Canadian officials will be on the ground in Tehran this week to help identify remains and co-ordinate with families of people who died on a Ukrainian passenger flight that was shot down by the Iranian military, the federal government says.
Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said on Sunday that Iran issued more visas for Canadian officials, and that he expects a full team of consular staff to be in place by Tuesday. He said on Twitter that three members of the group arrived in Tehran on Saturday to establish a base of operations for the Canadian government.
Mr. Champagne said visas have been approved for six additional members of the team currently stationed in Ankara, Turkey, as well as for two experts from the Transportation Safety Board, saying that they will travel to Iran on Monday.
He told reporters last week that Canadian officials had been standing by in Ankara, waiting for admission to Iran to help identify victims and provide consular services.
Canada’s Transportation Safety Board plans to visit the site of the crash, on the invitation of Iran’s Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau. In addition to the two investigators departing for Tehran on Monday, the federal agency said it will deploy a second team of investigators who “specialize in aircraft recorder download and analysis” once it confirms when the analysis will take place.
Vigils were held across the country over the weekend for the victims of the plane crash, including larger gatherings in Toronto and Edmonton.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he told Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during a phone call that Iran’s admission is an important step but that more has to be done.
Mr. Trudeau said a “full and complete investigation must be conducted,” and said he emphasized to Mr. Rouhani the necessity of Canada’s participation in the investigation.
All 176 people aboard Flight 752 were killed, including 57 Canadians.
Farnaz Madani is mourning the death of her sister, Firouzeh Madani, and brother-in-law, Naser Pourshabanoshibi, who were on their way back to North Vancouver after visiting Dr. Pourshabanoshibi’s parents in Iran.
Ms. Madani said Canadian government officials on Friday told her she will need to provide a DNA sample – at a time and place yet to be determined – in order to assist with the identification of her sister’s remains. She said she was told that the RCMP and international police agency Interpol would be involved in the process. (The RCMP and Interpol did not immediately respond to requests for comment about their roles.)
Both family doctors in Iran, Dr. Madani and Dr. Pourshabanoshibi moved to Canada in 2013 in search of a better life. While they worked to obtain credentials in their new country, Dr. Madani got a job as a pharmacy assistant and Dr. Pourshabanoshibi drove a taxi. They leave behind a 19-year-old daughter.
The family has not yet finalized where the couple’s remains will be buried, but Ms. Madani said she hopes the fact that her sister and brother-in-law both held Iranian and Canadian citizenship will not complicate any potential repatriation process.
Iran, after all, does not recognize dual citizenship. “This is a bit of a concern,” Ms. Madani said, adding that she is waiting for Canadian officials to advise her as to her next steps. In the meantime, she is surrounded by loved ones who travelled from around the world to support her as she grieves. “My sister was a wonderful, smart, amazing person,” she said. “Same thing with her husband.”
The Canadian consular presence is out of the norm. Ever since Ottawa suspended diplomatic relations with Iran in 2012, the Italian embassy in Tehran has been representing Canadian interests in the country.
After days of denying responsibility for shooting down the plane, Iran’s senior leaders apologized on Saturday.
“Our profound regrets, apologies and condolences to our people, to the families of all victims, and to other affected nations,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter. He called it “a sad day,” while insisting the shoot-down was a result of “human error” during a crisis “caused by U.S. adventurism.”
The plane was shot down several hours after Iran had fired missiles at U.S. and coalition military bases in Iraq in retaliation for the U.S. assassination of Iranian military commander General Qassem Soleimani. The statement was a reversal of earlier assertions from Iranian authorities that denied a missile was the cause and instead blamed mechanical failure.
A senior officer of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corp., speaking on state television on Saturday, said an air-defence operator had mistaken the Ukrainian passenger jet for a cruise missile.
Amir Ali Hajizadeh, head of the aerospace division at the elite military unit, said the military had requested a no-fly order to prohibit flights by all aircraft on Wednesday, including civilian aircraft, but it was not approved. He did not explain why the government had failed to approve the requested order.
Protesters flooded the streets of Tehran both Saturday and Sunday night, demonstrating their anger at Iran shooting down the plane. Video clips on social media from outside a university in Tehran showed students chanting “Death to the dictator.”
Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has expressed his “deep sympathy” to the families of the victims and called on the armed forces to “pursue probable shortcomings and guilt in the painful incident.”