By Mark Pavilons, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, King Weekly Sentinel
By Mark Pavilons, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, King Weekly Sentinel
Iran’s offer to compensate families who lost loved ones a year ago on Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 does little to ease the pain and suffering. In fact, the offer was summarily dismissed by the Canadian government.
The investigation seems to moving along at a snail’s pace. That, and a lack of transparency, has caused frustration among surviving family members.
The Iranian government, at the end of December, offered families $150,000 in compensation for each family who lost their loved ones.
Ralph Goodale, Canada’s special advisor, rejected the offer, noting Iran can’t simply offer such an amount unilaterally, without due process and negotiations.
Goodale said the final amount will be subject to negotiations between Iran and Canada and the four other countries whose citizens were killed on the plane.
Goodale was appointed last March to lead Canada’s response to the Jan. 8, 2020 shooting down of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard that killed all 176 people on board.
They included 55 Canadian citizens, 30 permanent residents and 53 more travellers bound for Canada, including many Iranian students, as well as citizens of Britain, Afghanistan, Sweden and Ukraine.
The Honourable Francois-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Foreign Affairs, along with his colleagues from the four other affected States of the Coordination Group are committed to holding Iran accountable for its violations of international law.
“We have indicated our intention to hold state-to-state negotiations in order to ensure that Iran makes full reparations for the downing of PS752.”
A government spokesperson said the first round of talks took place July 30, during which time modalities for these negotiations were discussed. However, there have been no further talks.
“Given the sensitive nature of these discussions, it is not appropriate for the Government of Canada to disclose any further information or to speculate on possible outcomes.
“Canada and the Coordination Group members are committed to holding Iran accountable and to pursue justice for the families of the victims of PS752. We expect Iran to live up to its obligations in his regard,” said John Babcock, spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada.
Schomberg resident Andre Milne, whose firm Unicorn Aerospace has been investigating details surrounding the case and working with the Ukrainian government, is becoming concerned over Canadian government inaction.
Milne questions what he says are contradictory claims of Foreign Affairs Minister Champagne against his own spokesperson.
“How does it work that Global Affairs Canada uses references to future modalities for discussions with Iran towards negotiations that have not yet happened? He then goes on to say that what was discussed with Iran can not be disclosed because it is sensitive.”
Milne began his investigation within hours of the crash and contacted the federal government within days with is data. He said by early February, the Ukrainian Anti Terrorist Prosecutor was assigned to use Milne’s evidence as the framework to investigate Iran for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
A peaceful, quiet march was held in Toronto to mark the anniversary. Family members and participants held up posters, photos of each of the victims. The event came and went with little in the way of fanfare.
It has been reported in national media that some of the families of the victims have been harassed by members of the Iranian secret service.
“The RCMP is aware of allegations of intimidation of the grieving families of the PS752 and we take such complaints seriously. Depending on the facts, harassment, intimidation, uttering threats, hate speech, terrorism and foreign interference are specific offences under the Criminal Code and other statutes. While we cannot comment on individual cases, the RCMP is working with local police to monitor alleged threats of harassment, intimidation and foreign interference in Canada,” according to a statement from the RCMP.
Milne was in Toronto during the walk and he said he spoke with a Toronto police officer, who said the RCMP made zero effort in coordinating any counter intelligence surveillance. Milne wants to know why the RCMP national security “missed an opportunity to gather field intelligence on suspects”?in what he deems is a “painfully obvious ongoing intelligence operation being conducted on Canadian soil by the Iranian government.”
On the anniversary of the downing of Flight PS752, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada has worked tirelessly to get the transparency, accountability, and justice that the victims and their families deserve. Champagne, and the Honourable Marc Garneau, issued the following statement:
“Canada’s priority since the downing of PS752 has always been to provide families and loved ones with the support they need. We continue to work with other impacted countries to hold Iran to account and seek transparency and justice for the victims of this tragedy and their families.
