National Post – -
Sarah Boesveld ? Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2011
After receiving threats and two suspicious letters Tuesday, the National Archives of Canada cancelled the screening of a controversial documentary that critiques Iran?s nuclear weapons program, a move that has organizers questioning the national library?s autonomy.
The Free Thinking Film Society?s showing of?Iranium prompted so many complaints ? some of them from the Iranian Embassy ? that staff thought it necessary to close the entire building at 396 Wellington St. in Ottawa, just steps from the Supreme Court of Canada and Parliament Hill at 4:45 p.m., said archives spokeswoman Pauline Portelance.
?Once we started to receive threats from the public and threats of public protest, we deemed the risk associated with the event was a little too high,? she said.
At approximately 5:30 p.m., Ottawa Police swept in with its Hazmat team to investigate two letters they said could be tied to the threats of protest the National Archives staff received.
?There were threats of protest, so they?ve cancelled the movie and these [letters] were delivered two hours ago to the mailroom,? said Sergeant Jeff Pilon.
By 7 p.m., the letters were cleared and considered ?not suspicious at all.?
Even still, organizers were furious to see their event barred from the National Archives, a regular venue for the ?libertarian, conservative? society that regularly screens films about democracy and current affairs.
?I?m outraged that in the capital of Canada the Iranians have been able to shut down a movie,? said the group?s president Fred Litwin. ?Bad enough in Tehran, but in Ottawa??
The Archives first called to cancel on Monday afternoon, Mr. Litwin said. Staff had received complaints about the showing of Iranium and offered to help the group find another venue. When Mr. Litwin said he couldn?t afford to show the film at the Museum of Nature, as the Archives suggested, he sought the help of Heritage Minister James Moore.
?People from his office called back at 6:30 p.m. and said it was back on,? he said.
And so it wasn?t until 4 p.m. Tuesday that Mr. Litwin learned the Archives cancelled the event once and for all.
?We?ve been showing films here for past three years without a peep or a protest. We?ve never seen anything like this,? Mr. Litwin said. He vowed to re-book the screening at another venue, if he couldn?t convince the National Archives to allow him to show the film by Raphael Shore, the founder of the not-for-profit Clarion Fund, which produces documentaries about national security threats.
?It has to be shown somewhere. This cannot stand.?
He said he?ll even try to bring back Clare Lopez, a Middle East strategic policy and intelligence expert from Washington D.C., for the next showing. Ms. Lopez, one of 26 international law and nuclear arms analysts and academics interviewed in the movie was in Ottawa Tuesday evening to speak at the event.
?The film very plainly and clearly lays out the facts of the Iranian nuclear arms program, a program the regime denies having,? she said Tuesday evening, adding that she wasn?t surprised to hear protests about the film?s showing.
Mr. Moore used his twitter account on Tuesday night to express disapointment with the screening’s cancelation.
“I am disappointed that Library & Archives Canada chose not to show the film tonight due to threats of violence,” Mr. Moore wrote. “The Iranian Embassy will not dictate to the Government of Canada which films will or will not be shown in Canada.”
Officials at the Iranian Embassy could not be reached for comment.
Although no one protested outside of the archives, the government agency had to take preventative measures, Ms. Portelance said.
?There was a significant amount of complaints that accelerated to threats. It?s our responsibility to protect staff and clients,? she said.
The Archives had been in discussions with Iranian Embassy officials regarding the screening, she said.
?We did receive a formal request from the embassy to cancel the event.?
The Free Thinking Film Society was the only group booked in the building Tuesday night, she added.
This article was originally published by the National Post.