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Prime Minister Stephen Harper says his determination to require uncovered faces for citizenship oaths is backed by “moderate” Muslims.CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters

Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressed solidarity with Iranian Canadians on Saturday, declaring his government shared their hopes for an end to "tyranny" in their native Iran.

Mr. Harper's remarks came as he attended a gala held by Vancouver-region Iranians to mark Norouz – the Iranian New Year.

His visit also comes at a time of debate over Mr. Harper's declaration, earlier in March, that the niqab, a face-covering veil worn by a small minority of Muslim women in Canada, was "rooted in a culture that is anti-women."

Warmly welcomed by an audience of about 300 people at a downtown hotel, Mr. Harper made no reference to the larger debate, but focused on hopes for Iran's future.

"Know that our government shares your hope that Iran itself will experience a renewal, that one day Iran will be a thriving, open country and the Iranian people will live free from tyranny and oppression," Mr. Harper told the audience during his remarks.

"But until that time, our government will ensure that those who seek refuge from the Iranian regime can access freedom, democracy and justice here in Canada as Canadians."

According to a release from his office, Mr. Harper met earlier Saturday with members of the Ismaili community during a tour of the Vancouver Ismali Centre.

The prime minister did not make himself available for questions from reporters covering the Norouz gala.

During the Norouz gala, Mr. Harper was effusive in his praise of the Iranian-Canadian community, noting its members were relatively new to Canada, but has added to Canada's economic strength and cultural richness. He even noted that the world's first human-rights charter dated back to Iran, about 2,500 years ago.

Defence Minister Jason Kenney, also multiculturalism minister, spoke at the Vancouver event as well. He noted that Canada received about 6,000 permanent residents from Iran in 2005, ahead of Mr. Harper becoming prime minister, and more than 11,000 – "twice as many" – similarly had established themselves in Canada last year.

"At the same time, we have taken measures to do everything we can to ensure that those who are joining us in Canada intend to become good Canadians and respect Canada's values and to integrate successfully as Canadians just as so many of you have done," he said.

This story corrects an earlier version that said Mr. Harper met members of the Ismaili community at the Burnaby Islamic Centre. The meeting actually took place at the Vancouver Ismali Centre