OTTAWA – Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff wants the Canadian embassy in Tehran to help those injured in the Iranian government’s crackdown, but Foreign Affairs says it can only offer refuge to people in exceptional circumstances.
Ignatieff released a statement condemning Iran’s use of violence to stifle dissent by protesters contesting the results of the Iranian presidential election.
Amid reports of casualties, the Liberal leader urged the Canadian government to do all it can to help the injured at its embassy in Tehran.
“Canada should join other countries in keeping our embassy open for the humanitarian needs of the people of Iran,” he said late Saturday night.
The New-York based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran says scores of injured demonstrators needed medical treatment and some of them had sought refuge at foreign embassies.
There were conflicting reports about whether the Canadian embassy had turned away people or accepted some of them.
But Foreign Affairs spokesperson Simone MacAndrew said the embassy was closed on Saturday. “Reports that we were providing shelter to Iranian demonstrators are false,” she said Sunday in an email.
The embassy is located in the centre of recent demonstrations and has been closing early to allow staff to get home before the protests begin, she said.
“Canada does not offer asylum to individuals in its embassies abroad,” she said.
“However, in exceptional cases, where an individual is in the embassy and seeks temporary refuge because of an immediate threat of injury or death, temporary safe haven has, in some instances and for humanitarian reasons, been provided.”
During the Iranian revolution 30 years ago, the Canadian embassy in Tehran harboured six American diplomats after their embassy was seized by militants. They were eventually smuggled out of the country using Canadian passports.
In the aftermath, diplomatic relations between Canada and Iran were cut for eight years.
Tehran streets have been filled with demonstrators since Iran’s hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner of the June 12 election. But the reformist opposition leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, has demanded that the presidential vote be annulled.
The official death toll for the week is at least 17. State television inside Iran said 10 were killed and 100 injured in clashes Saturday.
The Iranian government has continued to impose a blackout on the country’s most serious internal conflict since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Meanwhile, some 400 protesters took to the streets of Montreal in support of pro-democracy demonstrators in Iran, some waving signs depicting images of violent clashes in Tehran.
They marched through downtown Montreal on Sunday, calling for democracy in Farsi, French and English.
“We’re here to protest against the violence we’ve seen in the streets of Tehran and in other provinces against the Iranian people,” said Sahar Mofidi, a Canadian-Iranian who helped organize the march.
Many of the marchers sported black and green articles of clothing – black to signify mourning for those killed, and green as the colour representing change in Iran.
“It’s finally boiling over after 30 years of oppression,” said Myriam, who, like many others participating in anti-Iranian government protests, was fearful of giving her last name.
“It’s past just a vote,” she said. “It’s a matter of respect, of human rights. People have just had enough. In a way, it’s been in everyone’s hearts for a long time.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon condemned the use of violence against the demonstrators. “The government’s reaction has been to silence the voices of its own people through brutality,” he said.
Cannon said the Iranian people have a right to voice their complaints without intimidation.
“We continue to call on Iran to fully respect all of its human rights obligations, both in law and in practice, and to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the fraud allegations,” he said.
Ignatieff, too, echoed those sentiments.
“The Iranian government cannot hide the truth from their own citizens or from the rest of the world,” he said.
“By answering the call for open and transparent elections with a violent disregard for the rights of its citizens, the Iranian government has further alienated itself from the international community.”
-With files from Jessica Murphy in Montreal.