Iran seeks to open religious school in Montreal

An Iranian religious education organization under the ultimate supervision of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is attempting to establish a school in Montreal — violating Canadian regulations about what Iran is allowed to do in this country, and worrying expatriate Iranians who fear Iran’s growing influence here.

The Rastegaran organization runs a network of private schools across Iran. Its website lists six international schools, including one in Montreal.

The Montreal school is not yet open, and it is not clear what concrete steps have been taken towards that goal. An August 5 note on the Rastegaran website suggests there was a desire to open the school by September 1. A source in Iran familiar with Rastegaran told someone making inquiries on behalf of Maclean’s that money has been allocated for a school in Montreal.

Last weekend, the Rastegaran schools’ director, cleric Hojatoleslam Val Moslemin Meshkaat, was in Montreal. Kambiz Sheikh-Hassani, chargé d’affaires at Iran’s embassy in Ottawa, and cultural counselor Hamid Mohammadi both traveled to Montreal to meet with him.

Canada expressly forbids Iran from opening cultural centres outside of Ottawa. Iran, however, routinely ignores this directive, and Canada does a poor job of enforcing it.

Iran has established at least one front organization in Toronto; and it works to infiltrate student groups — to monitor dissidents, and to cultivate relations with Iranians in Canada who are sympathetic to the Islamic Republic .

Iranians in Canada who publicly oppose the Iranian government risk having their anti-regime activities reported back to Tehran — endangering their families, and themselves, should they return.

Last fall the Iranian Cultural Association of Carleton University — which is run by Hamid Mohammadi’s son, Ehsan — sponsored a panel discussion titled: “Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq: New Systems of Governance; Opportunities and Challenges.” Sheikh-Hassani spoke on the panel.

Several protesters disrupted the panel by holding up posters with the photos of Iranians they said had been beaten, jailed, tortured, and killed by Iranian authorities. The protesters included Ali Tabatabaie, who is married to the daughter of prominent Iranian reformist Mostafa Tajzadeh. Iranian security officials later showed up at his wife’s family’s house in Tehran to summon him to court. He believes the two events are related.

But it’s not just Iranian ex-pats vocally opposing the murderous regime in Tehran who attract the Iranian embassy’s attention. This summer the embassy organized and funded an academic conference for Iranians from the appropriate “cultural communities” in Cornwall —before postponing the event after it was reported.

Other Iranians living abroad have been given all-expense-paid trips to Iran for conferences there.