THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 10, Season 13
Sunday, November 19, 2023
Host: Mercedes Stephenson
Masih Alinejad, Iranian Human Rights Activist
Roy Chun Lee, Taiwan’s Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat- New Hampshire
Mercedes Stephenson: We’re here in Nova Scotia at the 15th annual Halifax International Security Forum. The forum couldn’t be taking place at a more critical time. From tensions with China to concerns about Iranian interference, the conflict in the Middle East and Russia’s war in Ukraine, everyone is here from decision-makers to dissidence to generals, trying to find a way forward in our world that sometimes feels like its exploding.
I’m Mercedes Stephenson. The West Block begins now.
The October 7th attack by Hamas in Israel has put the role of Iran in supporting Hamas and Hezbollah under increasing scrutiny. But critics of the regime say countries like Canada are also at risk.
I sit down with prominent Iranian activist Masih Alinejad, who says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau needs to take action now.
And what will the new tone between Washington and Beijing mean for Taiwan? As the country prepared for presidential elections in January, I speak to Taiwan’s deputy foreign minister about the constant threat of Chinese military action.
The Iranian regime casts a long shadow around the world, one that has become even more obvious since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7th. Tehran uses proxy terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah across the Middle East. But a Global News investigation found the regime’s tentacles extend to right here in Canada.
Our Negar Mojtahedi, uncovered evidence of more than 700 regime operatives here on Canadian soil. From money laundering to threats to murder plots, the impunity with which the regime appears to be operating in Canada is shocking.
Renowned Iranian human rights activist Masih Alinejad sat down with me to share a fresh warning and a bone chilling message for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Masih thank you so much for joining us today. I know that it was actually a dangerous thing, potentially, for you to come to Canada.
Masih Alinejad, Iranian Human Rights Activist: Even saying this, it’s like—it’s so weird. Like it’s dangerous to be in Canada? Oh, I love Canada. Thank you so much for having me. But yes, it was because of my situation being critical of the Islamic Republic there is still a threat not only against me, against everyone who criticizes Islamic Republic in Canada.
Mercedes Stephenson: You normally are in Brooklyn, and you spoke with 60 Minutes and told the story about how the Iranian regime not only wants you kidnapped, they want you dead. They tried to have you killed. What happened?
Masih Alinejad, Iranian Human Rights Activist: Whoa, yeah they want me dead. First of all, they hate women like me, like you. I mean you’ve got beautiful hair, so that even makes them more hate you because they don’t want you to show your hair. But me, because of actually campaigning against compulsory veiling, campaigning against Islamic Republic, they hate me a lot. So that’s why first, they went after women who were sending videos to me. Like you know simply walking unveiled and making a video and saying hi Masih, we enjoy the wind—air. We want to be free. This is my you know practice of civil disobedience. They brought those women on TV to denounce me publicly, made them to do false confessions. That didn’t work because other women joined, and then they went after my family members to like you know put my brother in prison for two years to keep me silent. Didn’t work. Then, different tactics: sending killers to New York, a man with loaded gun with AK-47 got arrested in front of my house. Yes, in Brooklyn.
Mercedes Stephenson: You see these stories. You hear them and they sound like something out of a mystery novel or a bad movie, but it’s happening here. It’s happening in New York, but also in Canada. We recently did a documentary. We found that at least 700 regime affiliates are here in Canada and the Iranian diaspora population says they’re being intimidated by them.
Masih Alinejad, Iranian Human Rights Activist: But you know what makes me angry the most? It’s like the family members are one of—are well known victim of the Islamic Republic—[00:04:39 Name] You have to see the video of her getting killed of Revolutionary Guards in the street, which went viral. So her family members were denied visa by Canadian government, but at the same time you see that the members of Revolutionary Guards themselves who are shooting people in the chest, heart, receiving visas and being welcomed in Canada. That makes me angry.
Mercedes Stephenson: So why do you think the Canadian government is not doing more to stop these people from coming to Canada?
Masih Alinejad, Iranian Human Rights Activist: You know what? This question should be asked in front of Prime Minister Trudeau. I want you to sit down and ask this question.
Mercedes Stephenson: And I’d actually love to give you his response because we did ask him that.
