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Homa Hoodfar, a 65-year-old Canadian-Iranian university professor, should be home in Montreal right now but is instead being held by the Iranian government in the country's most notorious jail – a place where prisoners are routinely tortured. She has not been allowed contact with her family or her lawyer since she was arrested on June 6 in Tehran by Iran's Revolutionary Guard. No official charges have been announced.

The Canadian government does not have formal diplomatic relations with Iran. Officials say they don't know why Ms. Hoodfar was arrested, and that they are concerned for her health. Ms. Hoodfar suffers from a neurological disorder and is unlikely to have access to the medication she needs.

This farce would be unacceptable under any circumstances, but it is even more appalling because it appears Ms. Hoodfar may have been taken prisoner in the hope of exchanging her for another Canadian-Iranian dual citizen living in Toronto. Iran has long wanted to get its hands on Mahmoud Reza Khavari, the former chief of the Melli Bank of Iran, who fled to Canada in 2011 after prosecutors tried to question him in connection with an alleged embezzlement and money-laundering scheme.

Iranian Justice Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi made the link after Ms. Hoodfar was seized, when he criticized Ottawa for not handing over Mr. Khavari. Ms. Hoodfar may be, in effect, a hostage. Seizing an innocent woman and holding her in a hellhole of a prison as negotiation collateral is something gangsters and terrorists do, not nations.

The Revolutionary Guard, whose main role is to suppress dissent in the Islamic republic, has leaked claims to friendly Iranian media that Ms. Hoodfar was fomenting feminist revolution. This is a transparently false accusation verging on self-satire. Ms. Hoodfar was in the country visiting family. She has a long history of respected academic work and has never been involved in politics.

Ms. Hoodfar is a Canadian citizen being used as a pawn. Ottawa must respond. Canada lifted its economic sanctions on Iran in February – part of an international effort to bring Iran back into the fold. The Trudeau government should not hesitate to use whatever levers it has available to pressure Iran and free Homa Hoodfar.