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Iran still lying about crash, leaving air travel in country unsafe, Goodale says

OTTAWA — The prime minister's special adviser on the downing of flight PS752 says as long as Iran refuses to tell the whole truth about the crash, the country's airspace remains unsafe.
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OTTAWA — The prime minister's special adviser on the downing of flight PS752 says as long as Iran refuses to tell the whole truth about the crash, the country's airspace remains unsafe.

"Canada should, in my view, be raising this issue in every forum, (the International Civil Aviation Organization), in other agencies of the United Nations, through every channel and means to make sure that the world does not forget," Ralph Goodale said Thursday at the House of Commons transport committee.

Goodale, a former Liberal cabinet minister, is now the Canadian high commissioner in the United Kingdom. But in 2020 he was appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a special adviser to help guide Canada's response to the crash.

He delivered a report last year critical of existing international rules for investigating plane crashes, which allow the country where the crash happens to lead the investigation, even in a situation like this where Iran was responsible for the crash.

Iran, Goodale told the committee, has been evasive and misleading from day one.

"The world needs to take this seriously," he said. "There is no reason for anyone to believe that the skies over Tehran are any safer today than they were in January of 2020."

The Ukrainian Airlines flight was shot down by Iran's Revolutionary Guard on Jan. 8, 2020, killing all 176 passengers and crew including 85 Canadians and permanent residents. Two missiles were fired at the plane in the minutes after it took off.

Iran issued a report in March which blamed "human error" for the crash, which occurred as tensions were high, hours after Iran had fired missiles at U.S. airbases in Iraq. 

Goodale said that report was late, "shambolic" and lacking a "shred of evidence." 

He said Iran should have closed the airspace, and warned commercial airlines of the tensions. They did neither, and he added Iran also concluded that they would make the same calls again if the situation were to arise another time.

"Iran has displayed an attitude of impunity divorced from any remorse or responsibility for their deadly conduct," he said.

"Yes, the families should be outraged, and so should the entire international community. We have not been told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. And without that no one can or should feel at all safe or secure in the still dangerous skies over Iran."

International plane crash investigations are governed by the rules of the International Civil Aviation Organization, known as ICAO. But Kathleen Fox, chair of the Canadian Transportation Accident Investigation and Safety Board, told the committee that the rule leaving prime authority for the investigation to the country where the crash occurred, never took into account the idea that a government might have shot down the plane itself.

Goodale said this is the third attack on a civilian airliner since 2014, including the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 in 2014, which was shot down by pro-Russian rebels over Ukraine, and last month's "state-sponsored hijacking" of a Ryanair flight in Belarus.

The plane was in Belarusian airspace, flying from Greece to Lithuania when the Belarusian government ordered it to land in Minsk because of a bomb threat, sending a military fighter jet to accompany it to landing. But there was no bomb, and when the plane landed the government arrested dissident journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega.

Several family members whose loved ones died when the Ukrainian jetliner crashed told the committee after Goodale appeared that Canada needs to be doing more to go after Iran for its deliberate act of terror. 

Hamed Esmaeilion, the president of the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims, said ICAO did nothing as Iran destroyed evidence and the belongings of crash victims, or criticized, and the families still wait for signs governments are going to force Iran be held to account.

Esmaeilion's wife, Parisa Eghbalian and their nine-year-old daughter, Reera, were killed in the crash.

"It seems as if an entire airplane has been lost in the clouds of international diplomacy," he said.

He said Iran's explanation is made up of "convenient lies, disguised as mistakes and incompetence to disguise wilful murder."

The families want Canada to launch its own criminal investigation, take Iran to the International Criminal Court, and list the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist entity.

"Without our government we have no recourse to bring the perpetrators of this inhumane crime to justice," Esmaeilion said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 10,2021.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press