Escape from Iran

The Islamic Republic of Iran under Ayatollah Khomeini denied all human rights to a young woman and to her Baha’i community. She was threatened with imprisonment and execution. Today, she is an outspoken cheerleader for her adopted country.

By Marlo Fieldstone | Featured image courtesy of Kristen| Updated April 21, 2020

Fariba (all names changed to protect family members still in Iran) is a charming, elegant 58-year-old Iranian Baha’i woman with an inviting girlish giggle. She is confidently sitting in her spacious and opulent dining room in an exclusive Toronto neighbourhood. Her makeup and hair are subtly arranged, her jewelry understated. It’s her eyes that sparkle with delight and verve.

She is talking about her terrifying escape 36 years ago from persecution and possible death in Iran. Fariba and her Baha’i community were pariahs in Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Republic and were threatened with unlawful imprisonment because of their Baha’i faith. That horrific period in her life was as far away from her peaceful and safe life in Toronto as the alien and ghostly mountains of the moon.  

 In April 1984, Fariba illegally fled without a passport from Iran to neighbouring Pakistan. Three outlawed smugglers, who towered above her tiny 5 ft. frame, helped her escape Iran for US$2,500.    

She was a skinny, sheltered and frightened 21-year-old who left Tehran alone on a dangerous route at night in a speeding Toyota truck. Her younger brother had left Tehran earlier, and the rest of her family were smuggled out of Iran several months later. The beat-up vehicle sped through the vast empty Lut Desert in the southeastern part of Iran. The desert was one of the hottest and driest places on Earth with no water, no vegetation, and few living things.  

On the second night, the smugglers and Fariba walked through the night with two other young Baha’i women refugees through the Makran Mountains, a landscape of treacherous mountain ridges, and a lethal pass to the Pakistani border. The pass was notorious for human trafficking, drug smuggling, and cross-border terrorism.  

Why had she fled?

Soon after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Fariba’s father had lost his well-paying job at Iran’s National Radio and Television station. And, as a Baha’i, Fariba was forbidden to attend university or allowed to work. Nor could her family receive life-saving medical treatments.  

Without her father’s job, her parents could not afford their grand spacious home.  “We were forced to move to a bleak, distant suburb of Tehran,” she says. “Everything disappeared for us – poof.”  

 After the revolution, some members of Fariba’s Baha’i community “disappeared.” During the first decade of the revolution, more than 200 Baha’is were killed or executed, hundreds more were tortured or imprisoned, and tens of thousands lost jobs, access to education, and other rights – all solely because of their religious belief. An official letter ordered by Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s supreme leader, said: “Our agenda is to kill and eliminate all Baha’is.”  

The terror of police arrests and killings of Baha’i people created a silent “underground” exodus, which included Fariba (and later the rest of her large family) to  Pakistan.  

 A day after she crossed the perilous border path into Pakistan, Fariba arrived at the United Nations refugee offices in Quetta, a large city near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. A Canadian immigration officer asked her in Farsi what she would do to be eligible to come to Canada.    

“Anything,” she said.

“You are good,” the official said. “You can go to Canada.”   

It took nine unsettling months for Fariba to finally receive a visa for Canada. 

On February 25, 1985, she arrived in Toronto on British Airways as an asylum-seeking refugee sponsored by the Canadian government. She surprisingly found the drive from the airport to be “an empty land.” In Toronto, she says, “no people were walking on the streets, and the trees were bare.”  

She had little education, few job skills, and did not speak English. She took ESL classes, and, later, an accounting course at Seneca College. Money was scarce. Fariba supplemented her meagre income by waitressing Saturdays and Sundays. 

Three years later, Fariba got married to a fellow Iranian refugee and became a Canadian citizen. She and her husband built a successful luxury kitchen-cabinet business with nearly 100 employees. “Our company was like a family,” she says. 

In 2008, however, she “thought the world was ending.”  

Her doctors found a big lump on her right breast and told her it was cancer. “I got very sick,” she says. A few months later, her surgeon discovered malignant tumours in both her left and right breast. She has had a full mastectomy and seven surgeries in the past eleven years.  

