January 18th, 2021

Canadians mark first anniversary of downing of Flight PS752 in Iran

By Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press on January 8, 2021.

Daniel Ghods holds a photo of his girlfriend Saba Saadat, who died in the crash of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, in Edmonton, Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020. Saba's sister, Sara, and their mother Dr. Shekoufeh Choupannejad were also on the flight and died in the crash. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Amber Bracken

TORONTO – Memorial services were being held in several Canadians cities on Friday for victims of a passenger jet the Iranian military shot down one year ago.

The ceremonies, part of an international effort, began with a livestream on Thursday at 9:42 p.m. ET, the time Ukrainian International Airlines Flight PS752 left Tehran’s international airport.

More than 100 of the 176 victims had ties to Canada, and at least 55 were Canadian citizens. Commemorative outdoor rallies were scheduled for Toronto, Montreal and Edmonton.

An international group advocating for the victims called on Iran to come clean on what led to the downing of the plane. The statement, put out by Global Affairs Canada, also called on Tehran to compensate victims’ families properly.

“We urgently call on Iran to provide a complete and thorough explanation of the events and decisions that led to this appalling plane crash,” the International Coordination and Response Group for the victims of Flight PS752 said.

“Our countries will hold Iran to account to deliver justice and make sure Iran makes full reparations to the families of the victims and affected countries.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for the transparency, accountability and justice the victims and their families deserve.

“We have been unrelenting in pursuit of the truth, and Canada will not accept anything less than a comprehensive and honest explanation from the Iranian regime of what exactly happened that day,” Trudeau said.

Daniel Ghods-Esfahani, a medical student at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, said the last year had been difficult. His girlfriend, Saba Saadat, her sister Sara and their mother, Dr. Shekoufeh Choupannejad, were on the flight.

“We wake up. We have a routine. We do certain things throughout our day now,” Ghods-Esfahani said. “But the feeling, like physically and mentally, is very similar to the first few days after we found out about the downing of the flight.”

Trudeau said Canada would offer a pathway to permanent residency for some family members, while those already here could apply to stay if needed. Canada, he said, was also designating Jan. 8 as the National Day of Remembrance for Victims of Air Disasters.

The memorial ceremonies, organized by the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims, heard from loved ones speaking Farsi over images of faces young and old. Biographies of the 176 victims were read throughout the night.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards shot down the plane bound for Kyiv shortly after its takeoff from Tehran.

A few days earlier, U.S. President Donald Trump had ordered a strike on the Baghdad airport, killing a top Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani. In retaliation, Iran’s military had fired missiles at American forces in Iraq.

Iran initially denied downing the airliner, then said it was shot down accidentally after mistaking it for a missile.

The Iranian government recently pledged to pay $150,000 to each victim’s families. But relatives in Canada say they only care about answers.

Trudeau also said scholarships would be set up in memory of the victims.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who announced $250,000 for a memorial fund at the University of Alberta, also expressed his condolences.

“So much has happened in the momentous year since this horrific tragedy occurred, that it may seem long ago now,” Kenney said. “But for those who mourn lost love ones, the pain is as raw and the sense of loss as overpowering as the moment they heard the terrible news last January.”

On Friday, Western University announced an annual $3,000 fund in the name of one of four students at the school in London, Ont., killed on the flight.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 8, 2021.

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