn to Veterans Affairs for services and support are vulnerable,” he said. “Many have physical injuries and mental-health issues arising from their service. What they need is help and support. And it can be devastating to be offered death instead of help.”

NDP veterans affairs critic Rachel Blaney said it is essential that the government increase access to services for veterans.

“We should always make sure that there’s resources and services out there,” she said. “We don’t want anyone to feel like this (MAID) is ever the first option for them. “

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2022.

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