Families honor their loved ones lost on the second anniversary of the shooting down of planes in Iran


Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

Published Saturday, January 8, 2022 6:14 AM EST


Last Updated on Saturday, 08 January 2022 17:48 EST

Canada must step up its efforts to hold Iran accountable after regime forces shot down a passenger plane two years ago, family members told victims on Saturday.

At a memorial service for those who died aboard the Ukrainian International Airlines plane on January 8, 2020, a group representing their loved ones expressed anger and resentment over Iran’s irreconcilability and the “glacial” pace of responsibility.

“Our patience is exhausted. Today is the day diplomacy ends and justice begins,” said Hamed Esmaeilion, president of the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims.

The group demands that the case be referred to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) – a UN-based organization in Montreal – and that the RCMP initiate a criminal investigation.

It also calls for arrest warrants and government sanctions against senior Iranian political and military leaders, and for designating Iran’s paramilitary revolutionary guard as a terrorist organization.

Toronto guard

The regime rejected another deadline earlier in the week that Canada and its allies had set to negotiate a solution for the families.

Nearly 140 of the 176 people killed in the plane crash were affiliated with Canada, including 55 Canadian nationals and 30 permanent residents.

“We keep writing polite letters, one after the other,” Esmaeilion said of the federal government.

“We will not give in with an empty, superficial apology and political fiddle … We will never forget and we will never forgive.”

At the partially virtual memorial service at Toronto’s North End, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada “will not rest” until Iran is held accountable.

“I promise you that we will always continue to fight for the accountability, transparency and justice you deserve,” he said.

Speaking via video, Trudeau attributed the disaster to “the ruthlessness and utter disregard of human life by Iranian officials – we can not allow it to continue.”

The words came as a cold consolation to some.

Kourosh Doustshenas, whose 39-year-old fiancĂ© Forough Khadem was among the victims, said the ongoing struggle to hold Iran accountable “does not leave time for healing.”

“Every morning I wake up and the last thing I think about is Forough, in my mind, in front of my eyes,” he said in a phone interview from his home in Winnipeg.

“Two years later, the pain is fresh, the wound is open in my life and in many others who have lost loved ones like me.”

Entitled “The Open Wound in the Sky,” Saturday’s ceremony included speeches by three federal ministers as well as Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Toronto Mayor John Tory. The two leaders called the shooting a “most heinous act” and a “deliberate act of terrorism” respectively.

Mothers recited the names of the victims, sometimes crying, between video footage showing their loved ones, children among them, directly addressed to the deceased.

Toronto guard

Opening with lines from the Iranian poet Ahmad Shamlou, the two and a half hour long event was followed by an outdoor guard on Mel Lastman Square in North York.

The Conservatives called on the Liberal government to impose sanctions on Iranian officials for lack of cooperation from the regime.

“Iran’s refusal to negotiate compensation for the victims makes it clear that the Liberal government must use every tool available nationally and internationally,” MPs Michael Chong, James Bezan and Melissa Lantsman said in a statement.

The Tories also demand that the government enter into discussions with ICAO “to limit Iran’s ability to operate commercial aircraft in international airspace until they agree to comply with international standards in the investigation.”

On Monday, a court in Ontario awarded more than $ 107 million to families of six of the victims, though it is still unclear how the money can be collected from Iran.

The decision followed a decision in May that the missile attack constituted an intentional terrorist act that paved the way for relatives of those killed to seek compensation from the regime.

The tragedy of 8 January 2020 took place against the background of escalating violence in the region. Days earlier, a US drone strike killed Iran’s top military commander in Iraq.

Iran then retaliated by launching missile attacks on bases in Iraq where US troops were stationed. Canadian troops were also stationed at the bases as part of an international mission. No military personnel were injured.

Then came the launch of the PS752 barely seven minutes after takeoff from Tehran’s main airport. Iran initially denied responsibility, but admitted three days later that its Revolutionary Guards had mistakenly hit the Ukrainian jetliner with two ground-to-air missiles.

Iran has blamed human error, but Canada and its allies have rejected the explanation and demanded full accounts from the country – demands that have been ignored in Tehran.

In November, the victims’ association published a report accusing the Iranian authorities of tampering with electronic devices and misidentifying the remains of some of the passengers.

The actions were part of what the group called Saturday a “fraud” by Iran, which saw the bulldoze crash site within hours and hold the cockpit’s black boxes hostage for seven months.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published January 8, 2022.

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