As she recalls those difficult times, Fariba stares at the gentle twilight coming through an imposing picture window in her home. “In Canada, I was able to get free medical care and operations that I couldn’t get back in Iran due to their huge costs,” she says. She feels that she was well looked after by all the doctors and hospital staff.  

Enayat, a leading Iranian-Canadian in the Baha’i community, has been a friend of Fariba and her husband for over 15 years. “Fariba is an inspirational person,” he says. “She has had many challenges in her life, such as her illness; yet she shows strength, gratitude, and kindness to others rather than being miserable.” 

Fariba is well now and is monitored annually with an MRI scan and a medical check-up. “Life could have been much worse,” she says. “I have (Baha’i) friends whose lives are in danger but can’t leave Iran.”  

She has a radiant smile and speaks with the glee of a young schoolgirl: “It is the freedom in Toronto of being able to step out of my house, and not having to cover up my body, my hair, and not having to be fearful of who I meet.” She says that in Iran, “The Islamic Revolutionary Guard could stop me, question me, stick their nose in everybody’s business, and throw me in jail.”   

The grim memory of the guards is quickly gone. She recalls that in the early 1990s, she was returning with her husband from her first vacation, a week in Mexico. She becomes joyfully animated when she says that “we were flying over Toronto, and I thought, this is home. I am so glad that I am finally home.” 

Marlo Fieldstone, a Toronto freelance writer, can be reached at marlo.field@gmail.com

The Van Attack: One Year Later

A year ago, I witnessed one of Toronto’s greatest tragedies, an event that altered my view of the world. This is what I saw.

By Victoria Silman | Featured images courtesy of Victoria Silman | April 23, 2019

One year ago, the unfathomable hatred of a lonely man changed my life.

For as long as I can remember, images of tragedy committed by people with political and personal agendas flashing across 24-hour news channels have littered my life—as I’m sure they have of many others. One of my most vivid memories is watching the newscast of September 11. The video of planes flying into the side of the sky-high glass windows and burning buildings drew my attention to the 14-inch television screen in our kitchen. The TV sat up on the counter, so my tiny seven-year-old self had to stretch up on my toes to see it.

Though there is a disconnect watching tragedy on TV, this is not to say that I was ever ambivalent or naïve to mass murders around the world. However, 13 months ago, on April 23, it happened to me.

At approximately 1:30 p.m., on an unseasonably warm, sunny day, a man drove a large white rental van down the sidewalks of Yonge Street. He started at Finch Avenue, heading south, and ended up just south of Sheppard Avenue, hitting every person he possibly could in the two-kilometre stretch. His primary goal was to hit women. In the hours following the tragedy, April 23 would soon become synonymous with the “Toronto Van Attack.”

The suspect identified himself as an “incel”—short-form for “involuntarily celibate,” a term coined by the occupiers of the deep, dark web. Consisting of mostly men, this culture derives their hatred towards women from their lack of success at dating them.

While I had previously heard of this underground culture (mostly in passing), I never really envisioned my life to be directly affected by it.

But every day I look out my 11-floor apartment window at Earl Bales park, I’m reminded of it. Just beyond the serenity of the evergreen forest and suburban streets lies a stretch of skyscrapers lining Yonge street where the attack occurred—a constant image of the things I saw that day.

Like 9/11, me driving north on Yonge from Sheppard on that balmy Monday is still one of my most vivid memories. You never forget pools of crimson blood and bodies strewn along a busy street.  


Following the attack, a memorial was established at Mel Lastman Square | Victoria Silman | April 29, 2018.

Amid the chaos, a horrible silence descended on the street—an aura of shock in the air clouding over the shining sunlight.

My partner and I were initially on our way to a gym near York Mills Road when we were rerouted due to deadlocked traffic heading south on Yonge just passed Sheppard. We speculated there could be construction; however, we would later learn that the suspect was being apprehended only a few metres from where we were.

We decided to head north instead to eventually make our way to York University’s gym. Having been rerouted, we made our way north on Doris, eventually turning onto Elmwood, the street leading to Mel Lastman Square.

