Justin Trudeau Blames ‘Escalation’ for Iran Shooting Down Plane Full of Canadians

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at a press conference in Ottawa on January 11, 2020. Trudeau announced that a team of Canadian investigators is expected in Tehran within hours to "establish a presence on the ground to support Canadian families." - Iran said on January 11, it "unintentionally" shot …
DAVE CHAN/AFP via Getty Images

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a television interview on Monday that the Canadian citizens aboard Ukraine International Air Flight PS752, which Iran shot down shortly after takeoff from Tehran last Tuesday on the same night it launched missiles at two bases in Iraq, would still be alive if “tensions” had not “escalated” in the region.

“I think if there were no tensions, if there was no escalation recently in the region, those Canadians would be right now home with their families,” Trudeau told Canada’s Global News TV when asked if he thought of the Canadian victims as “collateral damage” in a feud between Iran and the United States.

“This is something that happens when you have conflict and war,” he continued. “Innocents bear the brunt of it, and it is a reminder why all of us need to work so hard on de-escalation, moving forward to reduce tensions and find a pathway that doesn’t involve further conflict and killing.”

Trudeau said Canada was not given advance warning of the U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian terrorist mastermind Qasem Soleimani, expressing some peevishness with the lack of a heads-up given that Canadians were at risk in the region.

“The U.S. makes its determinations. We attempt to work as an international community on big issues, but sometimes countries take actions without informing their allies,” he said.

Trudeau said he has spoken to U.S. President Donald Trump and “talked about the need to de-escalate tensions” with Iran.

“I’ve talked about the tremendous grief and loss that Canadians are feeling, and the need for clear answers on how this happened and how we’re going to make sure it never happens again,” he said.

“I am hurt like all Canadians. I am angry like all Canadians,” he said. “But unlike many people, I actually have a job to do that is going to be able to help these families directly.” 

“Getting answers for them is my entire focus right now — supporting them through this grief, rebuilding strength within the community so they can continue to contribute tremendously to this country is what I’m focused on,” he said, referring to Canadians from Iran. “The conversations I’ve had with the Iranian-Canadian community about how they return back and forth, have family members back home, making sure that there is a better sense of peace, of safety, of opportunity, of lack of conflict in the region, is something that is very, very tangible for that community but is of interest to everyone.”

Trudeau did not indicate whether he has also spoken to Iran and told its rulers to stop escalating tensions by launching missile attacks that kill American citizens and laying siege to American embassies. 

Trudeau has refused to hold Iran solely responsible for shooting down Flight PS752 on several previous occasions. Last Thursday, even as Canadian intelligence concurred with the U.S. and other agencies that Iran was lying about the cause of the plane crash, Trudeau dodged several questions from reporters asking if he personally held the United States partly responsible for the deaths of the Canadians aboard the plane. He described partial American responsibility as “one of the many questions that people will be thinking about and trying to find answers to.”

The Iranian government initially stated Flight PS752 crashed due to a mysterious “mechanical failure” and insisted it was “obvious” the plane was not destroyed by an Iranian missile. After seizing the “black box” flight data recorders from the plane and refusing to hand them over to its manufacturer Boeing, the Iranians worked to bury evidence at the site of the crash, admitting their culpability only when it became clear that debris from the crash was not needed to prove the plane was struck by an Iranian missile.  

The Iranian people erupted in anger after their government finally admitted shooting down the plane and are defying the regime by protesting in the streets. Trudeau acknowledged the protests in his Global News TV interview, said he understood the “hurt” and “frustration” felt by Iranians with friends and family who died on the plane, and advised the Iranian government to pay careful attention to the protesters.

“I think some of the moves that were made by the international community, including Canada, at sharing the evidence that we had, even at a preliminary stage, encouraged Iran to come forward and take responsibility, which was a good thing,” Trudeau said.

“But the families also have very tangible questions, like ‘When can we bring our loved ones home to Canada, their remains? How am I going to pay my mortgage? How am I going to get the supports I have because I can’t go back to work, because I just lost my wife and child, and am completely lost, but I still have to pay the bills? Who is going to be held accountable for this? What are the next steps? How are you going to support us?’” he said.

Trudeau portrayed Iran’s belated admission of responsibility as the “very big first step” toward finding justice for the killing of the PS752 passengers.

“But there are lots more questions that need to be answered, and that’s why it’s not just about us working with Iran, it’s about the international community coming together, all the countries who lost citizens on that flight,” he said.

Trudeau touted a meeting scheduled for Thursday at Canada House in London where his government would be “demanding justice,” which he defined as “full admission, acknowledgment of responsibility, and some form of compensation.”

Trudeau came under pressure from families of the victims over the weekend for his administration’s tepid response to the shoot-down, as reported by Reuters on Friday:

The prime minister “completely misses the point” when he does not condemn the Iranian government, said Ali Ashtari, 39, a data scientist from Toronto who lost a friend in the crash.

Ashtari said Canada should designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization and impose sanctions on them. The government already lists the IRGC’s overseas arm, the Quds Force, as a terrorist group.

“This is the minimum that we want from the government,” Ashtari said at a vigil in Toronto. “Otherwise it’s just giving speech with teary eyes, it gives nothing.”

“We would just urge him (Trudeau) to use all his power to find out what really happened and hold the responsible accountable,” Amir Arsalani, who lost his sister, her husband and their one-year-old daughter, told Reuters.

Analysts interviewed by Reuters noted that Canada has little leverage over Iran, having broken off diplomatic relations in 2012, so Trudeau’s current focus is to avoid angering the Iranians so they will allow Canadian inspectors to participate in the investigation and cooperate in returning the remains of Canadian victims. The Canadian government says two of its officials have been granted visas to enter Iran so far.


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