The families of the Canadian victims of the Ukrainian passenger jet destroyed by Iranian missiles in January are pushing the federal government to put more pressure on Iran to conduct a transparent investigation into the crash.
The Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims, which represents the families affected by the tragedy, said that in the 160 days since the crash, delays and slow progress in the investigation have left the families wondering if they will ever know why their loved ones were killed. The group is seeking answers in a meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne to ask about the status of the investigation and the Canadian government’s plan to exert pressure on Iran.
“We need to know more," said Hamed Esmaeilion, a representative of the association, who lost his wife and nine-year-old daughter in the crash. "When we see Mr. Champagne next week, we want to hear from him what the road map is and the time frame for this. We can’t wait forever for negotiations.”
Shortly after departing the Tehran airport on January 8, Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 was hit by two Iranian missiles, killing all 176 people on board, including 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents starting to make their way home. Many other passengers, including students and academics returning to school after the winter break, were also headed for Canada.
After initially denying any role in the crash, Iran was forced to admit that its Revolutionary Guard fired two missiles at the plane. Hours before the crash, Iran launched missiles at two U.S. military bases in Iraq in retaliation for the United States killing its top general.
The association is urging the Canadian government to take Iran to the International Court of Justice to force a transparent investigation.
Britain, Ukraine, Afghanistan and Sweden, all of which also lost citizens on the plane, entered into an alliance with Canada to increase pressure on Iran. In late March, Ottawa appointed former Liberal public safety minister Ralph Goodale as its special adviser on the crash.
Mr. Goodale said in an interview that the negotiations are still in the early stages and Canada cannot yet pursue Iran in an international forum such as the Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization – the United Nations agency that helps co-ordinate safe and secure civilian air traffic – or the International Court of Justice.
He said that the next step requires the countries in the alliance to come to mutual agreements on the issues they need to pursue on behalf of the families in negotiations with Iran, such as compensation.
“That court does not have jurisdiction unless there have been a series of steps taken in advance to set up that jurisdiction,” Mr. Goodale said. “We are preparing the groundwork to have those negotiations and that means taking a consistent position across all five countries with an understanding about how we’ll approach these matters.”
More than five months after the crash, Iran has still not fulfilled its promise to the ICAO to hand over the black boxes with flight data and cockpit voice recorders from the Ukrainian jetliner to Ukrainian authorities by March 25.
Last week, Iran’s ICAO representative said that it would send the devices directly to the Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety in France, which has the necessary equipment needed to extract the data from the boxes.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is continuing to advocate for a full investigation “to ensure Iran lives up to its international obligations,” said Syrine Khoury, a spokesperson for the ministry, in an e-mail.
Such disasters can take years to fully investigate, Mr. Goodale said, referring to the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in 2014. The investigation resulted in murder charges last year.
“Whether we will ever get to the point of an absolutely complete picture at the end of the day, I guess we don’t know at this stage and it’s certainly going to be challenging,” he said. “But we’ll leave no stone unturned in making it as complete as possible for the families so that they know the truth.”
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