Passing by the square, I distinctly remember a man in beige pants performing CPR on what appeared to be a woman in a dark, knee-length skirt on the ground near some planters. Next to him, a woman was doing the same for another individual whom we couldn’t see. I initially thought perhaps it was a CPR course. There seemed to be hundreds of people populating the square—perhaps there was an event going on.

It wasn’t until we drove a little more north and spotted a glass bus shelter shattered on the sidewalk, people lying on both sides of the street, and first responders speeding towards us, that we realized something terrible had happened. Newscast images from truck attacks in Nice and Barcelona must have been embedded in my subconscious, because I distinctly remember thinking to myself “only a vehicle could have caused this carnage.”

As we continued driving, time seemed to slow down as first responders began arriving in the opposite direction we were travelling. Police cars jumped curbs in an effort to get to victims quickly. One officer on foot covered the face of a victim—a man I recognized once the names of the victims were released— lying on the side of the road before he set off to help another.

It didn’t really hit me until fiery orange body bags began engulfing the street.

My recollection of the events of that day is framed by one person I spoke to: Rachel Hernandez, a young, vibrant 22-year-old, who worked at Jack Astor’s, which faces Mel Lastman Square. She witnessed the aftermath of the attack.

Initially, Hernandez noticed some commotion outside, but didn’t think it was a major emergency. She saw a person performing chest compressions on someone lying on the ground but assumed they may have had a heart attack on the sidewalk. Little did she know 10 lives were ending on the stretch of Yonge Street she walks down every day.


That was the first time I saw the body bags—we could see Mel Lastman Square from the booths on the second floor.

It wasn’t until half an hour later that she realized the situation was far more serious. “That is when we noticed there were a lot of ambulances outside the restaurant. I kept working, but guests started crowding to get near the windows and kept looking out,” she says.

“Some of our coworkers started to get near the windows, too. I thought ‘ok something is happening,’ so I went over to the windows. That was the first time I saw the body bags—we could see Mel Lastman Square from the booths on the second floor. It was extremely shocking.”

Guests at Jack Astor’s checked the news, informing Hernandez and the rest of the staff what had happened just steps from their work. “I was shocked—a van attack happened right outside our restaurant. It was really scary,” she says. In this time, officers came in looking for witness statements, bringing her into the reality of the situation.

Jack Astor’s staff had cleared out the rest of the guests, and, after providing statements to police, they gathered around the bar on the first floor to watch CP24 on the slew of televisions on the wall. Watching the story unfold, they cried together.

Some time later, as I sat at home, lying shocked and dazed with bloodshot eyes from crying for hours following the attack, Hernandez was getting ready to leave work. Police informed her and other staff at Jack Astor’s that they would require a police escort armed with an assault rifle to leave the building and head to their transportation. Stepping onto the street alongside the officer brought a range of emotions to her.

“It was so eerie—we walked out of Jack’s and the streets were completely empty. Only police officers and ambulances were there. An officer with a rifle was escorting us to a block or two down,” she says.

On April 24, the day following the attack, I went with my roommate to Mel Lastman Square to lay flowers on our way out of the city. Crime scene cleaners were just finishing spraying blood from the sidewalk when we arrived. It was cloudy and grey, and the sunny day accompanied by aura of shock from the previous day had turned into a sprinkling of rain and the pouring of grief down on the city.

On the anniversary of the tragedy, supporters laid flowers at a memorial plaque at Mel Lastman Square | Victoria Silman | April 23, 2019.

Community members laid flowers in and around the large planter at the corner of the square near Starbucks. Throughout the week, letters, candles, and bouquets began flowing past the bright red Muskoka chairs near the planter. Signs proclaiming “love for all, hatred for none” stuck out behind the overflowing flowers. Just down the street at Finch, a group of mourners 

The months following allowed for the community to gain some semblance of normality. The skies became brighter and the weather warmer, though witnesses and victims continued to deal with the mental, emotional, and physical scars from their traumas.

Sometimes when I’m walking down a street in Toronto, I catch myself holding my breath and my heartrate rising as a large white van drives by—perhaps a common reaction from others who witnessed the same horrors.