Masih Alinejad, Iranian Human Rights Activist: You did.
Mercedes Stephenson: And what his response was is that the government will continue to do everything necessary to hold the regime accountable. They say they’ve criminalized them so they are not allowed to enter Canada, but they have not designated the IRGC as a terror entity, which some activists here say is necessary.
Masih Alinejad, Iranian Human Rights Activist: These are cliché’s and empty words, and Prime Minister Trudeau—I want to use this camera and talk to you directly—don’t be scared of me and women like, you know, you and critical journalists and Iranian Canadians in Canada. We love Canada. We love peace and security and democracy. We love Canada to be a shelter for, you know, decent people. And you’re putting the lives of Canadians in danger. So I want to meet you. That’s all I can say because otherwise he’s going to come up with a lot of empty words, saying that we stand with the people of Iran. No please, sit down and make decisions how to protect human rights, how to protect democracy in Canada. That’s very important. I was the one—four years ago in Canadian Parliament—I warned Prime Minister Trudeau’s government that put the Revolutionary Guards on the terrorist list. They didn’t. What happened? The same Revolutionary Guards killed Iranian Canadians by shooting down the Ukrainian airplane. So that’s why when we warn Prime Minister Trudeau it means that we know that danger is coming. Now Revolutionary Guards are everywhere. Everywhere, sponsoring Hamas to kill civilians is Israel.
Mercedes Stephenson: And that’s one of the questions I wanted to ask you. What would these members of the Iranian regime be doing in Canada?
Masih Alinejad, Iranian Human Rights Activist: Spying, money laundering—everything—spreading the ideology of the Islamic Republic. Wow, they can do a lot. That’s the goal of Islamic revolution since when they took over Iran 40 years ago. Khomeini was saying that we have to export our revolution, our values. Child marriage, you know this is one of the values of Islamic revolution, compulsory veiling and spreading terrorist ideologies, saying that if anyone does not follow our values and ideology, they can be eliminated.
Mercedes Stephenson: You were warned by the FBI that Canada might be particularly dangerous for you. I think a lot of Canadians would be shocked and horrified by that.
Masih Alinejad, Iranian Human Rights Activist: I don’t want Canadian people to get angry with me because of my situation now. You hear that a lot on media that Canada is not safe. Canada is not safe, don’t go there. But honestly, this is actually—to me, it’s a warning and all Canadians should actually keep pressure on the government in Canada because it’s not good to hear actually that as Canadian citizens hear that most of the time that Canada is not safe. Canada became a haven for Islamic Republic agents. Canada is a country that a lot of people have respect for. In my country, a lot of people want to come to Canada and enjoy the freedom. But now, they say that oh no, let’s not go to Canada because it’s not safe. Can you believe that? Or people here, like Iranians saying that. We see a lot of not only the agents of the Islamic Republic, those who integrated us around us. So it’s beyond sad. It’s beyond sad. I think we have to renew democracy. We have to be vigilant and think about it again that what are we going to do with our country? America, the same. I see a lot of, you know, relatives of the Ayatollah’s, those who say that’s America. They are enjoying their luxury lives in America as well and that’s sad.
Mercedes Stephenson: What did the FBI tell you about the RCMP’s ability to protect you in Canada?
Masih Alinejad, Iranian Human Rights Activist: I mean, I have to thank the FBI always actually letting the police in Canada know and they are always there to protect me, but that’s—I don’t want anything for myself. I want them to protect Canada. I want them to protect people who live here. Yeah, I’m only one person. I’m not scared of getting killed. I’m not honestly scared for myself. But this is scary that in front of the eyes of the free world, we see that the Islamic Republic threatening national security of Canada and national security of America. Yes, I was told by the FBI that the same people who plotted to kidnap me; they were the same group trying to kidnap two Canadian citizens on Canadian soil. Yes, that was like public. You can read the indictment by Department of Justice in America one day published that. I was like wow. Then I’m not alone. The same member of Revolutionary Guards who are trying to kidnap me, they were after two Canadians and two U.K. citizens. That’s why I say that: where are you, the democratic countries?
Mercedes Stephenson: What has happened to you in terms of threats or activity since you spoke to Global New?
