03/22/2015 12:13 EDT | Updated 05/22/2015 05:59 EDT

Harper Expresses Hopes For A 'Tyranny' Free Iran At Canadian Iranian Gala

VANCOUVER - Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he hopes one day Iran will be "free from tyranny," and until then Canada will be a place of refuge for Iranians.

Harper delivered opening remarks Saturday night in Vancouver to a large audience at the Canadian Iranian Foundation's 10th Annual Nowruz Gala.

The prime minister called Nowruz, the Iranian new year, "a time of renewal and rebirth."

"Know that our government shares your hope that Iran itself will experience a renewal, that one day Iran will be a thriving, open country, and that the Iranian people will live free from tyranny and oppression," he said.

"But until that time, our government will ensure that those who seek refuge from the Iranian regime can access freedom, democracy and justice here in Canada as Canadians."

The crowd erupted in loud applause after Harper made the remarks. The Conservative government has taken a hard stance on Iran in recent years, after closing its embassy in Tehran and expelling Iranian diplomats from Canada in 2012.

Harper went on to quote the Iranian poet Fereydoon Moshiri as writing: "Slowly, slowly, the spring is coming, what a beautiful world."

"Today, our government joins with Iranians the world over in seeking the return of spring to Iran," Harper said.

National defence and multiculturalism minister Jason Kenney and local Conservative MPs Andrew Saxton and John Weston also spoke at the event.

Kenney said in 2005 Canada received about 5,000 permanent residents from Iran, but that number jumped to 11,000 in 2014.

"At the same time we've taken measures to do everything we can to ensure that those who are joining us in Canada intend to become good Canadians and to respect Canada's values and to integrate successfully as Canadians, just as so many of you have done," Kenney said.

Kenney was Immigration Minister in 2011 when the government banned anyone from taking the Citizenship oath with their face covered, including women wearing the niqab. A Federal Court judge struck down the policy last month, but the government has said it intends to appeal.

A small group of protesters gathered outside the event on Saturday night holding "Stop Harper" signs and expressing concerns about the government's proposed anti-terror legislation, Bill C-51.

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