“No one should have to go through the torment these families have faced. That is why Canada is working with its international partners through the Safer Skies Initiative to protect civilian air passengers from the dangers of travelling through and near conflict zones.
“The Government of Canada will continue to stand alongside the families and relatives of the victims who lost their lives during the senseless tragedy of Flight PS752.”
“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 went on to say. “We continue to work closely with our international partners to ensure a thorough, transparent, and credible investigation into the cause of this tragedy, and to hold Iran accountable, including by ensuring that Iran makes full reparations for the victims of PS752 and their grieving families, and to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice.”
Milne said he’s been directed to continue gathering evidence by the Ukrainian Anti-Terrorist Prosecutor. This evidence will assist the Ukrainian War Crimes Investigation against Iran.
Milne warns that any government or agency that stands in the way of the investigation could be standing in the way of justice, and in fact be considered accessories to this crime against humanity by the International Criminal Court.
Trudeau went on to say: “We have also been unwavering in our commitment to support the families through this painful and tragic situation and keep Canadians safe from future disasters. I welcomed a report by Special Advisor Ralph Goodale, which will help establish best practices to prevent and respond to any future air disasters if they occur, including by providing better support to the families of victims. We have also led the development of a global Safer Skies Initiative to better protect passengers from the risk of flying in or near conflict zones.
“Going forward, the Government of Canada will continue to support the family members of the Canadians and permanent residents of Canada who were lost to the tragedies of Flight PS752 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. This includes offering a pathway to permanent residence to some of the family members. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada will provide more details about who will be eligible and how to apply once the policies are implemented. In the meantime, family members who are in Canada on a temporary basis can apply to extend their stay if needed.”
King-Vaughan MP Deb Schulte added, “Canada will continue its fight for justice for the victims and their families.”
Premier Doug Ford said the people of Ontario will move forward to ensure respect for international law and advocate for the rights of victims and their families.
Goodale pointed out that each personal story and family circumstance is unique. But the common element for all is the “trauma and heartbreak of losing precious loved ones in such a senseless and tragic manner at the hands of the Iranian military.”
He noted more than a dozen federal departments and agencies are collaborating to assist victims.
One of the difficulties is the international nature of this disaster. This means that several countries with varying interests, perspectives and legal systems have a stake in how it is ultimately resolved, and multilateral decision-making is never simple. The applicable legal framework is set through longstanding international conventions, to which all the affected countries are signatories, as well as general principles of customary international law and the domestic laws of the affected countries.
“That complex framework does not lend itself easily to expeditious outcomes.”
That notwithstanding, the Canadian government has made it clear: The families matter most. And Canada will not rest until we get the answers and actions those families need and deserve.
Goodale’s role as special advisor is mandated to support the prime minister, various ministers, parliamentary secretaries and the public service in “meeting the needs and expectations of the grieving families, including the pursuit of both justice and compensation.”
The RCMP has assigned a dedicated team to facilitate and coordinate victims’ support services to all PS752 family members in Canada. Working with municipal police partners across the country and with federal government partners involved with the PS752 tragedy, trauma support and related services are being made available to family members impacted.
RCMP members have been meeting with PS752 family members to inform them of the supports available to them. The RCMP has been consulting with experts and specialists from around the world in the field of support to victims of mass fatality incidents, as well as past victims of terrorism and mass fatality incidents, in order to better assist the PS752 families on their forward path towards healing. The RCMP will continue with these efforts into 2021.
RCMP members travelled to Ukraine in the days following the downing of PS752 to assess the situation and to see how we could assist the Ukrainian criminal investigation. Members returned to Canada on March 13, 2020 because of the pandemic, however, the RCMP is continuing to support international law enforcement partners.
As well, RCMP Federal Policing National Security investigators are working with Ukrainian counterparts to determine the best methods to support the Prosecutor General of Ukraine’s investigation into the matter under Ukraine’s criminal law. The RCMP is undertaking investigative steps to preserve any evidence that may reside in Canada.
Mark Pavilons’ reporting is funded in part by the Local Journalism Initiative