The families and friends of those who died when a Ukraine International Airlines flight was shot down by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard say they won’t give up their quest for accountability and justice as they gathered in several Canadian cities to mark the third anniversary of the attack.
Memorial events were held in Toronto, Edmonton and other cities across the country on Sunday to remember the 176 people killed on Jan. 8, 2020, when Flight 752 was hit by a missile shortly after taking off from Tehran. The plane was bound for Canada via Ukraine, and 55 passengers were Canadian citizens while another 30 were permanent residents.
Iran initially denied responsibility for the attack, but said days later that its military had fired two missiles after mistaking the plane for a cruise missile. Canada and its allies, as well as the victims’ families, have dismissed Iran’s explanation and have demanded accountability.
Amir Arsalani, who lost his sister, brother-in-law and 16-month-old niece in the attack, said it was powerful to be able to congregate and see people in person after years of grieving alone because of the pandemic.
“It feels like a big family gathering, even though some of the people we haven’t met face to face, but we still feel so close together,” said Mr. Arsalani.
“We did cry and we did mourn‚ but that didn’t lose our power or intention to be stronger to proceed.”
Many in the community are tentatively celebrating news that the international response group for the downing of Flight 752 – comprised of Canada, Ukraine, Britain and Sweden – formally started the process on Dec. 28 to take Iran to international court, in an action that could compel the Iranian government to compensate the victims’ families.
Iran’s government has missed deadlines at many points in the investigation process around the crash, and initially declined to send the downed flight’s black box to Western countries for examination.
Tehran has refused to negotiate reparations over the incident with Canada and its allies for years, and December’s move formally requests that Iran submit to binding arbitration under an international dispute-resolution process governed by the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation.
If Iran doesn’t agree to arbitration within six months, the case can be referred to the International Court of Justice.
In Edmonton, Reza Akbari said waiting three years for Iran to be held accountable has been frustrating and painful. He lost a friend who was flying to surprise her parents and was flying back home aboard Flight 752
“We’ve been living the last three years with no answers to all the questions we’ve had,” said Mr. Akbari, president of the Iranian Heritage Society of Edmonton, who added that action should’ve been taken sooner.
He said the current situation in Iran, where the regime has detained and in some cases executed protesters involved in widespread demonstrations that have rocked the country for months, exemplify why the government there has to be held accountable for the incident.
“Unless there’s consequences, then a crime like this could happen again,” said Mr. Akbari.
“The bottom line is we fought three years, and we will continue fighting every single day ahead of us.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reaffirmed his commitment to seeking justice for the victims of Flight 752 during an emotional ceremony in Toronto.
“This tragedy happened because of the Iranian regime’s heinous disregard for human life,” Mr. Trudeau said in remarks directed at grieving relatives. “Your grief has been compounded by their refusal to be held accountable.”
Meanwhile, critics of the Iranian regime living in Western countries, including Canada and the United States, have accused Tehran of harassment and intimidation.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service said it is aware of hostile state actors including Iran that are disproportionately targeting Iranian diaspora in Canada who speak out against the country’s regime.
“The tactics and tools used for such purposes include cyberespionage and threats designed to silence those who speak out publicly against them,” read a statement from CSIS spokesperson Eric Balsam.
“We take these threats seriously and continue to collect information and investigate reports of Canada-based individuals having experienced harassment and intimidation from threat actors linked to the Islamic Republic of Iran.”