Iranians are predominantly Shi'i MUSLIMS but there are different religious minorities including Sunni Muslims; Christians of various denominations, particularly Armenians; JEWS; Zoroastrians; and BAHA'IS. As a result of religious intolerance, the number of citizens with religious affiliations in Iran is declining. For example, government statistics in 1996 reported there were over 12 700 Jews in Iran but by 2006 the figure had declined to 9 200. As Zoroastrians have continued their migration from Iran, their numbers have declined from 27 900 to 19 800 in the same period. No statistics are available for the Iranian Baha'is, as the Iranian government does not recognize their religion. Like other nations, Iran also has a considerable secular laity.
Before the 1970s Iranians migrated to Canada mostly for educational and economic or investment opportunities. However, the majority who immigrated later, particularly in the 1980s, were often escaping political and religious persecution during the Iran-Iraq war, or because of the cultural and social repression imposed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Entering the 21st century, in addition to those who escaped the regime for political, cultural, and religious reasons, a growing number of people affiliated with the Iranian government have also immigrated to Canada.
With their relatively high level of education, Iranians are involved in a wide variety of economic activities, with many self-employed in businesses ranging from small and medium-size to large. Although trade between Canada and Iran remains relatively limited, there are import/export businesses for items such as Persian carpets which have become popular in Canada. A growing number of Iranian investors are involved in the Canadian real estate market, and there are several major developers in the Toronto and Vancouver regions.
Political tensions in the aftermath of the assassination of Zahra Kazemi, the Canadian photojournalist killed in an Iranian jail in 2003, and the UNITED NATIONS sanctions against Iran as a result of the country's nuclear program, have curtailed economic and trade relations between the two countries. Additional sanctions were imposed in 2010, expanding an arms embargo and economic penalties related to the proliferation of Iran's "sensitive activities."
Community and Cultural Life
As a relatively new immigrant community with diverse backgrounds of class, ethnicity, religion, politics and ideology, the Iranian community is relatively incohesive. Although Iranians share great pride in their culture and history, instead of a single group, they form a vibrant mix of sub-communities with a common language.
Poetry and literature form the basis of regular gatherings of Iranians in different cities, where Iranian poets and writers, both visiting and local, recite their works; additionally there are book clubs that regularly invite Iranian authors from outside and inside Canada. The range of cultural activities related to Iranian culture is akin to those activities enjoyed by any ethnic group in Canada and include concerts, plays, film screenings, sports, art exhibitions, and volunteer organizations. Several Farsi/Persian weekly newspapers are available, including Shahrvand, which is the largest weekly Farsi newspaper in North America with offices and affiliates in several cities. As the Iranian community grows, and Canadians acquire the taste for Persian cuisine, Persian cafes, restaurants and the popular "chelo-kebabis" have opened in several cities.
Practising Muslim Iranians, in addition to familial institutions, attend mosques and Islamic institutions established by the larger Muslim community in Canada, and several Shi'i mosques specifically targeting the Iranian community have been established. Some of these mosques are independent and others have links with the Iranian government. Compared with other communities originating from Muslim-majority countries, Iranians are on average more secular. A recent study by York University scholars, for example, showed that in contrast to Canadian Pakistanis, Afghans and Palestinians, over 80% of Iranian-Canadians do not consider themselves religious and are "tending to the secular."
Iranians' participation in the Canadian electoral process, once limited, is on the rise, and a growing number actively participate in elections at all levels of government. In the 1997 provincial elections in Ontario, there were two Iranian NDP candidates and several Iranian candidates who ran for the Board of Education positions. In 2010, two Iranians sat in provincial legislatures: Dr Reza Moridi, a Liberal MLA in Ontario, and Dr Amir Khadir of the Québec solidaire, in the Québec Assemblée Nationale.
Aside from Canadian politics, many Iranians, a significant number of whom came to Canada as political refugees, are preoccupied with the politics in Iran. In addition to political opposition groups and organizations, human rights organizations focussing on women's rights, political prisoners and political refugees exist in Canada. After the Iranian presidential elections in 2009, political activism against the Iranian government drastically increased and has acted as a unifying factor for the Iranian diaspora. There have also been confrontations with Iranians affiliated with the Islamic Republic, and front organizations affiliated with the Iranian government have been exposed in the Canadian media.
Although familial ties are strong in Iranian households, the realities of immigration and exile have taken a toll on family relations. As in other communities, Iranian families experience conflicts, both between couples and between parents and their children. Having gained economic independence and access to supportive social institutions, many Iranian women are questioning patriarchal relations and demanding change in traditional familial relations. The new realities have led to improved family relations in some cases and divorce in others. Tension is also felt between the first and second-generation Iranians who are being raised with different values and norms.
There are many support organizations for the Iranian community and Iranian associations in major Canadian cities that provide services to new immigrants, organize classes and run Persian libraries. As well, there are several family counselling organizations and women's associations that focus on family and women's issues. To preserve the Persian language, there are Persian schools and classes throughout Canada's major urban centres.
Author SAEED RAHNEMA
Links to Other Sites
Canadian Multiculturalism Day
Canadian Heritage's guide to celebrating Canadian Multiculturalism Day.
PASSAGES TO CANADA
Immigrants to Canada from around the world have encountered many hardships, opportunities, and successes as they set out to establish a better life for themselves and their families in their adopted country. Listen to some of their personal stories at the "Passages to Canada" website. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples
The website for the "Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples." Click on the links for feature articles about Canada's many multicultural communities, access to their extensive digital archives collection, learning modules, and much more. From "Multicultural Canada."
Ethnocultural Portrait of Canada
This website offers Canadian population data (2006) by ethnic origin. Also, find information for individual provinces and territories by clicking the "Select a view" window above the chart. For more information, click on the "Ethnocultural Portrait of Canada" link at the top of the page. From the website for Statistics Canada.
Virtual Museum of Asian Canadian Cultural Heritage
A wide-ranging online resource about Asian Canadian history and culture. Also features profiles of prominent Asian Canadians. From the Canadian Foundation for Asian Culture (Central Ontario) Inc.
The West Asian Community in Canada
A profile of Canadians of West Asian origin from Statistics Canada.
Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada
An extensive resource about economic, security, political and social issues related to Canada's relations with Asia. Check out the "National Conversation on Asia" to voice your opinions about key Canada-Asia issues.