Canada demands more access in Iran crash probe ahead of victims summit

Canada demands more access in Iran crash probe ahead of victims summit

Foreign ministers from countries that lost citizens aboard Ukrainian plane to press for full cooperation at Thursday meet, amid concerns that Tehran may withhold information

A mourner lights a candle at a memorial service for the victims of Ukrainian Airlines flight PS752 crash in Iran at Storkyrkan church in Stockholm on January 15, 2020. (Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP)
A mourner lights a candle at a memorial service for the victims of Ukrainian Airlines flight PS752 crash in Iran at Storkyrkan church in Stockholm on January 15, 2020. (Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP)

OTTAWA, Canada — Canada is demanding official status in Iran’s investigation of the crash of a Ukraine International Airlines jet in Tehran last week, as it vows to get to the bottom of the incident ahead of a meeting in London with other countries that lost citizens.

Foreign ministers from Canada, Ukraine, Sweden, Afghanistan and Britain — which all had nationals who died — are scheduled to meet on Thursday to press for “full cooperation from Iranian authorities,” Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau told a press conference Wednesday.

“Canada will not accept a situation where we feel that we’re not being given the information that we’re looking for,” he said.

“Make no mistake about it, Canada is going to get to the very bottom of this.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that his government intends to ask Tehran for compensation for the families of Canadian victims, which Ottawa officials said Wednesday was a top priority.

Iran at first dismissed allegations that a missile had brought down the plane, but in the face of mounting evidence officials acknowledged on Saturday — three days after — that its Revolutionary Guard had shot down the plane by mistake as the force braced for a possible military confrontation with the United States.

The plane, en route from Tehran to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, was carrying 167 passengers and nine crew members from several countries, including 82 Iranians and 57 Canadians, many of whom were Iranians with dual citizenship. There were several children among the passengers, including an infant.

All 176 people aboard were killed.

Rescue teams work amidst debris after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran early in the morning on January 8, 2020, killing everyone on board (AFP)

“Our first priority at this time is supporting the families and friends of the 57 Canadians who lost their lives in this tragedy,” Garneau said.

“While we cannot bring back their loved ones, we can make sure that they receive compensation to help them navigate this difficult time.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at a memorial service for the victims of the Ukrainian Airlines flight PS752 crash in Iran at the Saville Community Sports Centre in Edmonton January 12, 2020. (Photo by Walter Tychnowicz / AFP)

Asked if Ottawa might provide money to the victims’ families and seek reimbursement from Iran later in order to fast-track what could otherwise be a lengthy process, Trudeau’s parliament secretary Omar Alghabra said: “We are actively exploring these options and we hope to have a resolution in short order.”

Iran has invited Canada’s Transportation Safety Board to participate in its investigation, including the download and analysis of the black boxes.

Garneau said Iran has indicated it wishes to cooperate, noting that two Canadian investigators were due to examine the wreckage at Tehran’s invitation.

But he added that he would like Iran, as lead investigator, to formalize Canada’s involvement in the probe as an “accredited representative” to ensure access.

A week after the crash, Canadian universities observed a minute of silence in tribute to the victims, which included academics and students.

Flowers and candles are placed in front of portraits of the flight crew members of the Ukrainian 737-800 plane that crashed on the outskirts of Tehran, at a memorial inside Borispil international airport outside Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Iran’s president on Tuesday called for a special court with “a ranking judge and dozens of experts” to be set up to probe the incident, as anger over the crash and the apparent coverup has led to days of protests.

“The responsibility falls on more than just one person,” President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised speech, adding that those found culpable “should be punished.”

People gather for a candlelight vigil to remember the victims of the Ukraine plane crash, at the gate of Amri Kabir University that some of the victims of the crash were former students of, in Tehran, Iran, January 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

“There are others, too, and I want that this issue is expressed honestly,” he said, without elaborating.

Rouhani called the incident “a painful and unforgivable” mistake and promised that his administration would pursue the case “by all means.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, speaking at a summit in New Delhi, became the first official to describe Iran’s earlier claims as a lie on Wednesday.

“In the last few nights, we’ve had people in the streets of Tehran demonstrating against the fact that they were lied to for a couple of days,” Zarif said.

Zarif went onto praise Iran’s military for being “brave enough to claim responsibility early on.”

Rescue workers carry the body of a victim of a Ukrainian plane crash in Shahedshahr, southwest of Tehran, Iran, January 8, 2020 (AP/Ebrahim Noroozi)

However, he said that he and Rouhani only learned that a missile had down the flight on Friday, raising new questions over how much power Iran’s civilian government has in its Shiite theocracy. The Guard knew immediately afterward its missile downed the airline.

The Guard is answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is expected to preside over Friday prayers in Iran for the first time in years over anger about the crash.

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