OTTAWA — An Iranian man is challenging the federal government’s decision to deny him a permit to study at a Montreal university because he is considered a danger to the security of Canada.
A lawyer for Reza Jahantigh says his client was distraught upon learning of the refusal and will seek judicial review in Federal Court.
The Immigration Department’s decision last month is the latest indication Ottawa is tightening restrictions on academics deemed to pose a national security risk.
In October 2019, Jahantigh applied for a study permit to pursue a PhD in computer engineering at Montreal’s École de technologie supérieure, a university that specializes in applied engineering.
Jahantigh, whose research is related to blockchain technology, completed the first semesters of his program online from Iran, beginning in 2020. However, the program requires him to attend in person for the remaining courses of his doctorate degree.
Lawyer Samin Mortazavi, who represents Jahantigh, says he has found no evidence the student’s activities pose a danger to Canada.
“I don’t see any security issue,” Mortazavi said in an interview. “He’s just a typical PhD student.”
Jahantigh cried for two or three minutes straight when told of the permit denial, Mortazavi said. “He couldn’t even talk to me.”
In December 2022, after waiting more than three years on his study permit application, Jahantigh asked the Federal Court to intervene and order the Immigration Department to make a decision.
Last September, the day before the court application was to be heard, a Canadian immigration officer in Ankara, Turkey, issued a letter saying the department had reasonable grounds to believe Jahantigh may be inadmissible to Canada under federal immigration law for “being a danger to the security of Canada.”
The unnamed officer noted Jahantigh, now 33, had declared his service in the Iranian military as a technician from June 2016 to March 2018. Jahantigh then became a full-time employee at a private firm, rising to the position of senior software engineer.
The immigration officer expressed concern about “the work you could have engaged in” at the company, previous work as a research assistant, and “possible future research areas while completing your doctorate studies that may be considered as sensitive areas of research.”
“There is no requirement that an individual who is inadmissible to Canada on security grounds be personally involved in acts of violence,” the officer’s letter reads. “The threat need not be direct; rather it may be grounded in distant events that indirectly have a real possibility of harming Canadian security.”
Mortazavi said Jahantigh, like other young Iranian men, was required to do a couple of years of military service.
In addition, the private company that hired Jahantigh is involved in video game development, not work related to the Iranian government, the lawyer said.
The immigration officer gave Jahantigh 30 days to submit additional information.
On Dec. 18, the department confirmed its preliminary finding and rejected Jahantigh’s permit application on security grounds.
Ottawa warns that hostile nations try to exploit key segments of Canada’s economy to advance their own strategic military, intelligence, security and economic interests. Canada has issued research security guidelines aimed at protecting institutions and intellectual property.
In a ruling released last week, the Federal Court upheld a decision to deny a study permit to a Chinese man who was ruled inadmissible to Canada on security grounds.
In that case, the court affirmed a finding there were reasonable grounds to believe that Yuekang Li may engage in an act of espionage against Canada.
Li, who wanted to study at the University of Waterloo, had obtained a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from a university in China that has a strong relationship with the defence industry in that country.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 9, 2024.
Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press