Queen’s student petitions Canadian government for action on Iran

The signs at a rally protesting the Islamic Regime in Iran state the now-familiar slogans and hashtags “Women, life, freedom,” “Free Iran,” and “Fight like a girl.” Civil unrest in Iran and protests against the government regime began to take place regularly around the world in September 2022, following the death of Mahsa Amini while she was in police custody in Iran. Photo by Craig Melville.

A petition, which originated in Kingston, has garnered over 3,400 signatures and counting, as of Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023.

Presented by second-year Queen’s University student Niki Ehsan and sponsored by Kingston and the Islands MP Mark Gerretsen, the petition asks the Government of Canada to take stronger action against the Islamic Republic of Iran, as protests and state-sanctioned violence continue to rock the country.

The petition asks for the federal government to take five steps to act “urgently and rigidly” against Iran, including investigating reported stalking threats against against Iranian-Canadians, revoking visas for Iranian officials in Canada, and asking allies to cease all negotiations with Iran.

Ehsan said, above all, designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist entity under the Criminal Code is of the utmost importance.

“The main point we have is to list the IRGC as a terrorist entity,” Ehsan said.

“By listing the IRGC as a terrorist organization it de-legitimizes the regime… [it] is so important to a theocratic dictatorship to be seen as legitimate… that is our main goal, to get the Government of Canada to actually take meaningful action against this brutality and not simply just condemn it with words.”

The petition opened for signatures on Friday, Jan. 17, 2023, and, as of Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023, had garnered 3,437 signatures spanning across every province in the country. Ehsan said that all Iranians in Iran or living abroad have experienced some form of the terror imparted by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Protests erupted in September 2022 after the death in detention of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, a woman arrested by Iran’s morality police for wearing “immodest clothing,” described by protesters as a loose strand of hair.

The nation was quickly swept with protesting citizens, and demonstrations in Kingston and other cities around the world have been held on several occasions.

Ehsan said the protests that have been ongoing since September are something that simply don’t happen in Iran, and have inspired her and other Iranians abroad to do what they can.

“Protests like that don’t break out in Iran,” Ehsan said.

“It’s met with severe brutality. So seeing that abroad, seeing my brothers and sisters fighting for basic freedoms and basic human rights, I knew I had to do what I had to, to help the voices in Iran be heard.”

The petition’s sponsor Mark Gerretsen said it’s rare that he would decline an opportunity to sponsor a petition, and this one revolves around a very important topic. He said there is more Canada and its allies can do for the fight of the people of Iran, and that he looks forward to presenting the petition to the House of Commons when it’s ready.

“I don’t think that we’re ever going to be able to really operate unilaterally without some kind of coordinated approach with our allies, but I think that there is more we can do,” Gerretsen said.

“When you hear about the atrocities that are happening in Iran over people that are basically standing up to be heard and to have the right to voice their opinion… I’m very happy to have the opportunity to sponsor the petition.”

Ehsan said with time left with the petition open for signatures, she and the Iranian Student Association at Queen’s will take time to organize next steps. Despite Gerretsen’s sponsoring of the petition, she said there was no guarantee or expectation that he would present it to the House of Commons, and that the ideal scenario is going to Pierre Polliviere’s office in hopes the leader of the opposition will table the petition and push for the changes to be made.

Ehsan said Polliviere has been a staunch critic of Iran’s actions and has been vocal about designating the IRGC as a terrorist organization. She said that even though he has become a rather polarizing figure in politics, namely for his support of the “Freedom Convoy” and his appeal to far right voters in Canada, there’s no concern about having the Conservative MP table the petition, as the issue should transcend partisan discussion.

“We’re really just hoping that everyone, western leaders, can come together to help Iran and help people that are dying at the hands of pointless brutality,” Ehsan said.

The petition is open for signatures until Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023.

Owen Fullerton is a Kingston-based reporter with the Local Journalism Initiative (LJI).

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