TORONTO - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed his government will get answers after a Ukrainian passenger jet crashed, killing 63 Canadians, just minutes after taking off from Iran's capital.
Trudeau said Wednesday his foreign minister is in touch with the government of Ukraine and his transport minister is reaching out to his international counterparts. Getting answers from Iran might prove difficult as Canada closed its embassy in Iran in 2012 and suspended diplomatic relations.
The crash of the Ukraine International Airlines plane came hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on Iraqi bases housing U.S. soldiers, but Iranian officials said they suspected a mechanical issue brought down the 3-year-old Boeing 737-800 aircraft. Ukrainian officials initially agreed, but later backed away and declined to offer a cause while the investigation is ongoing.
“I join Canadians across the country who are shocked and saddened to see reports that a plane crash outside of Tehran, Iran, has claimed the lives of 176 people, including 63 Canadians,” Trudeau said in a statement.
“I offer our deepest condolences to those who have lost family, friends, and loved ones in this tragedy. Our government will continue to work closely with its international partners to ensure that this crash is thoroughly investigated, and that Canadians' questions are answered.”
The plane carried 167 passengers and nine crew members from different nations.
It's one of the worst loss of life for Canadians in an aviation disaster. In 1985 a bomb exploded and killed 329 people aboard an Air India flight. Air India Flight 182 from Montreal to New Delhi exploded over the Atlantic Ocean near Great Britain on June 23, 1985. Most of the victims were Canadian.
Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau said Canada is offering technical assistance to the upcoming investigation in Iran.
The Tehran to Toronto route via Kyiv is an affordable route for Iranian Canadians. There are no direct flights.
Hamid Gharajeh, of the Iran Democratic Association of Canada, said he's spoken to families and friends of some of the victims. Many aboard were students on their way back to Canada after the holiday break, he said.
“Our hearts go out for all these young people who are just trying to get back to their lives,” Gharajeh said in Toronto. “It's unfortunate.”
Payman Paseyan, a member of the Iranian-Canadian community in Edmonton, Alberta said multiple people from the city, including many international students, were on the flight and he knew many of the passengers.
“They leave behind families and people they love and they come to Canada and often they're second-guessing, `Should I leave my family behind to do this?'” Paseyan said. “Then they move here and they do all this just to board a plane and have it all washed away. It's devastating.”
“Iran does not recognize dual nationality and Canada will not be granted consular access to dual Canadian-Iranian citizens,” Global Affairs said.
Paseyan said members of the Iranian-Canadian community learned of the crash while being glued to the news after Tuesday's missile attacks in Iraq.
“Many were expecting their friends and families members to come back” and were aware of the flight they were on, said Paseyan, a former president of the Iranian Heritage Society of Edmonton. “They were worried about their family members that were in Iran, and now this has compounded that with worry for the community.”
Canada is urging Canadians to avoid non-essential travel to Iran due to the volatile security situation, but the travel advisory makes no mention of the plane crash.
“There are no words. 176 lives lost. 63 Canadians won't be coming home,” Opposition New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh tweeted. “These families deserve clear answers, but whatever the case, this is devastating.”
Andriy Shevchenko, Ukraine's ambassador to Canada, also expressed condolences.
“My heart is broken. We will have to go through this terrible pain together with our Canadian brothers and sisters,” he tweeted.