PhD candidates, instructors and graduate students with ties to schools across Canada were among the victims of a plane crash Wednesday in Tehran that killed all 176 people on board.
The downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 has left more than 20 Canadian universities and colleges grieving the loss of students and faculty who were killed. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday that intelligence from multiple sources indicates an Iranian missile likely downed the passenger plane, but added it may have been unintentional.
The University of Alberta has said at least 10 members of its community, including professors and engineering students, were killed.
“Everyone on campus today is mourning the incredible loss of talent,” school president David Turpin told reporters Wednesday.
“These are wonderful people who have already contributed so much to our institution and had such bright futures ahead of them.”
Pouyan Tabasinejad, vice-president of the Iranian Canadian Congress, told Global News that many victims would have been returning home from the winter break and that the lack of travel options between Iran and Canada contributed to the high number of Canadian victims.
“Increasingly the best and brightest of Iran – the people with the most education – are looking outside of the country and Canada is an attractive destination,” he said. “There are 300,000 Iranian-Canadians and that kind of serves as a sense of home for students.”
Diplomatic relations between Canada and Iran broke off in 2012 and there are currently no direct flights between Canada and Iran. Tabasinejad said passengers have to use connecting flights and often have to travel through Ukraine.
Why so many students?
One reason for the high number of students and academics on the flight is that Iranian international students are increasingly drawn to Canada because of U.S. President Donald Trump’s travel ban, according to Tabasinejad.
Imposed in 2017, Trump’s executive orders placed stringent travel restrictions to the U.S. for citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia and other countries.
“Many Iranian international students see Canada as a top destination because it’s so difficult to count on getting a visa or even getting into the United States,” he said.
“I have friends who aren’t even allowed to enter the U.S. for conferences.”
Indeed, data from the Canadian Bureau for International Education, a non-profit organization, found that Iranian students make up two per cent of Canada’s total international student population — roughly 11,000 as of 2018.
The organization found that in 2017-2018, Iranian students were the second-fastest growing group of international students in the country.
Universities across Canada left shaken
The University of Toronto said six of its students were aboard the doomed flight: Mojtaba Abbasnezhad, Mohammad Asadi Lari, Zeynab Asadi Lari, Mohammad Amin Beiruti, Mohammad Amin Jebelli and Mohammad Saleheh.
“You never think something like this will happen to you,” said Nishila Mehta, a University of Toronto student.
“The response has just been one of disbelief, devastation.
“We are doing our best to try and just process it.”
Mehta remembers her friend of Mohammad Lari, who was killed along with his sister Zeynab, as a member of the close-knit University of Toronto medical sciences community.
Zeynab was finishing her bachelor of science, while her brother had earned his medical degree.
“He was a friend to almost all of us,” Mehta said.
At Western University, three graduate students and an incoming graduate student were killed.
Hadis Hayatdavoudi, a PhD student at the Electrochemistry and Corrosion Science Centre, Milad Nahavandi, a PhD student at the Industrial Bioproduct Lab, Ghazal Nourian, a PhD student in the Nanophotonic Energy Materials group and Sajedeh Saraeian, an incoming masters of science student in chemical engineering.
“My heart breaks for the families, friends, and loved ones of all those lost in this horrible tragedy, including three current Western graduate students, and one incoming graduate student,” London Mayor Ed Holder said in a statement.
The tragedy also touched schools from coast to coast.
In Nova Scotia, Masoumeh Ghavi, an engineering student at Dalhousie University, and her sister, Mandieh Ghavi, who had recently been accepted to study at Dalhousie, were killed in the crash.
Nafarieh said Masoumeh started working part-time at Hanatech IoT Inc. a few months ago.
“She went back to Iran to spend the holidays with her family and bring her sister back because she was going to start med school at Dal,” he said. “Unfortunately both of them were on the same plane.”
Meanwhile, Maryam Malek and Fatemeh Mahmoodi were attending St. Mary’s University as masters of financial management students and were confirmed to be aboard the plane.
In British Columbia, a first-year business student, Roja Omidbakhsh, was confirmed to be among the Canadian victims.
“Roja was very positive and had a keen interest in marketing. She was on the pathway to complete a bachelor of commerce,” Prof. Mark Colgate said in a statement.
“We’re heartbroken that this happened and our condolences go to her family and classmates.”
In Quebec, at least six people were confirmed to be on the flight, including newlyweds Sara Mamani and Siavash Ghafouri-Azar, engineers who graduated from Concordia.
Ali Dolatabadi, a professor at Concordia University, taught Ghafouri-Azar for more than two years. He had a great soul and was a devoted student, according to Dolatabadi.
“He was extremely dedicated, very polite,” he said. “And very humble and hardworking.”
Other schools reeling from the crash include McMaster University in Ontario, where two PhD students in engineering, Iman Aghabali and Mehdi Eshaghian, were among the dead.
The University of Windsor was mourning at least five members of its student and research community.
“Windsor is heartbroken by this news and we extend our heartfelt condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of everyone impacted by this terrible tragedy,” said Windsor University president Robert Gordon.
Here are the colleges and universities that have confirmed to have lost a member of their community:
- University of Alberta
- University of Ottawa
- University of Manitoba
- University of Waterloo
- University of Windsor
- University of British Columbia
- Western University
- University of Guelph
- University of Toronto
- University of Victoria
- Carleton University
- McGill University
- Aviron Technical Institute
- Concordia University
- Dalhousie University
- St. Mary’s University
- Langara College
- University of Ontario Institute of Technology
- George Brown
- Centennial College
- York University
–With files from Ross Lord and Jamie Mauracher