Grieving loved ones will mark three years since the Iranian military shot down Flight PS752 on Sunday by organizing protests across the country and urging Ottawa to take a tougher stance on Iran. .
“It’s been a long journey for families, but we still have hope,” said Hamed Esmaeilion, head of the PS752 Family Association.
Esmaeilion’s wife and daughter were among the 176 people killed when Iranian officials shot down a Ukraine International Airlines jet in January 2020 shortly after it took off from Tehran.
Most of the passengers arrived in Canada via Ukraine, including 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents.
In an interview, Esmaeilion thanked Canadians for their support over the past three years as families fight for accountability and redress.
“It’s been so heartwarming for each of us, that we see people care.”
On December 28, Canada joined its peers in the process of submitting the Flight PS752 case to the International Court of Justice and attempting to force Iran to pay compensation to the families of the victims.
Ottawa had previously delayed, arguing that allowing enough time to negotiate with Iran over damages would advance the case if it needed to be heard by a court.
But with negotiations at a stalemate, Canada helped issue a formal notice last month asking Iran to submit to binding arbitration in the case. The move begins a six-month period after which one of the claimant states can take Iran to the International Court of Justice.
The Iranian regime has had variable responses to the incident, at one point calling it an accident and then claiming that the plane moved in a suspicious manner, which contradicts the results. investigation by the International Civil Aviation Organization.
While it is unclear whether the court will succeed in compensating Iran, the case will likely prompt more investigations and shed new light on what happened.
“This step has been delayed for a long time. But it has to be said, it’s a good step to take,” said Esmaeilion, who said he was excited by the 2021 Ontario court ruling saying the shooting Falling was an intentional act of terror – not an accident.
“The senseless, cruel crimes they committed took them all away from us.”
He commended Ottawa for introducing economic sanctions against 62 Iranian individuals and 25 entities last fall. However, he says that about a third of the 30 people his team has identified as being involved in the downing of Flight PS752 have not been sanctioned.
He added that Iranian-Canadians know that former regime officials and their families still move freely within the country, from Vancouver to Halifax.
Ottawa has promised to set up a new sanctions office, allocating $76 million to better track people banned from trading in Canada. But it is unclear when new employees will be hired and trained.
Esmaeilion said he is frustrated by officials who see sanctions as not a way to punish specific individuals but a way to promote regimes to behave better. He argued that Iran would not improve the way it treated people unless they faced clear resistance, noting that the regime was responsible for killing Canadians in other circumstances.
Iranian officials “have no place in a free country like Canada,” he said.
In the fall, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faced continued pressure from the Iranian diaspora and the Opposition Conservative Party to list the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization.
This force, part of the Iranian military, shot down Flight PS752 and is responsible for much of the regime’s violent intervention abroad.
It has also joined the ongoing crackdown on human rights activists following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody in September, following her arrest by ethics police. for allegedly wearing a headscarf incorrectly.
In October, Prime Minister Trudeau’s government banned more than 10,000 former IRGC members from entering Canada, but it is still hesitant to list the entire corps as a terrorist organization because it could punish those who enlist in the military. for non-combat roles.
Immigration lawyers have said that some Iranian-Canadians have had difficulty boarding and entering the United States because of their former IRGC membership.
Conservative MPs and activists like Esmaeilion have argued that Canada could find a legislative way to avoid punishing those drafted against their will.
They also point to British media reports this month suggesting London is ready to list the force as a terrorist group, citing unnamed government sources. The report did not give a timeline or details on any terms related to conscripts.
Kaveh Shahrooz, a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, said Ottawa seems to be slowing down.
“Over the last three years, I think it has been very slow,” said Mr. Shahrooz, who has advised the Canadian Foreign Ministry on human rights treaties.
He said the same is true of efforts to seek justice in the PS752 case while negotiations with Tehran are underway.
“The RCMP has not yet launched a criminal investigation,” Shahrooz said. “There’s no reason why these can’t travel on parallel rails.”
On Friday, Prime Minister Trudeau met with family members of Flight PS752 victims, along with Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra and Canada’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Ralph Goodale , who helped coordinate the government’s response.
“As I spoke to the families of the victims today, I promised them that we will continue to fight relentlessly for truth, justice and accountability,” Prime Minister Trudeau wrote on Twitter.
Some Liberal MPs have also started symbolically funding Iranian dissidents, following a similar trend among European MPs.
MPs pledged to raise cases of specific dissidents detained in Iran to pressure Tehran not to execute them and, as a letter signed by the MPs wrote, “reminds the Iranian regime that we are watching, that the world is watching.”
Shahrooz has criticized the Liberal Party for what he sees as prioritizing symbolic gestures over policy change. But he said the initiative could have a tangible impact on those at risk of death.
“Over the years, when I talk to former political prisoners, they always tell me that… when foreign officials talk about them, the situation tends to improve markedly,” he said.
“The interrogators step back; often the torture stops and the regime remembers that these prisoners have outside guards.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on January 7, 2023.