PARIS ” The Canadian government rejected Monday a call to follow Europe’s lead and remove an Iranian resistance group from its list of banned international terrorist organizations.
The European Union, saying it was forced to comply with a series of court decisions by the European Court of Justice, announced on Monday it would end the ban imposed on the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran (PMOI).
But a spokeswoman for Public Safety Canada said there will be no change considered until the next two-year statutory review of banned groups such as PMOI, also known as Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK).
"The Government of Canada is determined to take decisive steps to ensure the safety of Canadians against terrorism," Jacinthe Perras said in an e-mailed statement.
"The MEK is a listed entity pursuant to the Criminal Code. It is a criminal offence to knowingly deal with the assets of a listed entity or knowingly participate in any activity that would enhance its ability to carry out a terrorist act. "
The latest December court ruling by the European court said the EU had breached the PMOI’s right to self-defence by failing to inform the group of new information used to keep blacklisting it.
"What we are doing today is abiding by the resolution of the European court," Javier Solana, foreign policy chief for the 27-nation EU, told reporters in Brussels.
The group was banned by the U.S. in 1997, by the EU in 2002, and by Canada in 2005.
Iranian state radio has condemned the EU’s move as "irresponsible," while the group’s affiliated political arm praised the decision that it said will free millions of dollars in assets frozen in western bank accounts.
"Removing the terror tag is a crushing defeat to Europe’s policy of appeasement" and a blow against the "mullahs’ medieval regime" in Iran, according to a statement from Maryam Rajavi, who is described as the "president-elect" of the Paris-based resistance movement.
Fears have been expressed that the delisting could impair international efforts, now being led by U.S. President Barack Obama, to convince Iran to suspend its nuclear program.
David Kilgour, a human rights advocate and former junior foreign affairs minister in Jean Chretien’s Liberal government, said Canada should follow Europe’s lead.
"Canada’s long-term political and economic relations (with Iran) are best-served by standing with its people, not the regime," Kilgour said in a statement.
"The time for appeasing the ayatollahs and suppressing the Iranian opposition must end."
The Canadian government included the PMOI when it extended late last year the list of banned groups that have "knowingly carried out, attempted to carry out, participated in or facilitated a terrorist activity or is knowingly acting on behalf of, at the direction of or in association with such an entity."
Among those on the list are al-Qaida, Hamas, Hezbollah, Peru’s Shining Path, the Sikh terror organizations Babbar Khalsa and the International Sikh Youth Federation, and the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka.
The PMOI was formed as a leftist organization in the 1960s opposed to the U.S.-backed regime of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. It was allied with the Islamist forces of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in the Shah’s 1979 overthrow, and engaged in assassinations of American targets before the revolution.
It also took part in the hostage-taking incident at the U.S. embassy shortly after the Shah fled the country that year.
But the group broke with Khomeini and then allied with the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88. They established bases in Iraq and took part in a number of bombings and assassination attempts against Iranian government targets as late as 2001, according to a 2008 analysis by the Council on Foreign Relations, a Washington-based think-tank.
"While the group says it does not intentionally target civilians, it has often risked civilian casualties. It routinely aims its attacks at government buildings in crowded cities," the analysis noted.
However, the group’s terrorist activities declined after 2001, and its fighters were disarmed by U.S. forces after the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. There are currently about 3,500 members at a camp there, including 60 Iranians with Canadian citizenship, according to Winnipeg human rights lawyer David Matas, who was in Brussels with Kilgour Monday.
The U.S. State Department regularly refers to PMOI as a "cultlike terrorist group" because of the control wielded by the two leaders, Massoud Rajavi and his wife Maryam, who have followers worldwide.
"In addition to its Paris-based members (PMOI) has a network of sympathizers in Europe, the United States, and Canada," according to the Council on Foreign Relations analysis.
The PMOI has won considerable political support in western countries, from politicians and activists like Kilgour, as it calls for a fully democratic Iran that endorses the free enterprise system with full rights for women and ethnic and religious minorities.
By Peter O’Neil, Europe Correspondent, Canwest News