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, celebrating the Iranian New Year.

The crowd erupted in loud applause after Harper made the remarks directed at the Iranian regime, on which the prime minister has taken a hard stance in recent years.

Harper called Nowruz a time of renewal, and he told the audience he shares their hope that Iran will go through its own renewal and one day become a “thriving, open country.”

But he said until that time, his government will ensure that people who seek refuge from the Iranian regime can access freedom, democracy and justice in Canada as Canadians.

The Conservative government has drawn a firm line on Iran in recent years, after closing its embassy in Tehran and expelling Iranian diplomats from Canada in 2012.