A Symposium on the

Iranian Baha’i Refugee Movement to Canada, 1981–1989

Monday, 21 September 2015

Room 2224, River Building, Carleton University,
1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, Ontario

Time Theme Panel of speakers
9:00 – 9:15 am Welcome and opening remarks
Prof James Opp
Carleton Centre for Public History
Dr Gerald Filson
Director of Public Affairs, Baha’i Community of Canada
Prof James Milner
Migration and Diaspora Studies Initiative, Carleton University
9:15 – 10:00 am
Iran's Islamic Revolution and the Baha’is

The 1979 Iranian revolution toppled the Shah and turned Iran into an Islamic Republic. During and after the revolution, Baha’is, the country’s largest religious minority were the targets of persecution by the new state and its agents. Who are the Baha’is? What happened during the revolution? Why were the Baha’is targeted? How did they become refugees? Where were they hosted and eventually resettled?

Chair: Prof James Milner
Migration and Diaspora Studies Initiative, Carleton University
Michel de Salaberry
Former Canadian Ambassador to Iran
Mina Sanaee
Former refugee; UNHCR Interpreter; Program Officer, International Baha’i Refugee Office
10:00 – 10:45 am
Setting the context: Canada’s refugee policy in the 1980s

In the early 1980s, Canada had just resettled unprecedented numbers of Indochinese refugees — many of them through a system of private sponsorship. At the same time, refugee admissions were being reduced from most parts of the world. What was happening inside government in the early 1980s? How was the proposal to admit Baha’i refugees regarded? What actions paved the way for the resettlement of Baha’is? How did the treatment of Baha’is compare with other groups seeking resettlement during this period?

Chair: Prof Laura Madokoro
Department of History, McGill University
Prof Howard Adelman
Professor Emeritus, York University
Mike Molloy
Former Director-General for Refugee Affairs and Settlement, Department of Citizenship and Immigration; President, Canadian Immigration Historical Society
10:45 – 11:00 am Break
11:00 am – 12:00 pm
Special measures: Developing the Baha’i refugee program

The Iranian Baha’i refugee program ran from 1981 to 1989, blending private sponsorship and government-assisted resettlement, in a unique model of partnership between government and civil society. Around 2,300 refugees were resettled in about 220 communities across Canada, and Canada’s program was used as a model to open doors to resettlement for some 6,000 more Baha’i refugees in 25 countries around the world. How was the program initiated and how did it evolve? What was the nature of the agreement between the government and the Baha’i community? To what extent did it use elements developed through other refugee programs? What was innovative about the Baha’i program?

Chair: Janet Grinsted
Deputy Director, Northwest Territories Human Rights Commission; Former staff of the International Baha’i Refugee Office
Gerry Van Kessel
Former Director-General of Operations, Refugee Branch, Citizenship and Immigration Canada
Douglas Martin
Secretary General, Baha’i Community of Canada, 1965–1985
12:00 – 1:00 pm Lunch
1:00 – 2:00 pm
In the host countries: Identifying and admitting refugees

Many Baha’i refugees were hosted in Pakistan and Turkey. The agreement between the Canadian government and the Baha’i Community of Canada permitted a Baha’i representative to work directly with both Canadian officials in the field with refugees. How was this process operationalized? What was the role of the Baha’i representative? In what way did this relationship compare with other refugee movements? How did the refugees experience this transition period?

Chair: Mark Davidson
Director-General, International and Intergovernmental Relations, Citizenship and Immigration Canada
Mona Mojgani
Former Director, International Baha’i Refugee Office, 1984–1989
Dennis Scown
Former Immigration Program Manager, Canadian Embassy, Pakistan
Afsoon Houshidari
Former child refugee; Refugee lawyer
2:00 – 2:30 pm Break and Persian musical presentation
Roozbeh Rahimpour
Former refugee and musician
2:30 – 3:45 pm
Joining a new community: Reception and settlement of refugees in Canada

Baha’is arriving in Canada were resettled across the country, primarily away from urban centres. How did these refugees experience their early days in Canadian society? What was the experience of the Canadians who welcomed them? What role did religious belief and community play in the process of settlement? How have the former refugees participated into Canadian society since then?

Chair: Prof Daniel McNeil
Migration and Diaspora Studies Initiative, Carleton University
Fariborz Birjandian
Former refugee; Executive Director of Calgary Catholic Immigration Society
Dr Neda Faregh
Former refugee; Health psychologist; Visiting fellow, Centre for Refugee Studies, York University; Program coordinator, Multicultural Mental Health Resource Centre, McGill University
Roozbeh Rahimpour
Former refugee and musician
Prof Deborah K van den Hoonaard
Canadian involved with receiving Baha’i refugees; Canada Research Chair in Qualitative Analysis, St Thomas University
3:45 – 4:00 pm Break
4:00 – 5:00 pm
Reflecting on the Baha’i refugee program

This symposium has examined the Baha’i refugee movement to Canada during the 1980s through the recollections and analysis of many of the key actors in the program. How is this particular refugee program significant for our understanding of Canadian refugee history? What insights we can gain that are relevant to public policy today? What questions does it present for future research?

Open floor for final thoughts and questions; recommendations for the project going forward.

Chair: Dr Anthony Michel
PhD, Canadian History
Prof Dominique Marshall
Professor and Chair, Department of History, Carleton University
Geoffrey Cameron
PhD Candidate and Trudeau Scholar, University of Toronto
5:00 pm Thank you/close