Who is behind the Center for Iranian Studies?

Brother of Iran’s judiciary chief founded the "non-partisan" Toronto-based centre

An organization in Toronto that describes itself as a non-partisan centre for Iranian culture and scholarship was founded by a well-connected Iranian diplomat and is funded by the Iranian embassy in Ottawa.

The Center for Iranian Studies, located at 290 Sheppard Ave. W., was incorporated in January 2008. One of its three directors at the time was Fazel Larijani, who was then Iran’s cultural attaché in Ottawa. He is the brother of Ali Larijani, speaker of the Iranian parliament, and Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, head of the judiciary. Mahdi Shahrokhi, who works at the centre, says it still receives money from the Iranian embassy but is not controlled by it.

The embassy’s involvement is not mentioned on the centre’s website, which claims its goals are research and study. It says it helps universities organize seminars and workshops, although Shahrokhi could not give an example of when this had taken place. The website has a section called “Who is who?” that contains biographies of three Canadian academics studying Iran, and of Iranian-Canadian director and actor, Soheil Parsa. The implication is they are involved with the centre. Maclean’s reached two of the four, Concordia professor Richard Foltz and Soheil Parsa. Both say they have no affiliation with the centre, and Parsa has written to ask that his name be removed from its website.

This week, eight prominent Iranian academics in Toronto—including University of Toronto professor Ramin Jahanbegloo, who was imprisoned in Iran for four months in 2006—wrote an open letter questioning the centre’s motives and mission.

“We are not aware of any of our colleagues who are engaged in this Centre’s activities. However, functionaries of the Centre regularly contact Iranian student groups with promises of assistance, and fund Farsi classes and/or cultural events,” they wrote. “We demand that the Centre post the names of the founding members as appears on the website of Industry Canada, name its officers and advisors involved in its activities, and above all disclose the sources of its funding inside or outside Canada.”