A report commissioned by Ottawa provides a scathing assessment of the Iranian government’s refusal to explain what led its military to shoot down a Ukrainian passenger airline that killed all 176 people on board, most of whom were either Canadian or travelling to Canada.
The analysis by former Liberal cabinet minister Ralph Goodale, the federal government’s special adviser on the crash, is highly critical of the Iranian government’s handling of the investigation. The report also calls on the global community to ensure that future tragedies involving military strikes on civilian aircraft are reviewed independently.
Families hoping for clear answers, however, will have to keep waiting. The report says the next opportunity for information to surface will be when Iran releases its final report on its investigation.
Iran’s interim reports and public comments do not bode well in terms of finding out what really happened early this year, according to the Goodale report.
“In the circumstances of this case, as known thus far, there are indications of incompetence, recklessness and wanton disregard for innocent human life,” the report states. “It is incumbent upon Iran to respond to these concerns in candid and compelling terms, or risk the loss of international confidence in its ability to maintain a safe airspace.”
In addition to Tuesday’s report, the federal government has also assigned Jeff Yaworski, formerly the deputy director of operations at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, to review all available information, evidence and intelligence on the disaster and to report on his findings.
Flight 752 was shot down by Iranian missiles on Jan. 8 about three minutes after a 6:12 a.m. takeoff from Tehran’s Iman Khomeini International Airport. The region was on high alert given that Iran had launched missile attacks on U.S. positions in Iraq just four hours earlier. Four days before that, the U.S. military killed senior Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in an air strike at the Baghdad international airport in Iraq.
Iran initially denied any involvement, but later acknowledged that it fired missiles that caused the Flight 752 crash. To date, Iran has blamed the strike on human error by a mobile air-defence operator.
“Given the extraordinary nature of this description of events, it is understandable that the victims’ families find Iran’s explanations difficult to accept – at least so far,” the report states. “To remove doubt and relieve anxiety, Iran bears a heavy burden of responsibility to be completely comprehensive and transparent in substantiating its explanations with credible, compelling evidence, which has not yet been forthcoming.”
The Iranian government initially said it would not give the plane’s flight recorders to U.S. officials or Boeing, the plane’s U.S.-based manufacturer. It was not until June that Iran agreed to send the recorders to Paris, where officials from Canada’s Transportation Safety Board were able to participate in a July review. A readout report based on the flight data, released in August by Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, said the review identified a sound similar to a detonation that corresponded with the firing of the first Iranian missile.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Goodale said Ottawa should push for global agreements that allow membership in safety organizations such as the International Civil Aviation Organization only to countries willing to allow outside reviews in cases where the military has shot down a civilian aircraft.
“Certainly for the future, the international rules need to be modified to recognize that the present way of doing it is simply inadequate,” he said. “Where the military of the country where the disaster happened is the source of the disaster itself, you can’t have a believable investigative process where the government of that country is investigating your own military. That’s just not going to work … I would like to see the international rules changed to apply far more pressure to do that than is presently the case.”
Conservative MP and foreign affairs critic Michael Chong said in a statement Tuesday that Ottawa’s overall response falls short.
“The Liberal government has failed to hold the Iranian regime accountable for their actions, including their role in killing dozens of Canadians,” he said, calling for sanctions on Iranian leaders and for Canada to list the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization.
Of the 176 casualties, 55 were Canadian citizens, 30 were permanent residents and another 53 were not Canadian but were on their way to Canada. Many of them were students.
Kourosh Doustshenas, president of the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims, said he feels vindicated by the Goodale report because it expresses concerns his association, and its member families, have pointed out.
“It’s good to hear someone else like Mr. Goodale, who is a special adviser to the Prime Minister, basically asking the same questions [ that] me and other families are asking. This is not just the grieving families asking these questions,” he said from Winnipeg.
“Any fair-minded Canadian would say, ‘Whatever the Iranian regime has said so far doesn’t make any sense.’ “
He said his key question is why the tragedy occurred.
“We cannot have closure without knowing why they had to shoot down this civilian aircraft within three minutes of allowing them to fly,” he said.
Mr. Doustshenas’s 38-year-old partner, Forough Khadem, was killed in the crash. Dr. Khadem had studied immunology at the University of Manitoba. She and Mr. Doustshenas had been together for two years, and planned to marry this year.
“Time has stopped for me from that awful day,” said Mr. Doustshenas, referring to the crash.
He said he wants to ensure safer skies become a legacy of our lost loved ones. “We have to make sure they did not die in vain,” he said.
Hamed Esmaeilion, whose wife and daughter were killed when Flight 752 was shot down, says the report shows Iran’s review efforts to date are meaningless, and that the country should not be in charge of any investigation.
Mr. Esmaeilion, a spokesman for the families association who lives in Richmond Hill, Ont., said he met with Mr. Goodale on Monday, the latest in a series of meetings with him. “He knows all the concerns we have,” he said, describing the report as precise and comprehensive.
Mr. Esmaeilion said he appreciated that Canada is committed to seeking justice through all relevant forums.
“I only know after 11 months, everybody has questions, families included,” he said.
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