Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Iran’s admission it shot down Ukraine Airlines Flight 752 is an “important step” but only the first of many actions Tehran must take to ensure answers for the victims’ families and a credible and thorough investigation.
The commercial passenger jet crashed in Tehran’s suburbs Wednesday, killing all 176 passengers, including by the latest count at least 57 Canadian citizens.
After days of denying it was responsible for the disaster, Iran finally acknowledged an Iranian missile brought down Flight 752, but said this was unintentional.
“What Iran has admitted to is very serious. Shooting down a civilian aircraft is horrific. Iran must take full responsibility,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters Saturday, a statement that implies Ottawa expects more from Tehran.
“Canada will not rest until we get the accountability and justice and closure that the families deserve.”
Mr. Trudeau said he had earlier spoken to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
“I told him that Iran’s admission that its own armed forces unintentionally shot down flight 752 is an important step toward proving answers for families, but I noted many more steps must be taken,” the Canadian prime minister told reporters in Ottawa Saturday afternoon.
"A full and compete investigation must be conducted."
Mr. Trudeau was careful with his words Saturday but offered flashes of anger.
"I am of course outraged and furious that families across this country are grieving the loss of their loved ones," the prime minister said.
Asked if he was confident that the missile strike was an accident as Iran insists, Mr. Trudeau signaled he was still uncertain about what happened.
"This is one of the issues that we certainly need better answers to," he said. Asked later how Canadians can trust the Iranians' latest version of events given Tehran lied about the matter for several days, he replied: "That is a very real question that many people are asking."
Mr. Trudeau declined to lay any blame on the United States, which helped escalate the latest tensions in the region by killing a top Iranian military commander in a missile strike.
“The reality is, there have been significant tensions in that region for a long time,” the prime minister said.
Canada has approximately 12 officials it wants to deploy to Iran, both to identify the victims and to provide consular services but also monitor the investigation.
As of Saturday’s press conference, Mr. Trudeau said, only three visas had been granted for Canadian officials to enter Iran. He said leading members of Canada’s “standing rapid deployment team” were expected to land in Iran by 4 p.m. ET Saturday and more would follow.
Two Canadian Transportation Safety Board investigators are also planning to visit Tehran and Mr. Trudeau said he asked Iran's president to ensure these experts are "fully included in the investigation into the cause of the crash" rather than merely limited to acting as observers.
He said he pressed Mr. Rouhani to ensure Canadian air crash investigators are allowed to help analyze the black box flight recorder and DNA from the victims.
“We need full clarity on how such a horrific tragedy could have occurred.”
Mr. Trudeau said he also asked Mr. Rouhani to commit to working with Canada and other international partners to “de-escalate tensions in the region.” He said the Iranian president agreed to this.
Canada this week set up a task force with other countries that lost citizens in the crash to share information and push for credible answers on what happened. Canada, Britain, Sweden and Afghanistan have allied to create the International Coordination and Response Group for families of victims of Flight 752.
Mr. Trudeau said Saturday this international group will continue to press for a full and transparent investigation.
The prime minister repeated Friday's announcement that Ottawa is setting up an emergency task force to “ensure that the families and loved ones of the victims have the support they need.” Ottawa is also establishing a dedicated emergency phone line to help expedite visas for families of victims.
As well, he said, immigration officials have been dispatched across the country so they can be in direct contact with families of Canadians affected by this tragedy.
Asked whether Iran should compensate families of the victims, Mr. Trudeau said yes.
"That is certainly something that is going to need to be part of the mix," he said, and recounted his meetings Friday in Toronto with families of the victims.
“I sat down with a number of families who are absolutely devastated with the loss of loved ones, they are facing financial challenges on top of the extraordinary grief they are feeling now. We need to make sure those families get the justice they deserve.”
The Conservative opposition Saturday urged the government to demand that Iran compensate the victims’ families, designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist group and be prepared to impose sanctions on Tehran’s leadership if it doesn’t fully cooperate with matters such as repatriating remains.
“The Iranian regime must not get a free pass after killing 57 Canadians,” said a statement from Conservative Party MPs, including foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole, defence critic James Bezan, public safety critic Pierre Paul-Hus and transport critic Todd Doherty.