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Oscar win for Argo highlights Canada’s role in Iran hostage rescue

Affleck in Argo, the true story of how Hollywood, the CIA and then Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor conspired to sneak six U.S. hostages out of Tehran.

The film Argo capped its domination of Hollywood's award season with an Oscar win for best picture Sunday night.

The honour once again brought attention to the central role Canadians played in the 1979 Iranian hostage drama which inspired the film. Controversy over Canada's role in the hostage rescue mission has dogged the film, directed by Ben Affleck, since Argo debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival last September.

Ken Taylor, a former Canadian ambassador to Iran whose heroics formed the backbone of the narrative, has made no secret of his disillusionment at the film's minimization of the Canadian role in the dramatic rescue of six U.S. citizens. "I think it is a genuine concern and a very legitimate one," Mr. Taylor said in an interview before the Oscar ceremony. "We worked very well with the CIA – both the Canadians in Ottawa and in Tehran."

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"I want to thank Canada," Mr. Affleck said as part of his rushed, energetic acceptance speech. Chris Terrio, who accepted the Oscar for best adapted screenplay for Argo, also made a point of thanking Mr. Taylor specifically in his acceptance speech.

Mr. Taylor applauded former U.S. president Jimmy Carter for appearing on CNN on Thursday night to assert that "90 per cent of the contributions to the ideas and the consummation of the plan was Canadian."

"I think it was pretty well clarified by President Carter's remarks," Mr. Taylor said Sunday.

Mr. Taylor said that, while the CIA did contribute significantly to the rescue, history must reflect that it was overwhelmingly a Canadian mission.

"I wouldn't want to leave it with young Canadians that we were sort of carried along by the CIA," he said. "It was a cooperative venture and the two countries worked very well together."

However, nothing appeared to dim a swell of patriotism Americans felt for the Iranian rescue escape and Mr. Affleck's personal status as a fan favourite on Oscar night.

Shouts of "Ben! Ben! Ben!" greeted Mr. Affleck as he arrived on the red carpet.

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Argo racked up numerous awards this season, including best picture nods at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards and the Screen Actors Guild awards, and the Golden Globes (where Mr. Affleck also won the award for best director.) However, in what was widely perceived as a curious snub, he was not nominated for an Oscar in the best director category.

In a statement issued over the weekend, Mr. Affleck reiterated his admiration for Mr. Taylor's effort to rescue the hostages.

"I consider him a hero," Mr. Affleck said in the statement.

The Argo dispute centred primarily on a postscript at the end of the film which inferred that the CIA permitted Canada to get more credit than it deserved.

Mr. Affleck later assuaged much of Mr. Taylor's anger by flying him to Los Angeles and allowing him to write a new postscript that more accurately reflected Canada's role.

Today, Mr. Taylor praised Mr. Affleck and the movie he directed.

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"I think the movie is great," Mr. Taylor said. "It's tense and extremely well-directed. It reflects on the nature of diplomacy in a dangerous neighbourhood."

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Justice reporter

Born in Montreal, Aug. 3, 1954. BA (Journalism) Ryerson, 1979. Previously covered environment beat, Queen's Park. Toronto courts bureau from 1981-85. Justice beat from 1985 - present. More

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Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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