When I spoke to Hernandez in November, I asked her how the attack has affected her life in public. “Today I went to the bank right by Yonge and Finch,” she said. “Even now when I walk, I do so closer to the building instead of next to the road. I’m still kind of traumatized from it.”

It’s been exactly a year since a self-proclaimed incel ran down 26 people, killing 10, critically wounding 16 others, and altering the lives of hundreds of witnesses.  Since then, other tragedies have held my attention with unrelenting force. The Danforth shooting, and the Christchurch attack both kept me up until the early hours of the morning, recounting my emotions and experiences in witnessing the death of multiple people.

Reflecting in the late of the night, I always remember the flaw in my thinking 13 months ago. While it feels these tragedies always happen to other people, we must not forget that other person could be you.

Victoria is a freelance writer, Executive Editor, Developer for The Scribbler. For inquiries, please contact her at victoriamsilman@gmail.com.

The Counterfeit Clothing Wars

When fast fashion companies copy independently-made designs, Toronto’s independent artists find that fighting back is rarely an easy battle to win.

By Olivia Quenneville | Featured image courtesy of Pexels | April 17, 2019

During the last week of November 2018, Khloe Kardashian’s clothing brand, Good American, released a holiday collection that included a black crewneck with red lettering that read: “Santa is a woman.” When she saw it, Megan Campagnolo – a 29-year-old Toronto designer and owner of the independent brand Rosehound Apparel – was convinced Kardashian had ripped off her design. Campagnolo immediately posted photos of the copied crewneck on Rosehound’s Instagram account, comparing it to a design she released a year prior: a red crewneck with white lettering, and the exact same text. It was as a holiday edition of her “Satan is a woman” design. The post received hundreds of comments and re-posts from offended Rosehound fans, but the copycat crewneck has so far remained on Good American’s website, with no comment from Kardashian.

A number of alleged counterfeit cases involving independent artists started emerging in the media around 2011. According to social media and news coverage, it seems many Toronto artists have been increasingly involved in such matters in recent years. But due to factors such as costly litigation, Canada’s complex copyright laws, and having neither fame nor major-brand reputation to support them, independent artists are left with few, if any, practical options to protect their work. As a result, they are increasingly becoming easy targets for cunning fast fashion companies who know these artists do not have the resources to fight back if their designs are poached.

Some of the following victims have had varying degrees of success in combatting the infringements:

Prashant Gopal, a 34-year-old artist from Toronto and owner of the independent brand Yo Sick, found his original pizza slice design reproduced on a t-shirt sold by American Eagle in August 2015. After Gopal contacted the company, the shirt was removed from American Eagle’s website and store and never seen again. Although he had convinced American Eagle that it had violated his rights, Gopal received no compensation.

In 2016, Jody Edwards, who lives in St. Catharines, found her watercolour-painted feathers reproduced on a women’s shirt sold at Winners, Marshalls, and Nordstrom Rack. She contacted the companies and was told the shirts would no longer be produced. She also contacted the supplier, who was responsible for the copies and wanted to negotiate a settlement.

In 2015, Burton Snowboards released no-slip children’s mittens one year after ordering a similar product from the original Toronto designer, Anna-Maria Mountfort. In 2018, Burton stopped making the product, but would not compensate Mountfort nor admit to their mistake.

The Kardashian case was not Campagnolo’s first and only experience with counterfeiting, nor was it Gopal’s. Both artists have pursued cases of infringement with certain companies, ending in settlement. (Details about these cases are confidential.) Even though Campagnolo says she doesn’t feel threatened by counterfeiting, it is still something that makes her upset and she says wants her designs to be sold and attributed fairly. Besides, Rosehound Apparel has been her full-time job since its conception in 2013 as a fourth-year project in Ryerson’s fashion program.


“The line between imitation and blatant stealing is thinning.”

