Designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as terrorists: Still waiting, three years on

IRGC tank in 2012 military parade in Tehran Mohammad Sadegh Heydari/Creative Commons

It’s an anniversary, of sorts.

Three years ago this month, a Conservative MP from Alberta introduced a motion in the House of Commons calling on the Liberal government to add Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to Canada’s list of terrorist groups.

It also asked Canada to condemn Iran for sponsoring terrorism around the world, including at the Israel-Gaza border, and to denounce calls for genocide against Jews made by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The motion was approved by a vote of 248 to 45. Many Liberals, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, voted for it.

Things looked up in the summer of 2019 when the government updated its list of terrorist organizations. Added were three small groups linked to the Iranian regime: Al-Ashtar Brigades (AAB), Fatemiyoun Division (FD), and Harakat al-Sabireen (HaS).

Also added were two far-right extremist groups, Blood & Honour and its armed branch, Combat 18 (C18). They were the first neo-Nazi groups to be included on Canada’s list of terrorist organizations.

But the IRGC didn’t make the cut, and the MP who introduced the motion, Garnett Genuis, is still waiting for the group to be designated a terrorist entity.

In a CJN interview, Genuis noted that the Liberals had “initially talked about how it takes time, (that) there’s a process. Three years out, that clearly shows they weren’t telling the truth about some alleged process.”

He cited Ottawa’s swift addition to the terrorist list of the Proud Boys, a far-right group whose members took part in the ransacking of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

“All of that happened in the space of a month,” Genuis said. “Any claims about the process just taking a long time were really demonstrated to be false by the speed at which the government was able to move on the Proud Boys. And yet we have the IRGC, a known terrorist entity, that hasn’t been listed.”

Genuis said the only explanation he has for the government’s failure to list the IRGC is that “they decided, for some reason, not to list them, but they’re also unwilling to explain or justify that decision.”

Established in 1979 as a branch of Iran’s armed forces, the IRGC is estimated to have 200,000 active personnel, boasts its own ground forces, navy and air force, and oversees Iran’s strategic weapons.

The issue made for spirited debate in the House of Commons on May 31.

Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong noted that 85 Canadians and Canadian residents died in the shooting down of Ukrainian Airlines flight 752 in January 2020. Last month, an Ontario court found that the downing of the plane was a deliberate act of terrorism by the IRGC.

Given the court’s finding and Genuis’s motion from 2018, “when will the government list the IRGC as a terrorist entity under Canadian law?” Chong asked.

“Canada has done this,” replied Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau, referring to the addition to the terror list in 2012 by the Conservatives of the IRGC’s Quds Force, which Ottawa described as “the clandestine branch” of the IRGC.

But the Quds Force was seen as subservient to the IRGC’s leadership.

That issue was seized on by Thornhill MP Peter Kent, who noted that Genuis’s motion was meant to include “the entire IRGC, not just our Conservative government’s listing of the Quds Force, behind which the public safety minister regularly attempts to dodge the question.”

Kent asked why the government continues “to defy the will of Parliament and their own votes in favour of the motion to list one of the worst terror organizations in the world today?”

Garneau replied that “several other regional” terrorist groups that Iran finances have been listed as terrorist entities. “We have also sanctioned individuals in the IRGC as well as entities including the missile command and the air force command. We believe that the sanctions that have been applied are the right ones to apply against those different organizations.”

Kent then referenced the Ontario court judgment on Iran’s role in the downing of flight 752 and asked why the Liberals won’t fulfill “the will of Parliament now and list the IRGC as they voted?”

Said Garneau: “There are a lot of things that we have said about the Iran government. It is a state sponsor of terrorism. It is a country that does not respect human rights. It is a country that is always trying to defy its denuclearization obligations. We will continue to criticize Iran, going forward, and will not hesitate to do so.”

He said the government has noted the Ontario court ruling and is “working toward ensuring that the families of the victims receive the proper compensation through negotiations.”

The United States designated the IRGC a terrorist organization in 2019.

The CJN’s messages to Bill Blair, minister of public safety and emergency preparedness, were not returned by deadline.

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