Peter McKay with date Nazanin Afshin-Jam, at the 2010 True Patriot Love Tribute Dinner, Nov. 10, 2010 in Toronto.
Now Nazanin Afshin-Jam, 31, is the new girlfriend of one of the most highly recognizable serial monogamists in the country.
That would be Defence Minister Peter MacKay, who she met six years ago when she came to Ottawa to speak about human rights abuses.
“Mr. MacKay was very helpful and they became friends,” her spokeswoman Valentina Medici wrote in an email Thursday before declining to share any more details.
Her curriculum vitae might just be more impressive than his.
Afshin-Jam is a human-rights activist who devotes unpaid full-time hours to saving children in her native Iran from execution.
She has a degree in international relations and political science from the University of British Columbia, studied at the prestigious Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris and is working on a master’s degree in diplomacy with a concentration in international conflict management.
She is fluent in English, French and Persian and speaks some Spanish too. She started flying planes when she was a teenager. She had a bit part in the movie sequel to Scooby Doo. And she is beautiful. No, really beautiful. She won contests for it.
Afshin-Jam immigrated with her family to North Vancouver, B.C., after having fled Iran for Spain when she was just a baby.
Her father had been general manger of the Sheraton Hotel in Tehran where music, alcohol and the mingling of men and women — all forbidden by the Islamic fundamentalists who came into power with the Iranian Revolution in 1979 — was just part of the routine.
So, he was thrown in jail, lashed and was headed for death by firing squad when a friend managed to secure his release. Afshin-Jam was still in grade school when she saw the scars on his back. Championing human rights became her calling.
“Do you ever think about what your life would be like if your family stayed there?” she was asked in an April 2006 interview with the National Review Online.
“All the time,” she replied. “This is why I am so dedicated to helping those stuck in such a repressive regime.”
Her fight to end the most severe form of female oppression — state-sanctioned death — began in earnest, oddly, with beauty pageants.
“I always go back to what are the blessings God has given me and how can I best use them,” Afshin-Jam told the Vancouver Sun in October 2008. “Beauty is a blessing and it shouldn’t be something that’s looked down on . . . [But] I always have to prove myself because [my body] is just a shell. It’s not who I am.”
She won the title of Miss World Canada in 2003 and placed as first runner-up in the global version of the competition, a high-enough level of fame that it spurred a French human rights activist to send her a letter that changed her life.
It was about the case of another young woman with the same first name — Nazanin Mahabad Fatehi — an Iranian teenager who was sentenced to death by stoning for killing one of three men who were trying to rape her and her niece.
Afshin-Jam took up her cause and circulated a petition that garnered more than 300,000 signatures worldwide and has been lauded as instrumental in saving the girl from a barbaric end.
Her efforts also caught the attention of former MP Belinda Stronach, another famous girlfriend of MacKay who he claimed — publicly in a television interview at home with his dog — broke his heart when she crossed the floor from the Conservatives to the Liberals to help save the government of Paul Martin in 2005.
Stronach in fact used her first opportunity in Question Period after the Conservatives came to power to ask MacKay, who was then foreign affairs minister, whether he had received assurances from the Iranian embassy that Fatehi would receive a new trial.
His sarcastic tone as he remarked on her “recent interest in the case” was duly noted at the time, although it was nothing compared to the uproar he caused when Stronach alleged he had called her a dog while muttering in the House of Commons later that year.
A generous donation from Stronach also helped pay the bond that got Fatehi released from Islamic court.
The ex-girlfriend of her future boyfriend was not the only unexpected person to help champion her chosen cause.
The other, at least indirectly, was Calvin Ayre, a self-described farm boy from Saskatchewan who became a billionaire by launching the Internet gambling empire Bodog and bragged toForbes magazine in 2006 that he gets around U.S. laws by being based in other countries.
His Costa Rica mansion was raided by local authorities not long after the story was published. They were looking for an illegal poker game but found only a wrap party for a poker championship reality television series.
Afshin-Jam was there the night of the raid as a host of the series.
“News media sensationalized the event,” said Medici, who said the raid stemmed from a noise complaint and noted Hollywood celebrities and even children were there at the time.
Medici said Afshin-Jam met Ayre only a handful of times at corporate events and to discuss some charity initiatives. His charitable organization, for example, produced and funded a documentary about Fatehi featuring Afshin-Jam in 2007 and put out several press releases about her activism.
She also recorded an album — and accompanying music videos — for the music arm of the company after it bought out her previous label, featuring a political song about Iran but alsoanother that at one point features her running in a red décolleté dress and at another smacking the tip of her tongue against her palate as she stares into the camera and says “you were my lover.”
It might be worth noting that, according to the 2008 Vancouver Sun article, Afshin-Jam also believes the Conservative government was wrong not to demand that Omar Khadr be sent home to Canada from the U.S. detention centre in Guantanamo Bay.
A spokesman for MacKay declined to comment for this story and a spokesperson for Ayre said he was travelling in Asia and could not be reached.