Liberal MP calls for 'severe' travel restrictions on Iranian official accused of terrorism ties

Iran's ICAO representative in Canada, Farhad Parvaresh, is accused of having had connections to a terrorist group while he was the head of Iran Air. Parvaresh denies the allegation.  (Regis Duvignau/Reuters - image credit)
Iran's ICAO representative in Canada, Farhad Parvaresh, is accused of having had connections to a terrorist group while he was the head of Iran Air. Parvaresh denies the allegation. (Regis Duvignau/Reuters - image credit)

Liberal MP Ali Ehsassi, chair of the Commons foreign affairs committee, is calling on the federal government to impose "severe" travel restrictions on Iran's representative at the United Nations aviation agency in Montreal.

Ehsassi told CBC News the federal government has retained lawyers to weigh its options regarding claims that Iran's aviation envoy Farhad Parvaresh has ties to a terrorist group. Parvaresh denies the allegation that he has links to Iran's Quds Force, listed by Canada as a terror organization.

"In instances such as this, there is a precedent where host countries of international organizations can impose restrictions on envoys," said Ehsassi, adding the government is speaking to other countries about Parvaresh.

Canada cut diplomatic ties with Iran in 2012 and expelled its diplomats. Parvaresh is designated a permanent representative at ICAO and is not an envoy to Canada. Individual countries can restrict a diplomat's movements within their borders, said Ehsassi.

As the three-year anniversary of the destruction of Flight PS752 by Iranian forces on January 8, 2020 approached, protesters gathered outside the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in downtown Montreal on Thursday. Some carried signs demanding Parvaresh's expulsion, along with any Iranian officials with ties to the Iranian regime's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

"Right now he is living in Montreal and he's a member of [ICAO]," said demonstrator Mohammad Aminnia, whose fiancée died on Flight PS752. "We cannot believe that."

The IRGC shot down the civilian aircraft with two surface-to-air missiles shortly after takeoff over Tehran. All 176 people onboard died, including 55 Canadians and 30 permanent residents. Most were on their way to Canada.

CBC News
CBC News

Iranian media outside of Iran have reported on a purported audio recording of Iran's former foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. CBC News has not independently verified the tape.

The Persian-language TV station Iran International, based in London, U.K. reported that the audio suggests that while Parvaresh was the head of Iran Air, the former head of Iran's Quds Force — Gen. Qassem Soleimani — used that civilian airline for military purposes.

Canada has designated the Quds Force as a terrorist organization and calls it a clandestine branch of the IRGC responsible for funding, arming and training extremist groups.

Parvaresh said the audio file "is not to be trusted" and insisted he followed all international standards while he was the head of Iran Air.

"I hereby emphasize that I have never had any sort of connection with Quds force before, during and after my responsibility as the CEO of Iran Air," Parvaresh told CBC News in a statement.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury warned in 2019 that many Iranian commercial airlines "enable Iran's military support" for the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad by delivering "lethal material, including weapons shipments, prolonging the brutal conflict and the suffering of millions of Syrians."

Iran Air also faced U.S. sanctions between 2011 and 2016 when it was designated as an entity owned or controlled by the government of Iran. Parvaresh was the head of Iran Air until 2017, when he moved to Montreal. U.S. sanctions were lifted by the Obama administration during talks on a nuclear deal with Iran; they were re-imposed in 2018.

WATCHProtesters call on UN agency to expel Iranian official from Canada:

An association representing the families of Flight PS752 victims in Canada pressed the government about Parvaresh in 2021 before a House of Commons committee and in its own "fact-finding report."

"I think this man should be expelled from Canada and from this organization," said association spokesperson Hamed Esmaeilion, whose wife and nine-year-old daughter died on Flight PS752.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran doesn't deserve to be part of this organization ..."

The Transport Minister's office said that decision is not up to Canada, adding "decisions on membership lie within the United Nations system and not with the host state."

When asked if the ICAO has looked into allegations against Parvaresh, the UN aviation agency said representatives are assigned by their home countries and any "investigation relating to their behaviour or performance would have to be carried out by their state."

WATCH Will the government impose travel restrictions on Iran's aviation representative?

When asked if the government was prepared to place travel restrictions on Parvaresh, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra did not commit.

"There is a lot of work being done and I'm not going to pre-empt an answer to a question where we're looking at all tools that we have at our disposal," Alghabra told guest host Catherine Cullen on CBC's Power and Politics.

Alghabra's office said the government is required as an ICAO host state to provide diplomatic privileges and immunities to Iran's representative in Montreal.

Expelling Parvaresh would "put into question Canada's neutrality as a host state, and likely undermine Canada's objectives at ICAO, including those related to Flight PS752," Alghabra's office said in a media statement.

The government has vowed to hold Iran accountable for the destruction of Flight PS752. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke privately to victims' families on Friday ahead of the Sunday anniversary.