Canada must lift sanctions on Iran as coronavirus hits

Health authorities in Iran are dealing with the serious impact of the coronavirus epidemic, while the international sanctions that disrupt supply chains of medical supplies remain in place. As of this writing, the COVID-19 death toll in Iran had surpassed 1800, with upwards of 24,000 confirmed infections.

Despite taking steps to address the looming impact of the epidemic within its own borders, Canada continues to support sanctions on Iran. Iran’s experience with the epidemic has informed the nature and degree of the preventative measures being taken by other nations, and yet Canada has remained silent on the continuing U.S. sanctions on Iran, which are severe and a significant impediment in responding to the epidemic. 

E.U. member states, particularly the U.K., have been in the news for putting the pressure on the U.S. government to drop the sanctions in the context of the coronavirus epidemic. Canada has remained silent and is sustaining sanctions. 

Iranian activists are articulating the importance of dropping the sanctions, Azadeh Moaveni and Sussan Tahmasebi write in the Guardian, “Suspending sanctions during this pandemic should not be seen as a troubling or even monumental thing to do. Proponents of sanctions in the US administration insist that only extreme pressure will bring about changes in Iranian policy – but we are in different times now. Controlling the virus would not be a favour to the Iranian government, but to Iranians themselves – and indeed, to the rest of the world.”

Medical officials and health institutions in Iran have clearly outlined the need for sanctions to come to an end. Iran needs access both to medical equipment and to the international financial markets in order to purchase the further supplies and equipment required to deal with this crisis.

In a press conference on January 11th, 2020, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau referred to the Iranian government as “a regime,” illustrating open political hostility toward Iranian government and all the complexities of that system, which includes 241 elected representatives at the national level. 

This past Wednesday, March 18, the Trump administration, as also reported by the Guardian, “has said medical supplies are available to Iran through a new Swiss humanitarian vehicle, but UK officials fear this involves so many conditions as to be ineffective.” The US State Department recently imposed additional sanctions.

Even before the coronavirus epidemic struck, sanctions had caused many premature deaths in Iran due to the lack – or prohibitive cost – of medical supplies.

As an epicentre of the COVID-19 epidemic, Iran needs support, not sanctions. 

Canada is, both by complicity and participation, involved in the international sanctions that continue to be imposed on Iran. Medical officials and health institutions in Iran have clearly outlined the need for sanctions to come to an end. Iran needs access both to medical equipment and to the international financial markets in order to purchase the further supplies and equipment required to deal with this crisis.

Canadian politicians have spoken clearly about the global nature of this pandemic. However, in the case of Iran, a special exception has been made where instead of facilitating international cooperation and support (such that would allow Iran to deal directly with this international health emergency), the Trudeau Liberal government has continued to support sanctions. Canada must drop sanctions on Iran, provide medical support to Iran and pressure the U.S. to drop sanctions, especially those new articles issued in the last week.

Canada’s Iranian diaspora is significant, and the pandemic is impacting those families that are split between both nations. This is a time to recognize interconnection and embrace solidarity, not cause further division by sanctions and political posturing. 

Courage calls on Canada’s federal government to reverse its support for sanctions and diplomatically support the free flow of medical supplies. 
Courage calls on the NDP to improve its position by taking a clear stand against the sanctions. In the U.S., nine lawmakers, including senator Bernie Sanders, as well as Representatives Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, sent a letter to the Trump administration on March 23rd asking for Iran sanctions relief, with the hashtag #endcovidsanctions.

The NDP can take a similar position right now.

The ONDP must oppose Bill 168

Three Canadian justice-seeking organizations will combine efforts on Saturday at the Ontario NDP Provincial Council to voice their fierce opposition to the ONDP support for Bill 168, which aims to officially conflate the definition of antisemitism with criticism of the state of Israel.

On Thursday, February 27, Bill 168 passed its second reading at Queen’s Park, with full support from both the Conservative Party, and the New Democratic Party.

Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), the Courage Coalition and Palestine House, representing 4900 supporters from all across Canada, all stand jointly opposed to this dangerous legislation, saying that it will promote racism and curtail civil liberties. They are deeply disappointed that the ONDP lacks the courage to stand against it. The IHRA definition was recently defeated in Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver’s city councils . This will be the first time it is adopted by a provincial or territorial government.

“1100+ people have sent letters to their NDP MPPs in the last three weeks pleading with them to respect our rights and not support Bill 168. So far they are being ignored. If the IHRA definition passes into law, it will pose serious threats to both Jewish and Palestinian people in Ontario” said Sheryl Nestel, on behalf of IJV in Toronto.

The ONDP caucus have said that they understand how this bill fails to tackle antisemitism, yet they don’t seem to have the conviction to oppose it. As a Jewish person in Ontario, and as a vocal critic of Israel’s human rights violations, this legislation places me and my community at risk.

More than 400 Canadian academics have recently signed a statement that decries the IHRA definition because:

It equates anti-semitism with criticism of Israel. It is an attack on the freedom of expression that allows us to stand up for human rights in Palestine and any other legitimate criticism of Israel. No other country or government in the world is protected from vocal critique in Canada. This Bill sets a frightening precedent.

It is far too vague at defining the very real problem of antisemitism, which is troubling considering the rise of white supremacy and racism against Jews that we see in Canada and around the world. Jews are put in danger when we don’t have clear eyes on what actually threatens them.

It’s clear, therefore, that the IHRA definition is harmful to both Jewish and Palestinian people, as well as anyone who chooses to publicly critique Israel.

The ONDP, has chosen to support Doug Ford’s Conservative government who are following in the same footsteps as Donald Trump by passing Bill 168” said Courage Coalition member, Darrah Teitel.

Many Courage members work to compel principled actions and policies from the New Democrat Party and we say this is a cynical and cowardly move on behalf of Horwath and her caucus. We want a party that stands up for human rights and against real antisemitism.”

This Saturday, at the ONDP Provincial Council, Electoral District Associations and their constituents have the opportunity to raise their voices to support direct democracy within their party. Several EDAs have passed resolutions against the IHRA Bill in the past two weeks alone and we expect to see those resolutions addressed by the council. This is important not only because of the Bill is harmful, but also because MPPs in the ONDP will also be bound to the IHRA definition. The result would mean that progressive MPPs could no longer point to the speak against the historical and current human rights abuses perpetrated by Israel.

“It is disappointing to see the NDP turn it’s back on the Palestinian people” said Hammam Farah of Palestine House, the Palestinian Community Centre. “My people have long suffered under the Israeli Apartheid Regime and Canada has long been complicit in this. The Liberal and Conservative Party have never been the party to support our rights, but to see the NDP slowly take the same direction is disheartening. We will not stand for it”.