Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled additional sanctions and a freeze of Canadian-held assets in response to the Iranian regime’s crackdown on mass protests after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in mid-September.
Mr. Trudeau and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland held an afternoon news conference Friday to announce that as many as 10,000 members of the top leadership of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) will be permanently banned from Canada.
Ms. Amini died after being arrested by morality police enforcing Iran’s severe restrictions on women’s clothing.
“This will make [the] Top 50 per cent of the IRGC leadership – the 10,000 officers and senior members most responsible for this heinous state behaviour – inadmissible to Canada,” he said.
Ottawa will also “massively expand targeted sanctions” to hold to account members of the regime’s elite, Mr. Trudeau said.
He added that Ottawa will provide $76-million to agencies to broadly strengthen their ability to implement sanctions and freeze and seize assets more quickly.
“We are expanding Canada’s capacity to fight money-laundering and illicit financial activity, as well as to crack down on foreign interference to protect Iranian Canadians and other communities in Canada,” he said.
Friday’s moves build on sanctions against 25 senior Iranian officials and nine government entities that were announced by the federal government on Monday.
The Trudeau government has faced tough questioning in the House of Commons as the Conservative opposition has demanded that Ottawa designate Iran’s IRGC as a terrorist group.
Mr. Trudeau said the newest sanctions are meant to target those who enforce repressive measures, violate human rights and spread the regime’s propaganda.
But the Prime Minister was asked repeatedly by reporters why Canada hasn’t followed the lead of the United States and declared the IRGC as a terrorist group, which would make it subject to the Criminal Code.
He argued that the new measures are significant, saying a ban like the one on top members of the IRGC from coming into Canada was last used against war criminals in civil wars in Bosnia and Rwanda.
“This is the strongest measures we have to go after state and state entities,” he said. “The Canadian Criminal Code is not the best tool to go after states or state entities, but we will continue to look at all tools we can use to do it.”
He was unable to say if any members of the Iranian regime are in Canada and would therefore face deportation.
Cabinet ministers will provide further detail next week on exactly how the various sanctions will be implemented, he said.
Ms. Freeland told reporters that Iran is “oppressive, theocratic and misogynist. The IRGC leadership are terrorists; the IRGC is a terrorist organization,” she said, although the government has yet to list it as such.
Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong dismissed the new measures as nothing more than a travel ban. Listing IRGC as a terrorist group as the U.S. has done would be much more effective, he said.
He also said Ottawa is ignoring the pleas of families of those who died when Iran’s military shot down a Ukraine Airlines jetliner in January, 2020, killing 176 passengers including 55 Canadians and 30 permanent residents.
“The measures don’t provide tools for the victims of Flight 752 to use to be compensated for the deaths of their loved ones,” Mr. Chong said.
NDP foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson said she was “extremely disappointed” that the sanctions were announced 1,003 days after the downing of Flight 752, and were also not put in place earlier to respond to “Putin’s war crimes in Ukraine.”
She expressed concern that it could take months for the government to begin to enforce the sanctions.
Thomas Juneau, associate professor at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, said listing IRGC as a terrorist group is too sweeping and difficult to enforce.
“Because it is a blunt and sweeping tool, you catch in the net people you don’t want to target. Someone, for example, who was a conscript in the IRGC as a cook and therefore doesn’t represent any kind of danger,” he said. “This person would not be able to send any money back home because he could get caught in terrorist financing laws.”
Prof. Juneau praised Ottawa for providing federal agencies with an additional $76-million to enforce Iranian and Russian sanctions but added it will likely take years to set up properly. People involved in sanctions enforcement have specific technical skills and they are not easy to find, he said.