x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Former Canadian ambassador pleased with Oscar thanks from Affleck

Argo came under criticism from some Canadians they say because it makes Canada look like a meek observer to CIA heroics.

The Canadian ambassador to Iran, Ken Taylor, briefs reporters in Tehran, a week before leaving the country with six Americans on January 27, 1980. Peter Bregg / The Canadian Press
The Canadian ambassador to Iran, Ken Taylor, briefs reporters in Tehran, a week before leaving the country with six Americans on January 27, 1980. Peter Bregg / The Canadian Press

TORONTO /// The former Canadian ambassador to Iran who protected Americans at great personal risk during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis says it was good to hear Ben Affleck thank Canada after Affleck's film Argo won the Oscar for best picture.

Argo came under criticism from some Canadians, including former ambassador Ken Taylor, who said he felt slighted by the movie because it makes Canada look like a meek observer to CIA heroics. Mr Taylor says it minimises Canada's role in the Americans' rescue.

Mr Taylor criticised Mr Affleck last week and said he hoped the director would acknowledge Canada's role. Mr Affleck briefly thanked Canada in his acceptance speech on Sunday.

"Finally, he mentioned Canada," Mr Taylor said. "Under the circumstances, I think that was fine. It certainly acknowledged Canada. I think certainly the movie was about CIA agent Tony Mendez. I think that President Carter's remarks put everything in proportion."

Jimmy Carter, the US president at the time of the saga, appeared on television last week and said, "90 per cent of the contributions to the ideas and the consummation of the plan was Canadian," but the film "gives almost full credit to the American CIA".

Mr Taylor kept the Americans hidden at his residence and at the home of his deputy, John Sheardown, in Tehran for three months and facilitated their escape by arranging plane tickets and persuading the Ottawa government to issue fake passports. He also agreed to go along with the CIA's film production cover story to get the Americans out of Iran.

Mr Taylor became a hero in Canada and in the United States where crowds celebrated with banners that proclaimed, "Thank you, Canada."

Mr Taylor said the movie makes it seem like the Canadians were just along for the ride. Mr Taylor and Mr Carter both noted that Mr Mendez, played by Affleck in the film, was only in Iran for a day and a half.

"The movie is done. President Carter expressed his views, and that's where we sit. I think, being realistic, there's not much at this point that can be realised," Mr Taylor said.

Argo also makes no mention of Sheardown, the first secretary at the embassy. Mr Taylor said it was Sheardown who took the first call from the American diplomats who had evaded capture when Iranian militants seized the US embassy in November 1979 and agreed right away to take the Americans in. Sheardown died on December 30, and his wife, Zena, called the movie disappointing.

Argo screenwriter Chris Terrio, who won best adapted screenplay prize Sunday night, mentioned Mr Taylor and Sheardown in his speech after saluting Mr Mendez.

"Thirty-three years ago Tony, using nothing but his creativity and his intelligence, got six people out of a very bad situation," said Mr Terrio, who based his script on Mr Mendez's book The Master of Disguise and a Wired magazine article by Joshuah Bearman.

"And so I want to dedicate this to him and the Taylors and the Sheardowns and people all over the world in the US, in Canada, in Iran, who use creativity and intelligence to solve problems non-violently."