Photos of 13 smiling Iranians watched over the thousands of Edmontonians who filled a University of Alberta sports centre Sunday to remember those from the university community killed in the downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752.
A young couple camping in The Rockies. Sisters laughing at the West Edmonton Mall. Friends embracing in front of Lake Louise. Three women waving Canadian flags. A young man donning a graduation cap and gown. Through speeches, poetry readings, Iranian music, laughter and tears, the Edmonton service – one of many vigils held across the country in recent days – celebrated the achievements and lives of the 13 men, women and children.
Calling the crash a “Canadian tragedy,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed to do all in his power to pursue a full, transparent investigation into why and how the aircraft was shot down by an Iranian missile outside Tehran.
“We will not rest until there are answers. We will not rest until there is justice and accountability,” Mr. Trudeau said at the service in Edmonton.
While the memories of each victim differed, an overall feeling of love for each smart, hard-working and compassionate Iranian-Canadian was woven through every story.
As Edmontonians remembered their colleagues and friends killed in the crash, so too Iranians in their homeland spoke of their losses.
Salar Fallahain, a family doctor based in Ontario, talked to The Globe and Mail from Iran about his friend Amir Ovaysi. Mr. Ovaysi, a 42-year-old mechanical engineer living in Newmarket, Ont., was killed alongside his wife, Sara Hamzeei, and their six-year-old daughter, Asal Ovaysi.
Dr. Fallahain said Mr. Ovaysi didn’t want his family staying at Tehran airport after they dropped them off, fearing the building could be a target if war were to break out between Iran and the U.S.
The feeling in Iran has passed beyond disbelief and sadness. It’s now anger, said Dr. Fallahain, who was visiting family in Iran.
The crash “has put us to a new level of anger,” he said.
“Of course,” he replied when asked if he was concerned about the ramifications of speaking out against the government. “But people are so angry that they are speaking more freely, as if they don’t have anything else to lose anymore.
“I took the risk to speak out, because this is the time to speak out about everything.”
Dr. Fallahain is due this week to return to Canada, which he calls home. But after criticizing the government, he’s not sure he’ll be allowed to leave Iran.
“They might arrest me but it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter anymore.”
Dr. Fallahain, who has lived in Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal and Newfoundland, knew about 20 of the victims and said he appreciates the Canadian government pushing Iran for answers.
“I don’t care about Liberals or Tories or anything else, but I care about this kindness and what Trudeau did right now,” he said.
The service at the University of Alberta echoed vigils from Vancouver to Calgary, Winnipeg and Halifax. Universities, which lost respected professors and promising students in the crash, lowered their flags to half-mast and held memorials on their campuses.
At the University of Toronto on Sunday, tearful mourners read the names, ages and occupations of the dead, showing photos of the victims, young and old. They were newlyweds, academics, engineers, doctors, entrepreneurs and children.
“We have lost such incredible people – this is this university’s loss, this is Toronto’s loss, this is Ontario’s loss, and this is Canada’s loss,” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told those gathered at the university’s Convocation Hall, where candles flickered against a backdrop of white flowers.
At the University of Alberta, one-on-one and group counselling has been available for students, faculty and staff since Wednesday. As the Iranian Heritage Society of Edmonton raises money for a university endowment in memory of the victims, the school’s administration is working with those affected to defer exams and organize time off.
Impromptu vigils have popped up on campus all week, something assistant dean of students Kevin Friese said reflects the importance of community when it comes to grieving.
“It’s not something that should – or has to – be done alone,” he said.
Mr. Friese said Sunday’s service was an opportunity for the university and wider Edmonton community to grieve and celebrate the lives of those killed in the crash.
“These were such intelligent, smart, wonderful people who, from the stories I’ve heard, weren’t only here studying or working, they were contributing back to the community.”
At Sunday’s service, a slide show of photos of the victims reflected their achievements and closed with the message: “Your presence, love and kindness will always be with us. Rest in peace.”
With a report from Kathryn Blaze Baum
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