© Jenelle Schneider/PNG files
There are about 120,000 Iranian-Canadians in Metro Vancouver, mostly in North Vancouver (pictured). Iran wants to open a consulate in Vancouver to serve the city’s Iranian-Canadian population, but a federal-government policy prohibits it.
Iran wants to open a consulate in Vancouver to serve the city's Iranian-Canadian population, but a federal-government policy prohibits it.

There are about 120,000 Iranian-Canadians in Metro Vancouver, according to Kambiz Sheikh-Hassani, Chargé d'affaires of Iran's Ottawa embassy.

Sheikh-Hassani said in a statement that many Iranians living in Canada have business interests or family members in Iran and because Iranian law does not recognize dual citizenship, they must use Iranian travel documents to enter the country.

The only place in Canada where these documents can be obtained is through Iran's embassy in Ottawa, which means Iranian-Canadians living elsewhere must send valuable documents such as birth certificates and passports through the mail, Sheikh-Hassani said.

Other transactions, such as obtaining an Iranian birth certificate or power of attorney for valuable transactions, must be completed in person. This means the applicant must either go to Ottawa or wait for embassy representatives to come to them.

Embassy staff visited Vancouver in October and completed over 400 transactions in two days in an attempt to clear a backlog, Sheikh-Hassani said."In our view, the productive and exemplary Iranian community in Canada has every right to enjoy easy and accessible consular services where they live and Canadian government is definitely in a position to show this courtesy to Iranian-Canadians," he said, noting that Germany and Italy are among the countries that allow Iranian consulates outside their respective capitals.

The Canadian government, however, prohibits Iran from opening consulates outside Ottawa under its Controlled Engagement policy, which limits contact between the two governments and also prevents the establishment of direct air links between the countries due to strained diplomatic relations.

In 2005, Canada limited communication with Iran to four subjects: human rights, the country's nuclear program, Iran's role in the region and the case of Canadian Zahra Kazemi, who was beaten to death in an Iranian prison in 2003. Since then, Canada has implemented several rounds of sanctions against Iran, both under UN auspices and independently, over the nuclear issue.

The Iranian embassy in Ottawa is lobbying the Canadian government for a change to the law.

Reaction to the prospect of an Iranian consulate in Vancouver is likely to be mixed among the community, depending on the reason they left Iran, said Sonja Be, a Canadian of Iranian descent who lives in Vancouver and runs a news website.

"It's a touchy subject. Iranians that live here are here for different reasons, but I think they left Iran and moved here for a better life and maybe ... [to be] farther away from the Iranian government. So, to bring them here in our own back yard, it's almost like a ghost that's following you. For some people," she said, adding that she couldn't speak for all Iranians.

But she said it's also important to have a balanced perspective on the issue.

"If this service is going to help people like the international students ... then maybe that's something worth looking into and seeing if, for them, it's easier for them to travel back to Iran with [the consulate] here. That could be a benefit."

Local Iranians should be polled anonymously on whether they want a consulate here, Be said.

Vancouver immigration lawyer Zool Suleman said he has many clients who are frustrated at the delays associated with dealing with the Iranian embassy in Ottawa, especially if they need something done relatively quickly. The three-hour time difference also poses challenges for locals trying to contact the embassy during business hours, Suleman said.

The federal foreign affairs ministry did not respond to a request for comment by press time.