Campagnolo’s cubicle-like studio is in a two-storey, poorly-lit building near the Annex in Toronto, which is constantly humming and smells like sawdust. Partitioned by five-foot walls and painted pretty pink Pantone #196, Campagnolo’s corner of the shared room is adorned with assorted original products – enamel pins of young Leonardo DiCaprio’s face, chenille cartoon cat patches, car air fresheners – jumbled in bins and boxes. Open cardboard boxes tightly packed with “Satan is a woman” crewnecks and the latest, golden yellow “All flash no cash” design line one wall. A coir doormat that reads “Go to hell” peeks out beneath them. Campagnolo is in her element among the sounds and smells, reclined in one of the mismatched wooden chairs at a long rectangular table in the middle of the room. The cuffs of her sweater meet tiny tattoos sprinkled over her fingers, just as dark brown bangs lead to her stone blue eyes and wispy eyelashes. She embodies the theme of Rosehound’s brand – a classic, vintage character – but in the body of a millennial.

While Rosehound is very much about pastel tones, flowers, and girlhood, it has an equally gritty, rebellious side that Campagnolo also manifests. As soon as she finds someone has copied one of her designs, Campagnolo’s first reaction is to post it on social media, reclaim her design, and expose the perpetrator’s wrongdoing. This is exactly what she did in 2015 when she found out Forever 21 had copied Rosehound’s compact mirror – matte pink and heart-shaped, with the words “Not Your Baby” written in gold Candice typeface on the outside. Coincidentally, Forever 21 used the same manufacturer as Rosehound, and a contact from the factory notified Campagnolo of a similar design in production about a year after the original was released. The only noticeable alteration on the copy was the text, “Not Ur Baby,” written in a substantially similar font. When challenged, the company claimed it did not know about the copied designs. Forever 21’s version of the product was never released in stores, however, which meant Campagnolo couldn’t pursue a case against it.

The classic cliché says, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” but the line between imitation and blatant stealing is thinning. Gopal says he instantly recognized the line work on American Eagle’s copy of his pizza design and had no doubt it was a replica.

Both he and Campagnolo believe their work is discovered when fast fashion companies comb through social media for marketable designs and search popular hashtags for trends. Fast fashion – which fashion news outlets The Good Trade and Fashionista believe emerged in the early 2000s – is the quick mass-production of cheap garments inspired by runway styles. Social media and the Internet allow artists to share their work and connect with fans, but it also becomes the new “runway,” making designs more accessible than ever. Campagnolo says many artists are aware of companies lurking online and have stopped using hashtags on posts because they were leading companies to their products. She and Gopal now make products that contrast mainstream trends; she doesn’t think companies, for example, will copy designs featuring cigarettes and Satan.

But ethical conduct is not always a fast fashion company’s first order of business. Copying an artist’s design is both unethical and illegal, yet some companies still do it. Chris MacDonald – an associate professor who teaches business ethics and critical thinking at Ryerson University – says though there are times when ethics and the law overlap, some companies may be relying on the cynical approach that if they can get away with something then it’s okay. Although American Eagle’s code of ethics says, “You should never make unauthorized copies of material from books, magazines…websites, products, [etc.]…” it still stole Gopal’s pizza design.

There could be many motives leading a company to infringe upon an artist’s copyright, including the consideration for profits and power over property. Companies will rely on legal and financial resources to protect themselves, which is why many cases like these are referred to as a “David and Goliath” situation. (Forever 21 and American Eagle were contacted for comment on this article but neither company responded.)

Although it would be beneficial to society and artists to take these cases to court, expose fast fashion companies’ business models, and create new case law in the process, it is rarely economically practical to take legal action. Shan Arora, an intellectual property lawyer at Shift Law in Toronto, says it is important to talk to a lawyer to get an honest assessment of the strength of your case before deciding to proceed with litigation.

Arora says a trial would typically cost no less than $100,000. Just sending a demand letter, which is usually the first step in such a case, can cost between $750 and $2,500. According to the Ellyn Business Counsel, a business litigation and arbitration firm in Toronto, elements such as the complexity of the case, volume of documents, and number of motions could stretch a case out for about two years before reaching trial. Toronto-based entertainment and IP lawyer, Raquiya Austin, says artists are often encouraged to settle for reasons such as these. For someone like Campagnolo, who runs her business by herself and relies on her products as a sole source of income, options costing large amounts of time and money are far-fetched. Gopal agrees, saying it is best to pick and choose which battles you get into. “It’s just not worth going after,” he says. “I don’t have the power to do this, I don’t have the time, I don’t have the dollars to do this, and [I don’t know] what could possibly come out of it.” Even if the designer wins, “Settlement negotiations can vary widely from a few thousand dollars to a few tens of thousands of dollars,” Arora says.

