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Sara Shariati stares intently at her phone screen, wishing it would connect with her grandfather in Iran. The University of Toronto student has not been able to reach the 95-year-old for two weeks. When the call doesn’t go through, she tries to text and shakes her head.

“The message isn’t even getting through. Their internet is shut down,” Shariati said, her voice catchy.

Shariati is one of about 90,000 Iranians who have settled in the Greater Toronto Area, according to Statistics Canada. Only Los Angeles has a larger Iranian population outside of Iran.

For many in the wider Iranian diaspora, the past three months have been filled with concern, anger and frustration as they watch the continuing cycle of protests and violent crackdowns in Iran sparked by the death in custody. by Mahsa Amini on September 16.

The 22-year-old died while in the custody of Iran’s vice police after being arrested for wearing her headscarf incorrectly, violating strict public dress codes imposed on Iranian women. His death sparked outrage inside and outside Iran.

“So many years we’ve had to wonder if our shirt color is too bright, if our toes are showing because we’re wearing open-toed shoes, or if our hair is too visible,” Shariati said. “And now this generation is saying enough is enough.”

Shariati is proud of the stance taken by many in the country, but she also worries about the safety of her friends and family in Iran and feels guilty about her own relative safety in Canada.

WATCH | Sara Shariati explains how difficult it is to see what is happening back home in Iran:

Iranian student constantly worries about loved ones back home

Sara Shariati, a graduate student at the University of Toronto, says communicating with friends and family has been difficult since the protests began.

“Some of my friends have been arrested. We haven’t heard from them. Some of them have been injured. There has been so much tear gas in the college dorms,” ​​she said.

“I can’t stop thinking when I walk around campus [here] that, ‘Oh my God, how safe I am and how normal life is here.’ And they have to worry if they can even be alive tomorrow,” she said.

Shariati is doing what she can to bring attention to the protests in Canada and pressure the Canadian government to do more, including helping organize three protests.

mahsa amini toronto protest
Members of the Iranian community gather in Toronto on September 20 to protest after the death of Mahsa Amini. The 22-year-old woman died after being detained by Iranian vice police, allegedly for wearing her headscarf incorrectly. (Darek Zdzienicki/CBC)

She also knows that her work to amplify the voices of revolt in Iran has put a target on her back.

“When I go to Iran, I will probably be arrested at the airport. And I know that. And my family knows that. But I keep thinking in my head, what did I do to deserve this? ” she says.

“Impossible” to stay in touch with friends, family

Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that monitors the ongoing protests, estimates that at least 388 people have been killed and more than 16,000 have been arrested since they began nearly two months ago.

There are few Iranians in Canada who understand the price of standing up to the Iranian regime as well as Azam Jangravi. In 2018, the young mother climbed onto an electrical transformer box in Tehran, removed her headscarf and was promptly arrested.

Jangravi fled with her daughter to Turkey and now lives in Canada. Watching the events unfold in Iran filled her with worry and hope.

“You know, I broke my silence. That’s the key. Now all Iranians have broken their silence,” she said. I think they are so brave. They know they could be killed, but every day they come back to the streets.”

azam jangravi
Azam Jangravi stands atop an electrical transformer box in Tehran, holding her hijab in her hand. Moments later, she was arrested and had to flee to Turkey with her daughter before ending up in Canada. (Provided by Azam Jangravi)

It’s been hard to get a good idea of ​​what’s really going on on the streets of the country. Like so many others, Jangravi depends on social media posts and WhatsApp messages from friends to get a sense of what’s going on, as information flows between government-mandated communications blackouts.

It’s also nearly impossible to stay in regular contact with friends and family.

“When I called and I don’t know what happened to my family or my friends, I get really frustrated. I’m worried. I cry,” she said.

Even when people manage to get in touch with their relatives in Iran, it is not always safe to talk.

Protests “in everyone’s mind”

At his usually bustling Persian grocery store Khorak Supermarket, Sam Fayaz describes how cautious his in-laws in Iran are when speaking with his wife, fearing their phone is being monitored by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

“It becomes a one-sided conversation where when you ask the other side ‘hey, what’s going on over there’, a lot of them, my brother-in-law, won’t talk, won’t talk. Isn’t it? Then he will avoid the questions,” he said.

The months-long unrest and violence have put a damper on the wider Iranian community, Fayaz said.

sam fayaz
Sam Fayaz, whose Persian grocery store Khorak Supermarket in Toronto is a hub for the Iranian community, says the protests in Iran weigh heavily on the minds of anyone who shops here. (Katie Nicholson/CBC)

“Everyone is upset. Everyone is dejected,” Fayaz said, pointing to the store. “Things are calming down, aren’t they? I mean, it’s Monday. My store is supposed to be a little busier than it is right now, but, you know, we don’t. are not.”

“It’s on everyone’s mind. Nobody wants to go out and party. Nobody wants to go, you know, go to a concert. A lot of events have been canceled because people are just… .it’s on their minds,” Fayaz said.

A poster hanging on the door of the store reads “Women, life, freedom” and “Be the voice of the Iranian people”. Fayaz does not hesitate to bring his own support to the demonstrators whose voice he says he tries to amplify as much as possible.

iran protest poster
This poster hangs in the window of Khorak Supermarket, a Persian grocery store north of Toronto. Owner Sam Fayez says he is doing everything he can to amplify the voices of protesters. (Katie Nicholson/CBC)

“The more this is shared, the more likely it is that, you know, outside governments like the Canadian government, the US government, hopefully, you know, different parts of the world will impose tougher sanctions on this regime and will bring changes,” Fayaz said.

WATCH | Sam Fayaz says the Iranian diaspora community is nervous, but hopeful:


Iranian-Canadian business owner says these protests are ‘different’

Sam Fayaz, owner of a Persian grocery store in Toronto, says the diaspora community is nervous, but changes are afoot in Iran.

As snow falls from the gray skies of Toronto, Shariati reflects on what more Canada and the world could do to help the Iranian protesters.

“Canada has done a lot. Much more than many European countries. Much more than even the United States. But I think there may be more. international platforms,” she said.

Canada has issued five rounds of sanctions against Iran this year in response to what Global Affairs Canada calls “gross and systematic human rights violations and ongoing actions aimed at destabilizing peace and security.” The sanctions lists include companies and leaders associated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

“There can be more targeted sanctions against the leaders. The IRGC can be recognized as a terrorist group,” she added.

She also wants to see UNICEF and the United Nations intensify their involvement.

“Declarations are not enough. We need much stronger action.”

A mix of worry and hope as Iranians in Canada watch an uprising from afar

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