Canada has suspended diplomatic relations with Iran, but links between Iranians and Canadians are as strong as they have ever been, with a dynamic and successful Iranian Diaspora in Canada and a rich spectrum of academic, cultural, and professional ties between the two countries.
Formal diplomatic relations between the Government of Canada and Iran were established in 1955, with an Iranian mission established in Ottawa in 1956 and the first Canadian Head of Mission (a WWII veteran from Newfoundland named George B. Summers) dispatched to Tehran in 1959. During the following years, the two countries developed a significant commercial relationship, with almost 1000 Canadian workers and contractors in Iran at the end of the 1970s. There were regular contacts at the highest level during those years, including visits to Canada by the Shah in 1965 and 1967, and a visit to Iran by the Governor General in 1971.
The Canadian Embassy in Tehran remained open during the Islamic Revolution, but closed in 1980, shortly following the safe departure of six members of the US Embassy who had been sheltering with Canadian diplomats.
At the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988, Canada sent a large team of military observers under a United Nations mandate to help supervise the ceasefire. At the same time, the Canadian Embassy re-opened, with an Ambassador named in 1990. Throughout the 1990s, commercial relations between the two countries expanded rapidly, until Iran became Canada’s most important trading partner in the Middle East region.
Political ties between the two countries were governed since 1996 by a Controlled Engagement Policy, which prevented the establishment of consulates or direct air links, among other limitations.
In 2003, Canada tightened the Controlled Engagement Policy, limiting official contacts to discussion of four subjects, including the case of Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian journalist who was killed in an Iranian prison by regime officials in 2003. In 2007, both countries reduced their representation to the level of Chargé d’affaires.
On September 7, 2012, Canada suspended diplomatic relations with Iran by closing its embassy in Tehran and expelling all Iranian diplomats from Ottawa. Following that decision, Italy agreed to represent Canadian interests in Iran (Iran has not yet proposed an arrangement for the protection of its interests in Canada).
The steady decline in Canada’s bilateral relations with Iran is the direct result of the reckless and brutal actions of the Iranian regime, against international security, against the citizens of neighboring countries, and against its own people. The government of Canada has continued to take strong actions against the regime and its elite, by adopting and expanding its economic sanctions four times since 2010, reflecting Canada’s view that the Iranian regime is the greatest threat to international peace and security in the world today.
Canada has not and will not break off relations with the courageous and creative people who are the daily victims of the brutal Iranian regime. Canada welcomes stronger relations with the people of Iran, and celebrates the leading role that Iranian-Canadians play in Canada’s multicultural society. Canada looks forward to a better future for Iran, where the enduring links between Iranians and Canadians become the basis for a true partnership for democracy and prosperity.