Ratna Omidvar is an independent senator from Ontario.
The situation in Iran is both inspiring and terrifying.
Brave Iranian women are taking to the streets to fight for their freedom. They are discarding and burning their head scarves, and cutting off their hair to push back against the Iranian regime. By doing so, they are putting themselves and their families at considerable risk.
I echo the protesters’ chant: women, life, freedom.
Four decades ago, I fled Iran with my family because I didn’t want my daughter to live under the repression of the Iranian regime after the revolution. Making the decision to leave in the middle of the night was not an easy one. It was fraught with peril and fear.
I still remember what it was like to cross the Turkish border from Iran. I remember distinctly the smell of fear in the room: our own fear and the fear of the very young revolutionary guards who were searching us. This must be the very same fear that Iranian women and girls are feeling today. I know from my own experience that fear can be paralyzing – but it is also a powerful release of courage.
It is devastating what Iranians, especially women, have had to endure since then. Control over their bodies, their clothes and their thoughts is a real-life Handmaid’s Tale. But as we now see, Iranian women have had enough, and Canadians are rallying around their cause in calling for an end to their oppression.
Recently, Canada announced an entry ban for thousands of high-ranking members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and formally sanctioned 25 Iranian officials and nine Iranian entities following a crackdown on the current uprising by the Iranian regime. This adds to the 41 Iranian individuals and 161 Iranian entities already sanctioned by Canada. In addition, as a symbolic show of support, Parliament Hill last week was lit up in the colours of the Iranian flag.
But this is not enough. We have other tools in our tool box – specifically, a new measure that was passed by Parliament in June as part of Bill C-19. This new measure enhances two of Canada’s sanction regimes, the Magnitsky Act and the Special Economic Measures Act (SEMA). The enhancements are based on a bill I introduced in the Senate called the Frozen Asset Repurposing Act (FARA), which follows an asset-freezing template conceived of by the World Refugee and Migration Council.
The new provisions in Bill C-19 allow the government to go beyond freezing the assets of corrupt foreign officials by confiscating and redirecting them to victims of persecution and oppression. If Canada is serious about helping the freedom of Iranian women in a meaningful way, then it must apply these measures to sanctioned Iranian individuals and entities. Once applied, the seized assets could flow through NGOs that are supporting Iranian women’s rights and education. It could also help support Iranian refugees.
As the old adage says: follow the money. If you follow the money, you will come to the truth.
And the truth is this: For far too long, corrupt Iranian officials have acted with impunity. They have not only stolen massive amounts of wealth from their own people, but they have also oppressed and disenfranchised these people. They have subjugated women and girls to the point that men dictate what they can wear, think, read, or study. Calling them out is not enough. Listing the IRGC as a terrorist entity is not enough. We have to make them pay.
Canada now has a unique tool to do so, and I urge my government to take immediate action.