Demonstrators wave colours of the flag of Iran as they participate in a worldwide "human chain" along the Alexandra Bridge joining Ottawa and Gatineau, Que., organized by the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims in solidarity with antigovernment protesters in Iran, on October 29, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Iran diaspora decry Montreal honour for urologist who shunned COVID-19 vaccines

OTTAWA — A group of Canadian physicians with roots in Iran are decrying a Montreal-based organization’s plan to honour a Tehran physician who they accuse of spreading COVID-19 disinformation and upholding the regime’s sexist attitudes.

The Société Internationale d’Urologie has invited Dr. Nasser Simforoosh to visit Montreal and to receive a distinguished service award on Nov. 10.

“He is the epitome of everything that Canada does not stand for,” said Dr. Mahyar Etminan, an ophthalmological epidemiologist at the University of British Columbia.

Simforoosh, who studied in the United States, leads the urology department at the Shahid Labbafinejad Medical Centre in Tehran, a major teaching and research hospital.

In early 2021, Simforoosh signed an open letter urging the Iranian regime to ban the import of COVID-19 mRNA vaccines, arguing that Western technology was substandard, alleging the U.S. has bad motives for providing the shots and echoing disproven claims about gene editing.

The regime banned the shots a short time later, a move the Canadian physicians argue has contributed to Iran’s significant COVID-19 death rates.

Etminan said the letter Simforoosh signed amounts to “preventing a life-saving therapy at a time when people were dying, including a lot of his own colleagues in Iran.”

Meanwhile, those who studied under Simforoosh said he went out of his way to segregate patient interactions by gender.

The physicians say that while the regime separates men and women in various situations, medical training usually involves exposure to both so that doctors working in remote areas can treat both genders.

“It’s a double standard; if somebody like Dr. Simforoosh was working in Canada, he would have been fired from every professional medical community and organization,” said Dr. Katayoun Rahnavardi, a family doctor in Vancouver.

“Now we’re giving him an award; this doesn’t sound right to us.”

Simforoosh did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

The Société Internationale d’Urologie would not say whether Simforoosh will be heading to Montreal, nor how it screens award recipients.

“SIU has received several emails and other communications making allegations regarding Dr. Simforoosh. While these allegations are unsubstantiated, SIU takes them seriously,” reads an unattributed email.

The group said it has not publicly announced this year’s award recipients, but had chosen Simforoosh “based on his medical achievements” and couldn’t tell if the allegations were true.

“Our organization is making appropriate inquiries,” the statement reads.

Yet six doctors who reached out to SIU and started an online petition say SIU never reached out to verify their claims, and an October letter to Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly yielded no response.

“I feel that they have not taken us seriously; they have not taken time to look at what we are saying,” Rahnavardi said.

Joly’s office and Global Affairs Canada did not provide a comment Friday on whether SIU ought to present the award. The Immigration Department said it can’t comment on specific cases, such as whether Simforoosh had been issued a visa.

Dr. Hamidreza Abdi, a urology professor at Western University in London, Ont. was educated by Simforoosh and said he’s an excellent physician who upholds backwards views.

“I escaped from Iran because of people like him,” said Abdi.

During his hospital residency, Abdi recalled approaching Simforoosh to distract him while female peers assisted with male surgeries so that they’d be able to learn.

“It’s the wrong time for giving the award to this guy while Iranian girls are on the street fighting for the same values he was opposed to.”