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Garneau says Iran still hasn’t released black boxes from airliner shot down in January

Canada and four other countries are still trying to “pressure” Iran to release the flight recorders from the Ukrainian passenger plane its forces shot down on Jan. 8, Transport Minister Marc Garneau said today.

On March 11, Garneau was at the Montreal meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) where Iran’s representative promised his government would surrender the so-called “black boxes” to Ukrainian authorities by March 25.

“The boxes are still in Iran and we continue to exert pressure,” Garneau said today during a government briefing on a video link.

“They said it would be within two weeks. That coincided with the serious onset of COVID-19 in Iran. And they explained that they were not in a position to address that matter at that time.”

Minister of Transport Marc Garneau says Canada and other countries continue to “pressure” Iran to release the black boxes. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Iran’s ICAO representative, Farhad Parvaresh, was not at the Montreal meeting but he made the promise over the telephone.

The pandemic has ravaged Iran but the regime must still surrender the flight recorders to honour its obligations under international civil aviation law, Garneau said.

“We continue now to exert pressure on Iran to transfer those boxes in accordance with their obligations,” he said.

Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 was hit by two Iranian missiles shortly after taking off from Tehran airport. All 176 people on board died, including 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents. Dozens more passengers on the flight were also bound for Canada, many of them students and academics returning from a winter break.

The Tehran-Kyiv route was a popular first leg for trips from Iran to Canada.

Britain, Ukraine, Afghanistan and Sweden also lost citizens when the plane was destroyed; they have formed an alliance with Canada to deal with Iran.

They are pushing Iran to co-operate with a transparent investigation so the cause of the missile strike and the crash can be determined and compensation can be paid to the victims’ loved ones.

Former public safety minister Ralph Goodale was appointed the Canadian government’s special adviser on the file in March.

‘Unacceptable,’ says Goodale

In an interview with CBC Radio’s The Current today, Goodale said it’s “unacceptable” that the Iranian government still hasn’t handed over the black boxes.

“The prime minister and [Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe] Champagne made it abundantly clear that Canada is expecting a transparent process that leads to accountability and the answering of these questions,” Goodale said.

But Goodale confirmed he hasn’t spoken to any Iranian authorities about the deadly incident since his appointment. He said there’s been no progress on any sort of criminal investigation.

He said Canada is trying to rally the international community to exert pressure on the regime in Tehran to be more cooperative.

“Canada alone, or one country alone, is not going to be able to get the answers that the world deserves,” he said.

Iran initially covered up the cause of the crash, but was forced to admit that its Revolutionary Guard fired two missiles at the plane.

The incident occurred just after Iran launched missiles into Iraq at two American military bases in retaliation for the U.S. having killed Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani, days earlier. One of the targeted bases housed Canadian troops.

Goodale said Canada wants an answer to one crucial question: why did Iranian officials allow a civilian airliner to be exposed to military action in the midst of such a dangerous conflict? 

“How did that happen and who was responsible for it happening?” Goodale said. “We’re following every line of questioning and none of the answers are available yet.”

Hamed Esmaeilion lost his wife and daughter when Iran shot down flight PS 752. He tells The Current’s Matt Galloway how families are still fighting for answers. Then, former public safety minister Ralph Goodale, who has been appointed as a special adviser on the crash to the federal government, discusses Canada’s response. 14:24

The families of some of the those killed on the Ukraine airliner have said Ottawa has turned a deaf ear to their concerns because of its focus on the pandemic outbreak.

Goodale has been meeting with the families of victims in recent weeks.

“It’s an absolutely heart wrenching experience. It just reinforces the determination [of] the government of Canada to do everything we possibly can to support these families, to get transparency and accountability and ultimately justice for them,” he said.

In his last cabinet post, Goodale was responsible for overseeing the RCMP and attending international law enforcement meetings.

The envoys from Ukraine and Britain have said that makes Goodale well qualified to push Iran for answers.

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