Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at a memorial service for the victims of the Ukrainian Airlines flight PS752 crash in Iran at the Saville Community Sports Centre in Edmonton, Jan. 12, 2020.

WALTER TYCHNOWICZ/AFP/Getty Images

Hundreds of people across Canada are rounding out the worst week of their lives. They are the friends and family of passengers aboard Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, who perished randomly and pointlessly because the Iranian military, by its telling, made a mistake.

Politics usually doesn’t matter in the worst week of your life, when grief insulates you from the normal noise of partisan theatre and governmental affairs. The exception, however, might be when the worst week of your life is intrinsically political: When an American contractor is killed in Iraq, so air strikes are carried out in Syria and Iraq, so the U.S. embassy is stormed in Baghdad, so an Iranian military commander is killed, so a plane is shot out of the sky, so suddenly, you’re on the phone with your wife’s life insurance provider. The haze of grief might break for a few political observances in that case, even if it happens to be the worst week of your life.

To the extent that political gestures resonate in these situations, there are few “right” things a leader can do and just about an infinite number of wrong ones. The last time Canada experienced a crisis of this type and magnitude – the Air India disaster of 1985, when a bomb exploded aboard Flight 182, where a majority of victims were Canadian – Canadian leadership chose a number of wrong ones.

Story continues below advertisement

In the aftermath of that crash, prime minister Brian Mulroney phoned India’s prime minister to offer his condolences, as if the tragedy wasn’t a patently Canadian one. Mr. Mulroney’s government was slow to set up a hotline for victims’ families, slow to provide information and slow to connect personally with those who lost loved ones. “Mr. Mulroney has not sent condolences to the individuals [affected] by the crash,” a spokesperson for the families was quoted in The Globe and Mail nearly a month after the explosion. The article also noted that since Mr. Mulroney was on vacation, the families would likely meet with a senior adviser instead.

Since then, and particularly in recent days, the Canadian government has proven it has learned from the mistakes of the Air India disaster. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has stood in front of cameras almost daily since Wednesday’s crash, and Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne has been tweeting updates on visa approvals for Canadian officials seeking to go to Iran. A national hotline for relatives and friends of victims was set up within days.

Mr. Trudeau’s personal statements have also hit just the right notes; he has been outraged for those who need to see their anger reflected in leadership, and sorrowful for those who need to see their pain acknowledged and understood. Partisans have already chalked up Mr. Trudeau’s empathy to skilled acting on the part of a former drama teacher, which is a fine way for curmudgeons to console themselves while ignoring the actual impact Mr. Trudeau has had on affected individuals – which, based on their telling, has been profound.

The Trudeau government has had plenty of communications problems in the past, but it doesn’t appear to be suffering from those issues now. In his first address hours after the crash, when information was still scarce, Mr. Trudeau prudently said that he would not rule out the possibility the plane was shot down, even as the Iranians claimed a missile attack on a commercial plane would have been “impossible.” Even more prudently, Mr. Trudeau later declined to engage with reporters’ questions about whether to blame the United States for escalating the conflict by killing top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.

No doubt the Prime Minister recognizes there is little to be gained, and a whole lot to lose, by taking too strong of a position in terms of blame at this point. While he remains wisely circumspect, the Iranian people, who bravely took to the streets by the thousands over the weekend, are clear about who they hold responsible. The chief executive of Maple Leaf Foods, meanwhile, posted a Twitter thread Sunday evening in which he condemned the “narcissist in Washington” for escalating tensions leading to the crossfire killings.

These are fair positions for individual citizens to take, and reckless ones for a political leader in the early days after a disaster. To his credit, Mr. Trudeau has resisted invitations to wade in, and has instead remained focused on the victims, their families and the profound loss for Canada as a nation. If nothing else, that has to make at least a small difference to the Canadians currently grappling with the worst week of their lives.

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies