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A woman places a candle beneath photographs of some of the people who died in the downing of Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 in Iran, during a vigil for the victims of the flight, at the Har El synagogue in West Vancouver, on Jan. 19, 2020.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

A Canadian government forensic report into the shooting down of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 blames the disaster on Iranian authorities’ “recklessness, incompetence and wanton disregard for human life.” It nevertheless falls short of accusing Iran of intentionally shooting down the passenger plane.

All 176 people on board – including 55 Canadian citizens, 30 permanent residents and 53 others who had been travelling to Canada via the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv – were killed when a pair of Iranian anti-aircraft missiles struck the plane shortly after it took off from Tehran’s main airport on Jan. 8, 2020.

Although Iran has prevented Canadian and Ukrainian authorities from carrying out a full on-the-ground investigation, the report, released Thursday in Ottawa, accepts the Iranian government’s official contention that the disaster was a result of human error – a surface-to-air missile operator who likely acted on their own in deciding to launch the missiles that struck Flight 752.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau says the absence of an accusation of premeditated murder does not let Tehran off the hook. “The facts are clear: Iran is responsible for the deaths of 176 innocent people,” he told reporters Thursday at a virtual press conference.

The passengers of UIA Flight 752: What we know about those we lost in the disaster

He said Canada remains committed to seek “full reparations from Iran in accordance with international law” and demand full transparency regarding the country’s response to this tragedy.

The Canadian forensic team’s job was detective work: to analyze all available evidence and construct the most complete narrative possible of events related to the downing of Flight 752, a task made more important after Iran delivered a report that Ottawa condemned as incomplete and lacking hard facts.

The team was headed by Jeff Yaworski, a former deputy director of operations at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

The report details the mistakes of senior Iranian authorities who had earlier launched a premeditated attack on U.S. positions in Iraq that they knew would likely generate an American response. It notes how Iran then put its air defence on the highest level of alert and “likely delegated” authority to fire on aerial targets to lower level staff. Plus, it positioned anti-aircraft batteries close to Tehran’s international airport and left it to Iranian Revolutionary Guards to monitor airspace. Finally, Iran decided to keep civilian airspace over Tehran open and issued no warnings to civilian aircraft, the report found.

“Iran failed to ensure the safety of its airspace or even notify airlines of the risks, thus setting the stage for a terrible tragedy to occur,” Mr. Garneau said.

Then, he said, the report found a “surface-to-air missile operator made a series of extremely flawed decisions that could have, and should have, been avoided.”

Finally, the minister said, the report found Iran’s military command failed to address this mistake in a timely manner.

The forensic investigation by Canada shows how Iran “has covered up information, bulldozed the crash site, providing only a misleading and superficial accounting of events,” the Foreign Affairs Minister said.

The Association of the Families of Flight PS752 Victims said the report highlights how the Iranian government has obfuscated and lied about what happened. But this “cannot be the final summary of what transpired,” the association said in a statement on Thursday. It urged Ottawa to put forth a “substantial monetary reward for any information that leads to identification and prosecution of those individuals responsible” for shooting down the plane.

Shahin Moghaddam, who lost his wife and son in the tragedy, said he feels it’s premature to conclude this was an error on the part of the surface-to-air missile operator rather than an intentional act. The Nobleton, Ont., man said he asked Canadian government officials in a conversation earlier Thursday to show him what evidence Canada has obtained to rule out premeditation. “Just show me one piece of evidence. ... There is nothing,” he said.

Mr. Garneau said he realizes some relatives of Flight 752 victims are upset that the report didn’t find conclusive evidence the Iranians intended to bring down the civilian plane.

“It is perfectly understandable they are feeling a sense of disappointment,” he told reporters. “We don’t have the complete truth. … For some things, only Iran can provide that.”

Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not respond Thursday to a request for comment on the Canadian report.

The report found that the errors and failings of Iranian officials combined to create conditions where an Iranian “surface-to-air (SAM) unit operator likely misidentified” Flight 752 as a hostile target.

“A series of acts and omissions by Iranian civil and military authorities caused a dangerous situation where previously identified risks were underestimated and not taken seriously,” it said.

A properly functioning military command-and-control system is designed to prevent such an error, the report said. It notes Iran has refused to provide “any substantive information” on what transpired. “Iran’s incomplete explanation of the events and the absence of supporting evidence undermines the credibility of its assertion that the SAM operator’s actions were the sole cause of the downing.”

The report found that “Iran showed a blatant disregard for the safety of civilian aircraft by failing to ensure the safe management of its airspace” that night.

Several hours before the disaster, Iran had fired multiple volleys of rockets at U.S. military targets in Iraq, in retaliation for the assassination of a top Iranian general several days earlier. Iranian air defences were then placed on highest alert in anticipation of a possible U.S. military response, but civilian planes, including Flight 752, continued to fly through Iranian airspace.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Iran to abandon its obstructiveness and allow the world to learn the full details of what happened to Flight 752.

“The forensic team has analyzed the information at its disposal, from public sources and classified intelligence, with professionalism and skill, but only Iran has full access to the evidence, crash site and witnesses,” he said in a statement on Thursday.

“The report demonstrates that Iran’s official account of events is disingenuous, misleading and superficial, and intentionally ignores key factors. The downing cannot be conveniently blamed on a few junior personnel. Senior regime officials made the decisions that led to this tragedy, and the world must not allow them to hide with impunity behind a handful of low-ranking scapegoats.”

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