On Monday, B’nai Brith and some Iranian-Canadian community leaders called for the government to enact its designation of the IRGC as a terrorist entity
OTTAWA – Sanctioning Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps may make Canadians feel better, but it will come at a cost, according to one expert.
“Sanctioning the entire military of a country is extremely complicated and if you actually carry through on the implications of that, it is astonishingly labour intensive,” said Thomas Juneau, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa.
He said sanctioning the IRGC at this moment would also risk the cooperation Iran is offering into the investigation of downed Ukraine International Airlines flight 752, killing 176 people, including 57 Canadians.
The IRGC is a major component of the Iranian military, virtually a parallel army that was formed after the Iranian revolution in 1979. It was initially meant to protect the new Islamic republic from the existing military structure, which was considered loyal to the former Shah.
Now the IRGC numbers 150,000 and oversees the country’s missile program and nuclear efforts. It’s also linked to militias fighting throughout the Middle East, supports terrorist groups and oversaw the air defence unit that shot down flight 752.
The House of Commons voted in 2018 with both Liberal and Conservative support to designate the IRGC as a terrorist entity. That designation has not yet been put in place, but if enacted it would make it a crime to participate or contribute to the group’s activities.
The Conservatives sponsored that initial motion and party leader Andrew Scheer called for the government to implement it immediately. On Monday, Jewish group B’nai Brith and some Iranian-Canadian community leaders called for the government to move on it as well.
B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn called on the government to complete the listing within the next 30 days. He said the IRGC needs to be confronted.
“It serves as a constant threat to the safety and security to civilians in the region, to Israel and to Canada and Canadian interests,” he said.
The enforcement of this is mind boggling in its complexity
A statement from the Public Safety department said they have already moved to sanction parts of the corps.
“We continue to list the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qods Force as a terrorist entity, and we also continue to impose sanctions on Iran and the IRGC targeting all four of its branches as well as senior-level members of its senior leadership,” reads the statement.
“The listing of entities is an ongoing process, and government officials continue to assess all groups and monitor new developments. Last year we added three additional Iran-backed groups to the Criminal Code list as terrorist entities.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked about the issue at a press conference this past weekend.
“Our focus right now is providing the support to grieving families that need answers, need closure, that need justice, that need access to consular support, both in Iran and in Canada.” he said. “We are doing everything we can to ensure that, that happens in the short term, but obviously there are reflections in the medium and long term as we move forward.”
Iran has granted access to Canadian consular officials who are helping families of the victims repatriate their remains and deal with other issues. It has also allowed Canadian investigators from the Transportation Safety Board access to the crash site and the opportunity to inspect the wreckage.
“Right now, the next few days or weeks, is not the time to slap additional sanctions on Iran,” said Juneau, who added that listing the IRGC as a terrorist entity would not be useful in the long term.
There are approximately 150,000 members of the IRGC today, plus hundreds of thousands of veterans of the unit. Juneau said that would make sanctioning them or banning members from Canada incredibly difficult.
“The enforcement of this is mind boggling in its complexity.”
In addition to sanctions, a portion of the IRGC is already designated as a terrorist group and the previous Conservative government labelled Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism. Juneau found that designation made reestablishing diplomatic relations with Iran difficult preventing Canada from reopening an embassy in Tehran, which the Conservatives closed in 2012.
He said no government wants to take the political risk of easing sanctions, which make it difficult to walk back.
“We need to think about the long term implications. Is this going to unnecessarily tie our hands in the future.”
He said closing the embassy might not have seemed significant at the time, but over the past week for Canadians already on the ground it could have been very useful.
“If anyone thinks these questions are hypothetical, they have had their head deep in the sand for the past week.”
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