The Canada Border Services Agency has denied entry to dozens of senior Iranian regime officials and is investigating about 100 people with status in Canada for potential ties to Tehran.
The agency also has referred the cases of nine individuals with status in Canada to the Immigration and Refugee Board to determine their admissibility to Canada.
The denials at the border and the investigations stem from a measure the Liberal government adopted last year in the midst of widespread protests in Iran over the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman. Amini died while in the custody of Iran’s “morality police.”
The sighting of a former Tehran police chief at a Toronto-area gym in 2021 led many Iranian-Canadians to claim that Canada serves as a haven for high-ranking members of Iran’s regime.
Under pressure from the opposition Conservatives and members of the Iranian-Canadian community to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a terrorist entity, the Liberal government instead opted to take action through immigration laws.
In November 2022, then-public safety minister Marco Mendicino designated the Islamic Republic of Iran a “regime that has engaged in terrorism and systematic and gross human rights violations” under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA).
That designation made tens of thousands of Iranian regime officials — including many members of the IRGC — inadmissible to Canada.
Numbers, but no names
In a statement provided to CBC News, the CBSA said that as of Nov. 20, 2023, the agency had reviewed approximately 17,800 visa applications for potential inadmissibility to Canada under the IRPA designation of the Iranian regime. As a result, 78 individuals were denied access to Canada.
The CBSA also said that, based on referrals from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and tips from the public, it opened investigations into 141 individuals with status in Canada.
The CBSA closed 38 of those 141 cases, either because the individuals were out of the country or the border agency had determined the individuals were allowed to be in Canada.
The CBSA deemed ten individuals inadmissible under the Iranian regime’s IRPA designation. Nine of those people are presently in Canada and are now facing hearings before the Immigration Refugee Board of Canada, which will decide whether their status in Canada must be revoked.
The CBSA would not identify any of the individuals under investigation or those denied access to Canada, citing the Privacy Act.
Ottawa pressed to list IRGC as a terrorist entity
“I’m glad that some people have been deemed inadmissible because it had not been clear to me that the government had taken any steps,” said Kaveh Shahrooz, a human rights activist, lawyer and senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.
“I think any member of the IRGC that willingly served — not conscripts, but willingly served — should be kicked out of the country. But ultimately, it doesn’t take away from our goal of making the entirety of the IRGC a terrorist organization.”
The government has faced pressure for years to list the IRGC as a terrorist organization. Those calls intensified after the IRGC shot down Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 in 2020, killing all 176 people onboard, including 55 Canadians and 30 permanent residents.
In the wake of Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, which killed an estimated 1,200 people, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre renewed his calls for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to list the IRGC as a terrorist entity.
Hamas, a listed terrorist entity in Canada, is a member of the so-called “Axis of Resistance” — a Tehran-backed alliance of militant groups in the Middle East which oppose both Israel and the United States.
Trudeau has resisted calls to list the IRGC and has pointed to his government’s decision to designate Iran’s Quds force a terrorist entity in 2017. The Quds force is a branch of the IRGC responsible for the paramilitary force’s extraterritorial operations.
The government has argued in the past that listing the IRGC as a terrorist entity would be a blunt-force approach that could target low-level people who were forced to serve in the paramilitary force.
The Council on Foreign Relations, a U.S.-based independent think-tank, identifies the Quds force as Iran’s main point of contact with axis members, providing them with “training, weaponry and funds to promote Iranian regional objectives.”
Leah West, an associate professor at Carleton University who teaches national security law, said listing the IRGC as a terrorist organization would be a largely symbolic gesture that might run counter to Canadian law.
“The Criminal Code basically has a carve-out for the definition of terrorist activity that excludes military units or parties to an armed conflict,” West told CBC News.
“The terrorist entity listing is dependent on that terrorist activity definition. So, essentially, if the Quds force arguably shouldn’t have been listed because of that definition, it makes it even harder to list an entire military for that reason — at least lawfully.”
“My personal opinion is we shouldn’t be sacrificing our commitment to our own domestic law in order to make what is really a political statement. It will have very little actual impact in terms of effect … It’s just not a useful tool,” added West.