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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks during a news conference on the sidelines of the 67th United Nations General Assembly in New York. (BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks during a news conference on the sidelines of the 67th United Nations General Assembly in New York. (BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)


Battle of the travel advisories: The Iran-Canada slap fight Add to ...

In what has become an annual event, Canada and several other nations walked out of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech to the United Nations as it took place this past Wednesday. The United States announced in advance that it would not be attending.

In his past addresses, Mr. Ahmadinejad has treated the assembly to a rambling anti-Semitic diatribe, but this year’s address was tame to the point of being New Agey. There was an “imagine for a moment” section more saccharine than John Lennon’s Imagine. It drifted into Seasons in the Sun territory, if that song had been belted out by Skeletor.

Mr. Ahmadinejad touched incongruously upon themes of fairness and man’s inhumanity to man. There was an epic quality to his speech. Almost as if it had been written to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit that also took place this week.

Perhaps there was a speech mix-up at the printers, and somewhere in New York that same day, some awkward-at-the-best-of-times professor found himself denying the Holocaust to a group of earnest J.R.R. Tolkien fans who had been hoping to be enlightened about the economic impact of the pipe-weed trade on the nation of Gondor under the reign of King Elessar.

The relationship between Canada and Iran is, of course, strained. Diplomatic relations are no more. Earlier this month, we (rashly, I believe) closed our embassy in Tehran and Iran’s diplomatic staff was expelled from Ottawa. We have entered an era of purely passive-aggressive relations with Iran that escalated this week with a series of travel advisories.

Ottawa’s first volley in the travel-advisories war was an online post warning Canadians that “Iranian-Canadian dual citizens may be particularly vulnerable to investigation and harassment by Iranian authorities.”

Tehran then warned its citizens of the risks of police violence in Canada, referencing this summer’s clashes between students and authorities in Montreal over tuition fees. No doubt Iranians planning to spend their vacations protesting against the cost of postsecondary education in Quebec will now reconsider. Maybe they’ll do a Club Med where people hot-tub against public-sector wage freezes instead.

If Canada decides to strike a similar tone, it would have to go with this: “Their coffee’s very strong, and one merely rolls up the rim to roll up the rim over there.” This could get out of hand, with Iran firing back by declaring, “It is not a dry cold.”

At which point Canada might be well within its rights to declare, “They have a lot of cats in Iran. Just sayin’.” And then Iran could retaliate with: “Be advised that Canadians have been known to viciously ask complete strangers if they’ve been to the Calgary Stampede yet.”

Ottawa could then issue an alert through the media reading, “Sure. Go. Whatever. You still won’t be able to get good Mexican food.”

Iran has what I consider an ace up its sleeve, advisory-wise: “Three words, citizens: Cirque du Soleil.”

I question the effectiveness of our now predictable and thus less-than-dramatic exits from Mr. Ahmadinejad’s speeches. It might even be comforting to the Iranian leader: “Ah, yes, the Canadians are leaving. That’s familiar,” he might think. “Now where was that bit about the worldwide Zionist conspiracy… ”

Although this will have been his last UN address, as Iran has term limits and there is an election in 2013, it would be better if we updated this exiting practice for Iran’s next leader and brought it in line with the more modern diplomatic approach that Iran apparently favours with us: No more soft power, no more hard power – we are entering the age of passive-aggressive power.

We should stay for the speech at UN, but text during the entire thing, maybe update Canada’s Twitter feed. Later, we could tag the leader in a lot of unflattering pictures on Facebook (although Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu this week took the lead in terms of doodle-based diplomacy).

We should eat loud snacks. Pass them to other countries. All the countries could pretend to be other countries.

Sweden could play, “I’m not touching you. I’m not touching you. I’m not touching you. Is this bugging you? It shouldn’t because I’m not touching you,” with Norway.

This might engender an equally passive-aggressive response from the new leader, who could interrupt his paranoid, anti-Semitic ramblings to mutter travel advisories under his breath. “In Canada, the Zionists have made it very hard to get parking,” he could say. “What? I’m just thinking out loud.”

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Follow on Twitter: @TabathaSouthey

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