The families of Canadian passengers killed when a Ukrainian jetliner was shot down in Iran this past January are skeptical about a new Iranian report that says various military errors led to the incident, criticizing that version of events as untrustworthy.
The report by Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization said a misaligned missile battery, miscommunication between troops and their commanders, and a decision to fire without authorization contributed to the downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752.
The families dismiss Iran’s account and are calling for a proper international investigation into the tragedy, saying they owe it to the victims to speak out. “We cannot tell our loves ones the Iranian regime murdered you brutally and we’re going to just be silent,” said Javad Soleimani, whose wife was among the victims.
Fifty-five Canadian citizens, 30 permanent residents and dozens more with ties to Canada were among the 176 people killed in the downing of Flight 752.
The Civil Aviation Organization released the new report Saturday night. Mr. Soleimani, a member of the board of directors of the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims, said in an interview from Edmonton that the paper “is like an undergrad student report for a course project.”
He says he believes the Iranian organization was neither qualified nor independent enough to conduct the investigation into the Jan. 8 crash, and does not sufficiently explain how a civilian airliner could be targeted, mistaken for an incoming missile.
Members of the association held a conference call Sunday to discuss the report. “We don’t trust any report, any investigation prepared or conducted by the Iranian regime because they are not trustable,” he said.
Mr. Soleimani said there should be an international investigation with participation by, among others, Canada, Britain, Ukraine and Iran. He said Iran can be part of the investigation, “but we don’t trust any investigation led by Iran.”
If Iran does not co-operate, it should be taken to the International Court of Justice, he said.
Reza Akbari, president of the Iranian Heritage Society of Edmonton, home to 13 crash victims, said it was odd that it had taken so long to come out with the report, which leaves questions unanswered.
One other flight, for example, took off around the same time as Flight 752 and was successful in departing, while Flight 752 was hit. He said it was one thing to launch a single missile, but suspicious that a second missile was also sent airborne. “We may say the first one was a human mistake. The second one cannot be a human mistake. It was intentional, to make sure there is no survival.”
Like Mr. Soleimani, Mr. Akbari, who knew many Edmonton passengers on the flight, called for an international investigation.
The flight was on the first leg of a trip to Canada via Kyiv at the time. Mr. Soleimani said he last communicated with his wife, Elnaz Nabiy, 20 minutes before the plane took off, with her saying she would reach out when she reached Kyiv. She had been in Iran to visit family.
The plane was shot down the same night Iran also launched a ballistic missile attack targeting U.S. soldiers in Iraq, its response to the American drone strike that killed Revolutionary Guard General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad a few days earlier.
At the time, Iranian troops were bracing for a U.S. counterstrike and appear to have mistaken the Ukrainian plane for a missile. The civil aviation report does not acknowledge that, only saying a change in the “alertness level of Iran’s air defence” allowed previously scheduled air traffic to resume.
The report detailed a series of moments where the shoot-down of Flight 752 could have been avoided.
The report said the surface-to-air missile battery that targeted the Boeing 737-800 had been relocated and was not properly reoriented.
Those manning the missile battery could not communicate with their command centre, they misidentified the civilian flight as a threat and opened fire twice without getting approval from ranking officials, the report said.
Mr. Soleimani said the consensus among families he has been in touch with is that Iran is not trustworthy because it initially denied responsibility for the crash.
Iranian authorities only changed course days later after Western countries presented extensive evidence that Iran had shot down the plane. Iran has since been accused of stonewalling efforts to investigate the full circumstances around the crash.
Hamed Esmaeilion, a Toronto dentist whose wife, Parisa, and nine-year-old daughter, Reera, died on the plane, reiterated those allegations on Sunday after the release of the civil aviation report.
“It raises more questions and more questions,” Mr. Esmaeilion said. “It’s very hard to believe this story.”
On Sunday, Global Affairs Canada said in a statement that Minister François-Philippe Champagne has previously made it clear that immediate action is required from the Iranian regime to ensure it conducts a comprehensive and transparent investigation in accordance with international standards, so that all those responsible are held accountable, and provide reparation for families of the victims.
“Canada will continue to actively work with its international partners to hold the Iranian regime to account and to ensure Iran follows through on its commitments, including the download of the data and voice recorders at France’s Civil Aviation Safety Investigation and Analysis Bureau on July 20.”
With a report from The Canadian Press, the Associated Press and Sean Silcoff in Ottawa
Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.