January 15th, 2021

‘Cannot imagine your pain:’ Canadians mark anniversary of jet downing in Iran

By Colin Perkel and Liam Casey, 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 – Anguished relatives in Canada mourned the loss of loved ones on Friday as they called for justice for the victims of a passenger jet the Iranian military shot down one year ago.

Memorial ceremonies, part of an international effort, began with a livestream on Thursday at 9:42 p.m. ET, the time Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 752 left Tehran’s international airport.

In a chilly Toronto under sunny skies, a few hundred people gathered, some with tears streaming into their black face masks with “Justice” written on them. They carried placards bearing the faces of the dead.

“We lost them unjustly. They were innocent people. They were ordinary civilians. They were doing nothing against anyone,” said Farzad Alavi whose wife Neda Sadighi was killed.

“Some people from a very cruel government, to save themselves, killed these innocent people. It wasn’t an accident. We look for justice.”

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

A victim-activist group called on Iran to come clean on what led to the downing of the plane. The statement also called on Tehran to compensate relatives 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 urged Iran to provide the transparency, accountability and justice he said the victims and their families deserve.

“To everyone who was looking forward to seeing your beloved partner, child or parent, I cannot imagine your pain,” Trudeau said to relatives of those killed. “This kind of unthinkable tragedy must never happen again.”

In an earlier statement, 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 Thursday night.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards shot down the plane bound for Kyiv shortly after it took off 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. Iran initially denied downing the airliner, then said it was shot down accidentally after mistaking it for a missile.

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

The federal government 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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