10/10/2013 06:05 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Man returns to Canada after years on death row in Iran

An Iranian-Canadian man who returned to Canada Thursday after being on death row in Iran says he's grateful to be back home safe.

Hamid Ghassemi-Shall had been in an Iranian prison since he was arrested in 2008 and charged with espionage until he was freed last month.

He arrived back in Toronto this week and was interviewed Friday on CBC's Metro Morning. He told host Matt Galloway he's elated to be back on Canadian soil.

"I felt great since yesterday when I arrived at Pearson, especially when I saw my wife. It was just like giving me the whole world.”

Ghassemi-Shall, who emigrated from Iran after that country's 1979 revolution, was sentenced to death in 2009 and an Iranian court later rejected an appeal.

Prior to his arrest, the Toronto shoe salesman had made several trips back to visit family without incident.

Ghassemi-Shall said his arrest began after started to ask Iranian security forces about his brother, who had himself been arrested 12 days earlier.

“Obviously there was a conspiracy against my brother and they were using me as a bargaining chip," he said. Ghassemi-Shall told CBC his brother died in prison.

Ghassemi-Shall said his captors tried repeatedly to get a confession out of him and his brother.

“We couldn’t confess for something we never committed. I told him we haven’t done anything wrong. Therefore I’m not going to apologize."

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Lynne Yelich says the government is relieved by the positive outcome of Ghassemi-Shall's case.

However, Yelich says Ottawa remains concerned by the "untold numbers of political prisoners languishing in Iran's notorious prison system."