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‘It’s destroyed our lives:’ Sunday marks third anniversary of the downing of Flight PS752

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Sunday marks three years since Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 was shot down minutes after taking off from Tehran, Iran, by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.

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Flight PS752 had just taken off from Imam Khomeini International Airport amidst tensions between Iran and the United States, en route to Kyiv when it was struck by a missile fired by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. A second missile struck the aircraft 23 seconds later.

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The crash claimed the lies of 176 people, including 55 Canadians and 30 permanent residents in Canada, students and visitors. Among those who died in the attack were eight people with close ties to the National Capital Region.

Mohson Ahmadipour’s wife, Roja Azadian, 42, was among those who died.

Ahmadipour, an engineer who lived in Gatineau, was planning to join his wife on Flight PS752. It was to be his wife’s first trip to Canada. He couldn’t board the doomed flight because of a ticket mix-up and told Azadian he would take another flight.

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Canada has pledged to hold Iran accountable for the downing of Flight PS752 by pursuing reparations under domestic law and through international organizations and agencies.

But it has been a slow and frustrating process for the families of victims. Iran’s civil aviation authority concluded that missiles were launched because an air defence unit, acting on its own, misidentified the civilian plane as an incoming cruise missile.

Ahmadipour, along with other families, has been pressing for more information about what actually happened that night, including why a second missile was fired.

“We expect to put more pressure on the Iranian government to tell the truth about that night,” said Ahmadipour, who moved to Toronto about five months ago.

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“I think we need the government to push against other engaging countries to bring this complaint against the Iranian government. It’s destroyed our lives.”

Because the pandemic came so quickly on the heels of the tragedy, it became difficult to grieve lost loved ones in person with family and friends, said Ahmadipour.

“We couldn’t get together to talk about this. It would have been helpful. We had to deal with out sorrow personally, or online.”

On Sunday people in more than 80 cities across Canada and around the world have signed on to hold gatherings to remember the victims of Flight PS752 and protest recent human rights violations in Iran, which have included a crackdown on protesters, excessive use of force and the persecution of women.

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In his December 2020 report, special advisor to the Prime Minister, Ralph Goodale, said the PS752 case is complex and difficult. One of the reasons is that the victims came from five other countries besides Iran, including Canada, Ukraine, Sweden, Afghanistan and the United Kingdom.

Iran had at least nine weeks to arrange for the readout of the recorders before global travel restrictions were imposed because of the pandemic, said Goodale’s report. But it failed to do so, and that resulted in more than six months of months of delay before that important evidence became available.

Among other measures, Iranian-Canadians and their supporters have called for the federal government to pursue a domestic criminal case into the deaths of Canadian citizens aboard the plane, refer the case to the International Court of Justice and apply sanctions against senior Iranian officials.

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On Dec. 9, Global Affairs announced that Canada is imposing sanctions on 22 individuals who are complicit in human rights violations, including senior members of the Iranian judiciary, prison system and law enforcement forces, as well as political leaders.

On Dec. 28, the International Coordination and Response Group for the victims of Flight PS752, which includes ministers representing Canada, Sweden, Ukraine and the United Kingdom, said it had requested that Iran submits to binding arbitration of the dispute related to the downing of Flight PS752 under the 1971 Montreal Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation.

Global Affairs Canada called the move “an important step forward in the pursuit of accountability in accordance with international law.”

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In a statement released Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Canadian government will continue to be there for the families of victims “as we relentlessly pursue justice and accountability for them.”

Ahmadipour said he is getting together with friends in Toronto to observe a respectful third anniversary of his wife’s death.

He believes human rights violations in Iran have added to the pressure on the federal government.

“We don’t have the power to do anything. We can just ask government. But we are hoping government officials can understand our sorrow and respect our right to know the truth to reach justice,” he said.

In Ottawa on Sunday, events to mark the third anniversary will include a rally at the National Gallery, 380 Sussex Drive, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.  and a candlelight vigil from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Parliament Hill.

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