Sara Moghadamjoo is a young well-educated Iranian-Canadian, who recently graduated with two masters degree from Simon Fraser University and is only a year away from getting her PhD from the University of British Columbia.
She decided to stand in the upcoming municipal elections for the district of West Vancouver as she wanted to represent the thousands of Iranian immigrants who live in the area.
But after only three weeks of campaigning, she withdrew her candidacy, disillusion at the lack of support from the community.
“I wanted to be their voice,” she said. “But when I saw that they had very little interest in seeing what I was trying to do, I figured that I could use the time I was spending on my campaign to do my own work.”
The triennial municipal elections will be held on Saturday the November 19th. This would not be the first time Vancouver has Iranian-Canadians candidates for council, but it could be, however, be the first time having someone elected within this community.
Listen: Moghadamjoo on why she decided not to run
A wariness of politics
An estimated 30,000 Iranians live in and around Vancouver according to the 2006 census. The figure today could be over 50,000, estimates Behshad Hastibakhsh, an award-winning political scientist who is senior director of public relations at TIO Networks.
Many immigrated to Canada after the 1979 Islamic revolution and many brought with them a mistrust of politics.
“The first generation of Iranian immigrants are more likely to be skeptical towards politics and politicians,” said Hastibakhsh, “because they come from an environment where basic human rights are denied, corruption is common, democracy is non-existent, and elections are fixed.”
“People can’t break the old mold,” he said.
Hastibakhsh believes that the ethnic media can help change attitudes.
“I envision a positive role of Persian newspapers, radio, television stations, and online media in explaining the rights and privileges of active participation in the democratic process,” he said, “by creating clear distinctions between the theocracy in Iran and the democracy in Canada, the mass media can help newcomers overcome their fears, phobias and mistrusts towards politics.”
This wariness of politics appears to have been passed onto the children born or raised in Canada.
“Children gain whatever their parents teach them,” said Max Nikpay, a council candidate for the district of West Vancouver. “Most of those parents come from a place where people are unable to use their voice.”
“I have a team of 50 people helping me with my campaign and there are a lot of Iranians among them,” he said. “At a fundraiser held in Red Robinson Show Theatre, a lot of people showed up and I think 80% of the were Iranians.
Yet even he acknowledges that Iranians who were raised in Canada remain detached from politics.
“We should understand that the reason Canada has stayed a democratic country is because of these elections and we shouldn’t take that for granted.”
Local politicians point to a more concrete reason why Iranians should care about civic politics.
“Lonsdale wouldn’t do this well if it wasn’t for successful Iranian businesses,” said Darell Mussatto, the mayor of city of North Vancouver. There is at least one Iranian-run business at every intersection in Lonsdale.
Reaching the young
Encouraging young people to vote is not just an issue in the Iranian community.
Advocacy groups like Get your Vote On say there is a gulf between the youth and politicians.
“The biggest problem is that young people feel that politicians don’t speak to them, and politicians, on the other hand, don’t see that youth as voters,” said Adrian Sinclair from Get Your Vote On. “It is really a cycle,” he added.
One young Iranian-Canadian who is considering whether to vote is Afra Jashanivand, a 24-year old artist attending Capilano University.
“I am interested in getting involved,” she said. “But sometimes I need to focus on my studies and my own work.”
She says that she tries to participate in different events and elections around the campus and believes that this involvement is a good practice for her.
Even though she is no longer standing the vote, Moghadamjoo maintains that the Iranian community needs to be political active.
Listen: Moghadamjoo on changing attitudes to politics
“I think for the sake of their own businesses and their own lives, Iranian people should participate in these elections.”
“People who care about their environment should take action in the process. We can’t just step back and wait for someone else to do the work,” said Moghadamjoo.
“This is a very important issue and I think we all have a certain responsibility to help create a new culture which would fit our new lifestyles,” she said, “and I think is really important to educate people about this issue.”