Iranian embassy postpones student convention; Canadian Research Council drops out

An Iranian embassy-sponsored student conference originally scheduled for July has been postponed, and a Canadian government-fiunded research council has ended its participation in the event.

The “Iranian Students Convention,” funded by the Iranian embassy and open to students who are members of a “cultural community,” was to take place July 13-15 at the NAV Centre in Cornwall. It was supposedly planned by the “Montreal Toheed Society,” which the conference website described as an “independent network of Iranian students.” The Toheed Society does not appear to exist beyond references on the website, which were subsequently deleted.

This morning, the NAV Centre told Maclean’s the Iranian students convention was no longer scheduled for the July 13-15 weekend. Asked if the date had been changed, the centre said the conference organizers had asked them not to reveal anything other than a phone number, which turned out to be for Iran’s Higher Education Advisory at the embassy in Ottawa. When Maclean’s called, a woman answering said: “I cannot give any information to you … because of the article you wrote.”

A third party who earlier called the NAV Centre was told the conference date had been moved to September 14-16.

Serge Villemure, director of the Scholarships and Fellowships division at the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, was to deliver a presentation at the conference in July. Several Iranian-Canadian academics wrote to ask him not to do so. Today NSERC told Maclean’s it “will not participate in the Iranian Students Convention in September.”

Here is the letter sent to Villemure:

Dr. Serge [V]illemure

Director of Scholarship and Fellowship Division


25 June 2012

Dear Dr. [V]illemure

We write as a group of Iranian-Canadian academics regarding an upcoming event called “Iranian Student Convention” at NAV resort in Cornwall, in which you are scheduled to deliver a keynote speech. This event is organized by the embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI), and a group called “Toheed”, which is now dropped as a co-organizer. We would like to bring to your attention that this is a purely political event and in no way is related to Iranian-Canadian academics and independent Iranian student bodies.

In the last few months the Embassy of IRI has followed an aggressive policy for infiltrating Canadian academic institutions, through using students and few faculty connected to the Embassy, and lavishly sponsoring others to organize various events and conferences.

The stated goals of this so-called convention are to establish “a network of Iranian academics and professionals across Canada and more broadly across North America”, and to help them “preserve their values and identity”. However, the real goal of this event is to try to infiltrate Canadian Universities, attract and use student-agents to spy on Iranian academics and students, and to extend politics of intimidation and control beyond Iran’s border for the purpose of silencing dissent.

We trust you are aware of the precarious conditions of academic life in today’s Iran and the systemic persecutions of freethinking individuals. Expulsion, imprisonment and forced retirement of the faculty, or intimidation of students and in many cases their expulsion, imprisonment, torture and execution are regular occurrences. Some religious minorities like the Baha’is are formally deprived of access to education, in particular higher education. The arbitrary execution and suppression of political activists, ethnic and religious minorities, human rights and women activists have reached an unprecedented level. The encroachment of representatives of this regime to Canadian universities clearly has nothing to do with academic networking and has fearsome political objectives. Most of the Iranian faculty in Canada (and all over North America) have been forced into exile because of the atrocities of this fundamentalist authoritarian regime.

We believe that your participation in this gathering, which consists mostly of students connected to the embassy or those on the IRI’s scholarship, would provide credibility to this event, and would hurt the reputation of a respected Canadian institution like NSERC. We respectfully and strongly urge you and hope that you would consider cancelling your talk.


(In alphabetical order)

Payam Akhavan, Professor, Faculty of Law, McGill University

Mino Deraye, Associate Professor, Equity Studies, York University

Amir Hassanpour, ret. Associate Professor, University of Toronto

Ramin Jahanbegloo, Associate Professor, Center for Ethics, University of Toronto

Mojtaba Mahdavi, Associate Professor, Political Science, University of Alberta

Haideh Moghissi, Professor, Equity Studies, Trudeau Fellow, York University

Shahrzad Mojab, Professor, OISE, University of Toronto

Mo Mojahedi, Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Toronto

Reza Moridi, former academic, MPP, Richmond Hill, Ontario

Ali Reza Navabi, Research Scientist, Adjunct Professor, Plant Agriculture, U of Guelph

Omid Peyrow-Shabani, Associate Professor, Philosophy, University of Guelph

Saeed Rahnema, Professor, Political Science and Public Policy, York University

Khatereh Sheibani, Assistant Professor, Literature and Languages, York University

Peyman Vahabzadeh, Associate professor, Sociology, University of Victoria

Farrokh Zandi, Associate Professor, Schulich Business School, York University

cc: Dr. Suzanne Fortier, President NSERC

Dr. James Turk, Executive Director, CAUT