A letter from Toronto

Urgent letter from the Board of Directors of the Iranian Canadian Congress regarding the article published  in Richmond Hill Liberal newspaper.

In response to an article published last week by Richmond Hill Liberal newspaper, the following letter was penned by the Board of Directors of the Iranian Canadian Congress.
Date: January 24, 2017
Attention: Lee Ann Waterman, Editor-in-Chief, York Region

Ms. Waterman,

This letter is regarding an article written by Kim Zarzour which your newspaper published on January 19th, 2017, entitled “Richmond Hill Liberal MP Majid Jowhari sparks controversy over Iranian activities.” Since this report was published in your paper several members of our organization have contacted us and raised their concerns about its defamatory nature. This article not only makes baseless accusations against an elected official for doing his duty as a parliamentarian, but also amounts to defamation against the Iranian Canadian Congress (ICC) and the thousands of Canadians across the country who have supported our advocacy campaign for renewed relations between Canada and Iran. However, the ICC hopes that this article was not published out of malice but ignorance. We therefore request the Richmond Hill Liberal publish this letter, which seeks to clarify the claims of this biased report, in its entirety in the same way and on the same page (both web and paper) that it published Ms. Zarzour’s defamatory report.

Firstly, the electronic parliamentary petition 553 about Canada-Iran relations was initiated by the Iranian Canadian Congress, a grassroots organization, after a series of consultations with members of the Iranian-Canadian community. This petition gathered nearly 16000 signatures from Canadian citizens and permanent residents across the country. The popularity of our petition stands in direct contrast to an opposing petition sponsored by MP Peter Kent from Thornhill which seeks to prevent diplomatic reengagement. This opposing petition attracted 607 signatures and is only supported by a small minority in the Iranian Canadian community, a small group who have a long history of encouraging coercive policies against Iran, including disastrous sanctions which have had detrimental effects on its economy and its middle class, merely in order to advance their political agenda. This small minority has little consideration for Canada’s interests in Middle East and Canada’s historic role in promoting our values of peace, dialogue, tolerance, and respect for human rights. The attempt by Ms. Zarzour to cast the petition of the Iranian Canadian Congress as an effort by a foreign government is a gross misrepresentation; this is an extremely popular petition initiated by a Canadian grassroots organization and signed by Canadians across our country.

Secondly, the sponsoring of our parliamentary petition by MP Majid Jowhari is an indication of a dutiful and responsive elected representative. One of the responsibilities of a Member of Parliament, regardless of their party affiliation, is to communicate the requests and concerns of their constituents to the federal government and to keep the government accountable. Richmond Hill is home to thousands of Canadians of Iranian heritage and compose a major part of MP Jowhari’s constituency. Many Iranian-Canadians have encountered significant difficulties because of the lack of relations between Canada and Iran and the closure of the embassies in Ottawa and Tehran. They have communicated their concerns with the Iranian Canadian Congress and with their local member of parliament, one of the two first Canadian MPs from Iranian heritage. Therefore, rather than attacking a responsible member of parliament who is fulfilling his responsibilities and duties, we hope that the Richmond Hill Liberal respects different ethnic communities in Richmond Hill and encourages all efforts to better connect Canadians from different backgrounds with their government.

Thirdly, your paper should take extra care that its reporters do not cherry pick views from a minority ethnic community that fit their own personal views or to advance their personal agenda, as Ms. Zarzour seems to have done in the concerned article. Not only did your reporter not include the views of thousands who support diplomatic relations between Canada and Iran – she also did not follow accepted practice in ethical journalism to contact and include comments from the Iranian Canadian Congress in her report while mentioning the name of the organization and our work several times. These types of actions are not only unethical and indicative of biased reporting, but they also call the integrity of your paper into question. We therefore ask that in the future your paper does not ignore the views of thousands of Iranian-Canadians in favour of a few with whom a reporter may agree.

A final major concern that has been communicated to our organization in recent days is that your paper has removed several complaints that concerned Iranian Canadians in Richmond Hill have posted online opposing the views contained in the article. This action is not only unethical but also demonstrates a concerted effort on the part of your paper to censor opposing views and intentionally defame the Iranian Canadian Congress, tens of thousands of Iranian Canadians who support renewed relations between Canada and Iran, and MP Jowhari. Note that we will keep monitoring the situation and if this kind of behaviour continues we will take appropriate legal action against any party that is involved in defamation against our community and our organization.

We look forward to seeing this letter published in your outlet, and hope that your paper works to build a relationship with the Iranian Canadian community based on mutual trust and respect rather than antagonism and misrepresentation.

Sincerely,
Board of Directors
Iranian Canadian Congress (ICC)

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