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Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has signed a permit for Iranian-born filmmaker Sadaf Foroughi to retrieve a video viewing box that has been in storage at the Montreal airport since it was stopped en route from Iran by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) last month.
Box was created with funding from the Canada Council for the Arts
Foroughi had created the box, a miniature metal building known as a shahre farang and traditionally used in Iranian peep shows to display folktales, with funding from the Canada Council for the Arts. She intends to use it as the centerpiece of a public art exhibit showing videos about women’s lives in Iran and in the West.
However, when the piece arrived in Canada, the CBSA refused to let her claim it, telling her that the Iran Regulations of the Special Economic Measures Act (SEMA) prohibited her from importing it. The shahre farang was warehoused with airport cargo handler Swissport Canada Handling Inc. pending a successful appeal or the expiration of 30 days. In the latter case, Swissport would have been required to give it back the the CBSA for destruction.
In the end, Baird’s permit arrived just in time to stop that; it reached Foroughi’s lawyer,Vincent Valai, on July 30. Baird issued it under Permit Authorization Order SOR/2010-166, which gives the Minister of Foreign Affairs authority to exceptionally allow activities or transactions that are generally prohibited by the Iran regulations of the SEMA. Valai told The Globe and Mail that the permit was a “reasonable decision” on Baird’s part, but also said that he thought it was not actually required because the shahre farang falls under the personal effects exemption to the ban on Iranian imports.
Calls for Government to issue better Guidelines
Valai has also called for the government to issue more concrete guidelines on how the SEMA regulations should be interpreted and applied, but judging from comments by Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD) spokesman John Babcock, that doesn’t seem to be in the cards. Babcock said that whether a given item is exempt is a legal question, and that the DFATD “cannot provide such legal advice to members of the public.” He then pointed to ministerial permits as the way to resolve questions about what can and can’t be imported.
Meanwhile, Foroughi has yet to claim the shahre farang, because she doesn’t have almost $3,000 to pay Swissport for storage. She has said that she will ask the government to pay the storage fee because the incident wasn’t her fault, and Valai is hopeful that Swissport will agree to waive it under the circumstances.
Aside from the fee, Foroughi is also worried about the already month-long delay in opening her exhibition, as well as possible damage to the shahre farang during its time in storage. She indicated that it is vulnerable to humidity and anticipated that it may need repairs before it can be displayed, further eating into the exhibition’s scheduled run.