OTTAWA — The Liberals say it’s up to national security agencies to decide whether Canada considers a branch of the Iranian military a terrorist group, something the Conservatives call a loophole.
MPs passed a motion in 2018 to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, but it remains off the list.
As Iranians face a violent human rights crackdown, conservatives have renewed their calls for the Revolutionary Guards to be listed as a terrorist group.
The United States has placed the group on its own terrorist list, but Canada has designated only a subset of the organization, the Quds Force.
Neither Prime Minister Justin Trudeau nor Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly explained why when asked repeatedly about it this week.
The office of Public Security Minister Marco Mendicino says the decision is not for politicians.
“Determining whether a group constitutes a terrorist entity is a careful, apolitical process undertaken by Canada’s natural security agencies,” spokesperson Alexander Cohen wrote.
“These agencies work continuously to identify and assess entities that may meet the listing threshold.”
Jessica Davis, a former analyst with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said in an email that the cabinet decides which groups are on the terrorist list, but only after security agencies notify the Minister of Public Safety.
She said that CSIS and the RCMP generally compile what is called a “list dossier”, based on their own knowledge as well as information from the financial intelligence agency FINTRAC, the Communications Security Establishment, Canada Border Services Agency and Global Affairs Canada.
“Parliament does not vote on terrorist lists,” wrote Davis, who now heads Insight Threat Intelligence.
“Sometimes members (of parliament) ask the government to list a particular entity, but it’s a meaningless vote with no power to impose a list.”
Michael Chong, the Conservative foreign affairs critic, said liberals should always consider the group a terrorist organization, no matter what intelligence agencies advise.
“The minister should take advice and advice from a variety of experts, not just experts from the intelligence community,” Chong said, citing government departments and intelligence allies.
He noted that the United States has registered the Revolutionary Guards and, along with Canada, is part of the Five Eyes security alliance.
He pointed out that a minister ultimately decides which groups are placed on the list.
“The government is hiding behind a baseless excuse,” Chong said.
He called on the Trudeau government to sanction more Iranians and ban them from obtaining visas to enter Canada, something some associated with human rights abuses have succeeded in doing.
Chong noted that the Liberals had at one point sought to undo the Harper government’s suspension of diplomatic relations with Iran in 2012.
“This lack of political will reflects an extremely naive government in the face of the threat Iran poses, not only to international peace and stability, but also to its own people,” he said.
Analysts have said Canada does not have the capacity to designate the entire Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist group. Indeed, millions of Iranians have been conscripted into the organization over the decades, making it too complicated and costly to track each individual.
Although the group is known for committing atrocities in Iran and abroad, many of its members have served for brief stints and in roles that do not involve combat or intelligence.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 28, 2022.
Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press