Fast fashion companies are likely also reluctant to put time and money towards litigation. Arora says the examination for discovery in a case is a major deterrent that may lead either party to settle, as documents could possibly reveal evidence of access to or actual infringement of the work in question. Negotiating a settlement with a non-disclosure agreement could protect a company’s image and provide damage control.

Unfortunately, turning to copyright law for a solution can also be an onerous task. Copyright is an area of intellectual property law that protects an author’s right to produce, copy, or perform their own literary or artistic work. It is an infringement of copyright when someone else does something the Copyright Act grants only the original owner the right to do. When fashion is involved, copyright law becomes more complicated. Copyright cannot protect ideas, only the fixed expression of ideas. For example, a drawing can be protected, but not the idea for a drawing. The Copyright Act of Canada does not recognize useful articles – anything that serves a utilitarian function – as copyrightable work, which means clothing cannot be protected. The concept drawing for the design of a shirt can be protected, but the shirt itself, as a useful article, cannot.


“You want there to be enough protection that people are incentivized to create, but you also don’t want to stifle creativity.”

Section 64 of the Copyright Act outlines exceptions related to useful articles that could be applied to these cases. For example, surface coverings, woven or knitted patterns, and graphics are all pieces that can be protected as long as they can be recognized as “art” apart from the clothing. Arora believes if an artist’s original design is on an article of clothing, the design itself could be the subject of copyright. He says, “I think that is consistent with copyright law because you’re saying the design has copyright. You’re not saying that the design of the shirt [or] the shape of the shirt is the subject of copyright. But the designon the shirt can be taken out separately.”

However, it is because of these exceptions and complications that Roger Fisher – a York University professor specializing in the areas of music copyright and the history of copyright policy – believes copyright law and its purpose can be misunderstood. He says copyright law was originally a statute that protected intellectual works, like books, created by people of the aristocracy. “It’s not really designed to be the kind of remedy for local artists. It is available, but it’s still very cumbersome.” Arora says copyright law needs to be understood as a balance of interests. The purpose of copyright is meant to protect works and promote the creation of new works. “You want there to be enough protection that people are incentivized to create, but you also don’t want to stifle creativity.”

Both Campagnolo and Gopal acknowledge their designs are inspired by pre-existing concepts – the incentives to create. Rosehound Apparel takes inspiration from vintage books while Yo Sick plays with local advertisements and anthropomorphic food. These artists are not appropriating, but are injecting their own style into existing concepts to create new works. However, American Eagle could easily argue they were inspired by Gopal’s pizza drawing when they reproduced it on a shirt and added a heart design to make it “new.” It is when everyone is asserting copyright that problems arise, Fisher says.

If an artist truly believes their original work has been copied, whether or not they own copyright over it, the cheapest and most immediate response to counterfeiting is to expose the copy. This has become many artists’ first instinct when they find their work stolen, whether it is their own or that of a fellow artist. Campagnolo says exposing copies is the easiest thing you can do to fight back and get people on the artist’s side. And it works. Some cases make it to the news, like Mountfort and Edwards’ stories, which were reported on the CBC.

Maybe what artists want most when their work is stolen is credit. “That can be enough: letting people know. Maybe they’ll support the next thing you do a little bit more,” says Gopal. If companies don’t consider where their designs are coming from, neither will their customers. Campagnolo believes people appreciate designs more when they know it is made locally and not from a machine. “I have 80,000 Instagram followers but you don’t know who I am unless you come here and see [that] it’s just me here, packing up cardboard boxes,” she says. She does this two or three times a week, by herself, in the pink cubicle.

Olivia Quenneville is a freelance writer. For inquiries, please contact her at
olivia.quenneville@gmail.com