Masih Alinejad, Iranian Human Rights Activist: Nothing. I’m getting louder and louder. As you see me, I’m full of life. You know, I want to enjoy my life. I don’t want to live in fear. I remember the day when—yeah, when the FBI showed me like the text message between the killers, one in New York, the one in Iranian Intelligence Service saying that as soon as she came out, the show is over. That was a text message between them. And the guy in Iran was saying that that’s going to be a birthday gift for me. I just turned back to my husband. I said that they talk about my dead body as a gift. So it’s disgusting, no?
Mercedes Stephenson: Absolutely.
Masih Alinejad, Iranian Human Rights Activist: But I said to him—I said wow. I’m only 45 kilos. I’m not carrying weapons. Nothing. But they’re scared of me. So that gives me hope. So it’s like, you know Iranian women, teenagers. They’re scaring the whole regime with guns and bullets, power, money, everything. But they’re scared of Iranian women’s hair. Like teenagers walking in the streets, they put a lot of morality police everywhere to arrest them, to kill them. That shows we are powerful and they are scared of us.
Mercedes Stephenson: Masih, thank you so much.
Masih Alinejad, Iranian Human Rights Activist: Of course. Thank you so much for having me.
Mercedes Stephenson: Great.
Up next, U.S. President Joe Biden says he made important progress in his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Will that protect Taiwan from Chinese military aggression?
Mercedes Stephenson: A historic meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping may have dialled down the threat of war with China.
President Joe Biden: “As you know, I just concluded several hours of meetings with President Xi, and I believe they were some of the most constructive and productive discussions we’ve had.”
Mercedes Stephenson: There is however, a sticking point, the relationship with Taiwan. Will the new tone between Biden and Xi help to protect Taiwan from the possibility of a Chinese invasion?
I spoke to Taiwan’s Deputy Foreign Minister of Affairs Roy Chun Lee.
There’s a lot of fear that there could be an accidental third world war, essentially. As you sit there and watch this from the Taiwanese perspective, what does this meeting mean for Taiwan security? Has it helped or do you think that there’s still a high potential for China to invade?
Roy Chun Lee, Taiwan’s Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister: Well first of all, the assembly between President Xi and President Biden definitely helps to provide some level of certainty in relation to the tensions that has been unfolding and developing over the last 24 months. We were joking that there were more naval and war planes and naval vessels sailing through Taiwan Straits than commercial ships and airplanes nowadays because it becomes a kind of hot spot for all the superpowers. Not only superpowers by countries like Canada or Japan, or even South Korea and Germany. German warships are now trying to maintain the peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait by crossing through—sailing through the Taiwan Straits to ensure that there is freedom of navigation. And China, on the other hand, is trying to create a military new normal by intimidating all the war planes or naval ships that are sailing the Taiwan Strait.
One of the objectives, we suspect, is that China is trying to convert the Taiwan Strait into domestic water so it will be an internal water of China. It will require Chinese permission to sail through. They are not there yet, but they are trying to create a new normal so that if you don’t push back against that, it will become normal. So that signifies the importance of these [00:02:33] between Xi Jinping and President Biden because President Biden has been relatively straightforward to express our concerns and reservations and oppositions to China’s actions, especially in that part of the world. And Xi Jining of course reacted to those remarks or demands by sharing virtually with us that they have no plan to have war with anyone and they are happy to resume the trade talks at all levels. So that creates some safeguards or guardrails. Not necessarily removing all the threats and dangers, but at least some guardrails.
Mercedes Stephenson: China has clearly been escalating in terms of its menacing posture towards Taiwan. Tell us what those threats have looked like for you? What does it involve because we just see when they intercept a Canadian or American ship, or a Canadian plane? It makes our news, but for Canadians out there, what have the Taiwanese people been living with?
Roy Chun Lee, Taiwan’s Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister: If you are living in Taiwan, the reality is that every day you wake up, you turn down—you’re logging into internet and you can check on the numbers of Chinese war planes that have approached Taiwan overnight in the last 24 hours. Sometimes the number is five. Sometimes the number is 90.
Mercedes Stephenson: Every day?
Roy Chun Lee, Taiwan’s Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister: Every day.
Mercedes Stephenson: Wow.
