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Shadow of mistrust haunts Iranian-Canadian voters

Sara Moghadamjoo is a young well-educated Iranian-Canadian, who recently graduated with two masters degree from Simon Fraser University and is…

By Golnaz Fakhari , in Immigration Voting , on November 17, 2011 Tags: , , , , ,

Nikpay: Children gain whatever their parents teach them

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.”

Another is Araz Rismani, an Iranian candidate in Coquitlam, who is grateful for the support from the community.

“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.”

There are many Iranian-run businesses in Lonsdale.

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.”


  • Thank you for the article. It may be true that the Canadian-Iranian community, as a whole, is reluctant to get involved in civil life or politics; however, you fail to mention any of the activities that are taking place in the community to encourage further participation. For example, the photo at the top of your article is from the monthly seminar of the Iranian Women’s Cultural Society, when a number of different candidates were invited to attend and to discuss the local elections. The Civic Association of Iranian Canadians organized or hosted all candidates debates in 4 municipalities. Canadian Iranian Foundation has been active in providing its members with information regarding candidates and urging them to vote on November 19. And, these are only three examples. So, yes … we have a long way to go; but, in order to encourage the community to become more involved, it would be very helpful to point out the steps that are being taken in that direction.

  • Dear Zahra: Thank you for reading my article. You might not remember me, but I actually attended the seminar. I can assure you that this would not be the last article I write on Iranian-Canadian community. This was just a little hint on what the community is missing out on. I do agree with you on the positive steps that are being taken towards this matter. Thank you again for your comment.

  • Thank you Golnaz for the great article. As Ms. Jenab mentioned, organizations such as Iranian Women’s Cultural Society, Civic Association of Iranian Canadians, and Canadian Iranian Foundation are doing an amazing job in increasing the awareness of Iranian-Canadian community to be more involved in their own civic life and to have a voice in their community. I am proud to be witnessing this movement in building a culture and sense of involvement in the community by these organizations. This article brilliantly presents means to further identify the issue of deficient support of the community (though in the recent election the improvement was evident, thanks to the active presence of the above organizations and the Iranian-Canadian candidates). Now it’s a good time to recognize what has been done so far and also compliment this article with a list of future action items to further increase awareness of the impact that the community’s involvement has by contributing in the civil election.

  • Thank you Sara for reading my article and leaving a comment. I agree on the continuous effort Iranian organizations are making to build a new civic culture for our community. And I believe the fact that they are really trying to aware us on our rights, and also our civic responsibilities is very noble. Thank you Sara.

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