By Tyler Griffin in Toronto
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reaffirmed his government’s commitment to seeking justice for the victims of Flight PS752 on Sunday as he joined Canadians across the country in marking three years since the Iranian military shot the plane down.
Trudeau’s remarks came at an often-emotional ceremony in North Toronto, one of several such events taking place in 12 Canadian cities.
Family members who lost loved ones in the crash sobbed, called for justice and fiercely criticized the Iranian regime throughout the Sunday afternoon event. The prime minister, one of several senior dignitaries on hand, followed suit.
“This tragedy happened because of the Iranian regime’s heinous disregard for human life,” Trudeau said in remarks directed at grieving relatives.
“Your grief has been compounded by their refusal to be held accountable.”
Families took part in rallies from Vancouver to Toronto and St. John’s, N.L., to mark the anniversary of the crash, which killed 176 people including 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents.
The Ukraine International Airlines jetliner was bound for Canada via Ukraine and shot down shortly after its takeoff from Tehran in January 2020.
The marquee ceremony, hosted by the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims, was preceded by a morning reception and art gallery viewing and will be followed by a candlelight vigil.
Trudeau spoke briefly with some of the victims’ family members ahead of the official ceremony, which also featured performances and presentations.
The photos and names of the victims were shared during the ceremony and a moment of silence was held to remember them.
In addition to remembering the lives lost, speakers stressed the importance of seeking justice.
“We expect the governments of the affected countries to continue to stand with us and show to the world that justice will only be achieved with the truth,” said Hamed Esmaelion, head of the association that hosted the event.
Federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre also spoke at the ceremony and called for more severe consequences for the Iranian regime. That includes listing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization, a demand echoed by victims’ family members.
“It is appalling that today, three years after this organization murdered 85 of our own people, it is perfectly legal in Canada for this organization to operate,” Poilievre said.
In October, Trudeau’s government barred more than 10,000 former IRGC members from entering Canada, but it has remained hesitant to list the entire corps as a terrorist organization because it could punish those conscripted into the force for non-combat roles.
Community members and dignitaries also expressed solidarity with those in Iran protesting since the killing of Mahsa Amini, a young woman who died in custody of Iran’s morality police in September.
Similar calls for justice also came from those who attended commemorative events outside of Toronto, who urged Ottawa to take a tougher stance against Iran.
In Montreal, hundreds gathered in front of McGill University to mark the somber anniversary and honour the victims. Protesters marched in the frigid cold to the building that houses the International Civil Aviation Organization, also located in the city’s downtown core.
Nastaran Razmjoo, a protester who lost a friend aboard PS752, said not nearly enough has been done for the victims’ families to support their quest for justice and accountability.
“The families are angry. They say it’s not enough what the government of Canada has done,” Razmjoo said.
“We are asking the aviation organization to take action because silence is violence.”
On Dec. 28, Canada joined peer countries in starting the process to send the Flight PS752 case to the International Court of Justice and attempt to force Iran to compensate victims’ families.
Advocates argue the move should have come sooner and the RCMP should have launched a criminal investigation while Ottawa was negotiating with Tehran.
Trudeau met with grieving family members on Friday and said Ottawa would be relentless in fighting for truth, justice and accountability.
Banner image: People grieve during a ceremony marking the three year anniversary of the downing of flight PS752, in Toronto on Sunday, January 8, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 8, 2023.
— With files from Nojoud Al Mallees in Ottawa and Marisela Amador in Montreal
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.