Roy Chun Lee, Taiwan’s Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister: Every day, so it becomes part of the daily threats. So the threat is not only on the paper, it’s actually in the sky, in the sea surrounding Taiwan. Constantly, there are 4-5 Chinese naval vessels stationed at the four corners of Taiwan and they change paths on a weekly basis. Of course, they are not into Taiwan’s territorial waters, certainly, but their posture is such that they can do that over the next 10 minutes. So that’s how close they are and that’s how frequently they are intimidating Taiwan on those military fronts. But I need to add another element that is intimidation and coercion in the digital world. On a daily basis, we receive thousands of cyberattacks. Last year, Taiwan’s public sector received over 30 million cyberattacks every month. That is 1,000 times more than European countries on average.
Mercedes Stephenson: It’s extraordinary.
Roy Chun Lee, Taiwan’s Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister: So it’s not only the war planes. It’s not only the naval vessels but also the cyberattacks and the disinformation, not to mention the election interference that Canadians are now also aware—so familiar with. For Taiwan, it’s also like on a daily basis that we face interference from China. So we describe this as hybrid warfare. It’s a warfare that is in combination of military threats, intimidation plus cyberattacks and disinformation.
Mercedes Stephenson: What do you think the chance is of a Chinese military invasion?
Roy Chun Lee, Taiwan’s Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister: I think in the foreseeable future, it’s quite unlikely because first of all, China is not ready militarily and economically. Looking at Russia’s invasion to Ukraine, you will realize that it’s not a competition between the hardware; it’s also about financial capacity. It’s also about the depth of your manufacturing sector, for example. So in that regard, China is—China’s readiness is not only reflected on how many vessels they have. It’s also about the capacity to sustain military conflict. So for the time being China is not there yet, but they are working towards that objective. And also, China’s population is based on also the uncertainty and the risks associated with the military and especially on their political authority in China. So they want to make sure that they have to win the war, the Communist Party will stay in power with or without a war and they have to do all these calculations. So what we have been doing is to increase the uncertainty, increase the costs of a military…
Mercedes Stephenson: Non-military deterrence.
Roy Chun Lee, Taiwan’s Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister: Exactly. But they key is, they continue to exercise this military intimidation for three objectives. First of all, to create fear in Taiwan, so all these military exercises can provide a factor that will divide Taiwan society. Secondly, is the explicit election interference because in Taiwan, the political debate at this point of time is about whether the election next January is a decision between war and peace. So China is actually providing manmade evidence to support the argument that it indeed a choice between war and peace. Well they are the source of the war, but they are saying that look, you should choose—get your decision right. Get the party who will be creating war. Elect the party who are bringing peace. So to our perspective, it is an explicit direct interference of election. And lastly is providing chilling fact to the international community so that Taiwan will be isolated from other countries and top leaders from Canada will feel a little bit concerned to visit Taiwan.
Mercedes Stephenson: Thank you so much for joining us today. I know you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you on this trip and we look forward to seeing the future of Taiwan.
Roy Chun Lee, Taiwan’s Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister: Yes.
Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, will Canada match its messaging from the Halifax International Security Forum about increased defence spending or continue cuts and be left out in the cold by allies?
Mercedes Stephenson: Now for one last thing…
The discussion here in Halifax has been all about strengthening defence and security as the world becomes more unpredictable and autocratic regimes are emboldened.
Canada’s Defence Minister Bill Blair delivered a speech here calling for enhanced defence spending. A position at odds with the current reality as Ottawa plans military spending cuts.
I asked U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen a powerful Democrat who sits on the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and to the Senate Armed Services Committee what message Canada will be sending if we don’t spend more on defence.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat, New Hampshire: Well I think the message is one to all of our allies and not just the United States but to all of NATO. I was just in the Western Balkans in Europe, in North Macedonia where they’re spending over 2 per cent of their GDP on defence and they—as they said to me, we’ve provided every weapon system we could to Ukraine. All that’s left in our country now is the band. And I think we’re seeing that kind of commitment and sacrifice on the part of some of the smallest allies in NATO, and so it’s important for the bigger partners to make sure that we’re also putting in our fair share.
Mercedes Stephenson: We’ll see if that defence spending comes through.
That’s our show today from Halifax. We’ll see you next week from Ottawa.