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Fight breaks out at Toronto vigil for Iran plane crash victims

Protesters escorted out of vigil for Iran plane crash victims in Toronto
Warning: Violent content. Discretion advised. A group of protesters were escorted out of a vigil in Toronto at the North York Civic Centre

EDITOR’S NOTE: On Jan. 10, the Canadian government updated the number of Canadians killed in the Jan. 8 Ukraine International Airlines crash in Iran from 63 to 57.

Tensions at a vigil in Toronto’s north end for the victims of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 came to a head Thursday evening, resulting in a physical fight breaking out among a few attendees.

Two vigils were occurring at the time of the altercation and it’s estimated hundreds were in attendance at both events.

One was hosted by independent Iranian-Canadian citizens in Mel Lastman Square and the other was hosted by the Iranian Canadian Congress inside the North York Civic Centre.

Global News captured video of a large crowd of people outside of the packed civic centre’s council chambers.

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Divisions on display at dual Iranian community vigils in Toronto
Divisions on display at dual Iranian community vigils in Toronto

READ MORE: Hundreds expected at Toronto vigils as identities of Iran plane crash victims continue to be released

A couple of people were involved in a verbal confrontation as some were trying to make their way into the council chambers. It was then when a third person could be seen pushing his way toward the two men, resulting in one of them holding the third person back.

As a small crowd began chanting, one of the men involved in the argument — wearing a red-and-black coat — was in the process of being removed by a security guard when he got into a physical altercation with another man. It appears the other man punched him in the head, causing him to fall to the ground.

Security could be seen intervening and speaking with the man for several seconds as he remained on the ground. Guards eventually got the man up on his feet and moved to escort him out of the North York Civic Centre.

“Tell him not to push me, I’m going,” the man could be heard telling one of the security staff multiple times.

Two people who speak Farsi and who were not involved in the dispute watched the video captured by Global News. They provided a rough translation and said those involved were having a dispute over protesting during the vigil while others were trying to mourn.

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Thousands gathered in Toronto, across Canada to mourn Iran plane crash victims
Thousands gathered in Toronto, across Canada to mourn Iran plane crash victims

Some of the attendees were being accused of being part of the current Iranian regime and some were accused of being spies.

READ MORE: Trudeau says Iranian missile likely brought down plane, killing dozens of Canadians

A Toronto police spokesperson said they were unable to confirm if officers were contacted in relation to the fight.

Meanwhile at Mel Lastman Square, some carried photos of victims. Others wept while lighting candles and placing flowers at a makeshift memorial.

Negar Khalil came to pay tribute to her friend, Mahdieh Ghassemi, who died in the crash along with her son and daughter. They were returning from a visit with family in Iran.

“I cannot believe I’m holding her picture and she’s not here anymore,” she said.

READ MORE: Toronto-area architect who died in Iran plane crash remembered as ‘super whiz,’ devoted mother

Farnaz Bigeli came to the vigil to mourn her friend Farhad Niknam. The father of two had just passed exams to become a dentist in Ontario weeks before he travelled back to Iran to visit family.

“We were shocked when we saw his name on the passenger list,” she said.

“I’m thinking about his wife and kids.”

Bigeli, who came to Canada from Iran, said the revelations that the plane was likely hit by a missile have made her angry at the Iranian government.

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READ MORE: The final messages sent by Toronto mother moments before Flight PS752 crashed

“My friend had nothing to do with the politics,” she said.

In total, 176 people died after Flight PS752 crashed moments after taking off from Tehran’s airport.

At least 63 of those on board were Canadian, several of whom lived in the Greater Toronto Area.

— With files from The Canadian Press