An internal Canadian government report from January 2012, obtained by the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) last month, suggests that Canada purposely inflated threats posed to its diplomatic interests in Tehran. The government investigation into security at Canada’s former embassy in Tehran came amidst rising political tensions between Iran and some western countries in late 2011. The report included consultations with Iranian officials present in Canada. According to the CBC, in the process of compiling the report, the Iranians provided “a warm reception” to Canadian authorities and “were hoping to… reassure [Canada] on a range of mission security and operations issues.” The report ultimately concluded that Canadian diplomatic interests were not under any increased risk. Canada unilaterally cut ties with Iran in September 2012.
According to the report, the “high risk of [a] catastrophic earthquake” posed “the most significant safety/security challenge for diplomatic missions in Tehran.” This assessment contrasts with repeated claims made by various Canadian officials, including Foreign Minister John Baird, former-Minister of Public Safety Victor Toews, and then-Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. Baird, who first announced the diplomatic break at an economic summit in Russia, recited trite grievances with the Iranian government, such as its support for Syria’s Bashar al-Assad as well as Western concerns over its domestic nuclear program. Baird also made comments about the security of Canadian personnel, stating that the government “felt that it’s simply no longer safe to have representatives of the government of Canada in Tehran.”
The world was left puzzled about Canada’s decision. According to Kambiz Sheikh-Hassani, Iran’s last charge d’affaires in Canada, the Canadian government provided no warnings about the closure. Confused commentators speculated as to whether Canada’s abrupt decision was prompted by an imminent Israeli attack on Iran, and “raised concerns that Canadian diplomats could be targeted [in Iran] for reprisals.” “To diplomats, breaking off relations – suspending them, technically – is a serious step, a notch below declaring war,” one analyst wrote in the Globe and Mail.
Dan Livermore, director general of security and intelligence at the Department of Foreign Affairs from 2002 to 2007, told the CBC, “The Iranians, for the terrible relations we had with them, they never closed their door to us.” Several days after the government’s decision, John Mundy, Canada’s last ambassador in Tehran, denounced the move and insisted the reasons provided by the government for cutting relations “are actually reasons why we should stay.”