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Iranian President's 'repugnant' views compel UN boycott: Harper

Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks to reporters at a Tim Hortons test facility in Oakville, Ont., on Sept. 23, 2009.

FRANK GUNN/The Canadian Press

Canada is boycotting a United Nations speech by Iran's incendiary president, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper saying the move is a rebuke of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's anti-Semitism and abysmal human rights record.

"It is important that countries that have a moral compass stand up and make their views known. And our absence there will speak volumes about how Canada feels about the declarations of President Ahmadinejad," Mr. Harper said.

The Prime Minister delivered his condemnation of the Iranian President at the Oakville, Ont., offices of Tim Hortons, where he thanked the company for moving its corporate headquarters back to Canada.

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"President Ahmadinejad has said things particularly about the state of Israel, the Jewish people and the Holocaust that are absolutely repugnant. It is unfitting that somebody like that would be giving those kinds of remarks before the United Nations General Assembly," the Prime Minister said.

"Canada does not want to be equivocal at all in terms of our view on that. We find it disgraceful, unacceptable and we're going to be absolutely clear on that."

Asked about why Canada would walk out when other Western nations are staying to hear Mr. Ahmadinejad, Mr. Harper said Canada makes its own decision on these matters.

"[Given]his recent declarations - just disgraceful, insulting declarations, denying the Holocaust - there is no way I am going to permit any official of the government of Canada to be present and give any legitimacy to remarks by a leader like that."

Mr. Harper said Canada is also upset about Iran's treatment of its citizens and its detention of a Canadian journalist.

"There are other things that bother us beyond these repugnant comments, also obviously the crackdown in Iran on any kind of legitimate dissent. The fiasco there around the elections is quite disturbing as well."

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, meanwhile, criticized the Prime Minister's absence from United Nation talks this week, including negotiations on fighting global warming and addresses by major world leaders.

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Mr. Ignatieff said Canada cannot tolerate Holocaust deniers and anti-Semitism, but argued that Mr. Harper should be at the UN to register the government's unhappiness in person.

"Canada should be there when the world is talking about the major issues of our time. Canadians are proud of our leadership at the UN" he said told CTV News Channel.

"I just find it unbelievable," he said. "This is a day in which when world leaders are coming together to address the challenge of climate change. The reason I think he's walked away from New York is he's got nothing to say on climate change."

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon has stood in for Mr. Harper during UN meetings. Earlier Wednesday, officials in New York revealed that Mr. Cannon and the Canadian delegation would boycott Mr. Ahmadinejad's UN address.

Mr. Cannon left his seat at the beginning of the evening speech. Israel's ambassador to the UN, Gabriela Shalev, has urged "friendly" countries to take part in the boycott.

"Minister Cannon will walk out at the outset of President Ahmadinejad's speech at the UN General Assembly, both due to his ongoing denial of the Holocaust and his hostile views towards our democratic ally Israel and because of the continual violation of the human rights of the people of Iran," said Mr. Cannon's press secretary, Nathalie Sarafian, ahead of the speech.

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Iran's pro-reform opposition has staged dramatic protests since Mr. Ahmadinejad was re-elected in June, claiming the vote was fraudulent. The Iranian government waged a bloody crackdown and opposition groups say at least 72 protesters were killed.

Government officials maintain that only 36 people died, and Mr. Ahmadinejad repeated that claim in an interview on Tuesday. Hundreds more have been jailed.

Mr. Ahmadinejad told the Associated Press that those who died were "not at fault." He blamed Iranian opposition politicians and "European and American politicians" whom he said fuelled the violence.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Cannon said Canada will continue to demand the release of those "unjustly detained" in Iran, including Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian reporter working for Newsweek who was imprisoned while covering the social unrest.

Mr. Ahmadinejad said in the AP interview that three Americans detained in Iran for 53 days illegally entered the country when they went off course while hiking in northern Iraq's Kurdistan region in July. Nevertheless, he said he will ask the Iranian judiciary to treat the case with "maximum lenience."

Mr. Ahmadinejad also was asked about Mr. Bahari but he did not reply. The ambassador at Iran's UN mission, Mohammad Khazee, later said he hoped Mr. Bahari's case would also be resolved.

Canada and Iran have been involved in a diplomatic row since Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist from Montreal, died in Iranian custody in 2003 after being tortured and beaten.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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About the Authors
Parliamentary reporter

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

Chief political writer

Campbell Clark has been a political writer in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau since 2000. Before that he worked for The Montreal Gazette and the National Post. He writes about Canadian politics and foreign policy. More

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