Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he is “furious” and “outraged” about the downing of a Ukrainian aircraft by the Iranian military earlier this week, and called on Iran to take “full responsibility” for the incident.
Speaking to reporters Saturday afternoon, Trudeau said Iran’s admission that its military was responsible for shooting the Boeing 737-800 down, killing all 176 on board was “an important step,” but said the country must now allow for a full investigation to take place.
“This is an accident or incident that is truly horrible, and I am angry, I’m disappointed, but I am firmly committed to getting answers, and compensation and help and justice for the victims,” Trudeau said.
“I am of course outraged and furious that families across this country that are grieving their loved ones, that the Iranian-Canadian community is suffering so greatly, that all Canadians are shocked and appalled by this senseless loss of life.”
Trudeau said he had spoken with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, and told him that shooting down a civilian aircraft is “horrific” and an “extremely serious matter,” saying Canadians and the world have many questions that “must be answered.”
Trudeau said he expressed to Rouhani that a “full and complete” investigation must be conducted, and that it is “absolutely necessary” that Canada be a participant.
Trudeau said that he expects “full cooperation” from Iran, adding that three visas have been granted for members of Canada’s rapid deployment team headed to Tehran.
According to Trudeau, the officials were expected to arrive in Iran at 4 p.m. to “establish a presence on the ground.”
A government source later confirmed that three members of the team had landed.
Trudeau said while there have been calls for a credible, international investigation from the very beginning, the fact that Iran has now taken responsibility for the downing of the aircraft means that it is “likely that they will be full participants and fully allow a credible, independent, international investigation with all partners involved.”
“We still have work to ensure that happens, but the question of responsibility I think takes us a step forward towards truly having a very credible and thorough investigation,” he said.
During the call, Trudeau said he also condemned the Iranian strikes on two military bases in Iraq, saying they jeopardized the lives of Canadian forces.
Trudeau said he called for the de-escalation to ensure peace and stability in the region.
Within Canada, Trudeau said an “emergency task force” convened earlier today, with consular officials dispatched across the country.
He said the Canadian government’s focus remains on providing “accountability, transparency and justice” for the families and loved ones of the victims.
Trudeau said the Iranian-Canadian community is one that has “contributed tremendously” to this country.
“Hardworking, proud Canadians, contributing every day to building a better future for themselves and their kids, and too many families are destroyed,” he said.
Earlier on Saturday, Iran admitted that its military “unintentionally” shot down the Ukrainian jetliner, killing all 176 aboard, including 57 Canadians, after repeatedly denying it was responsible.
In a statement, Iran’s military blamed “human error” for the incident.
Iran’s statement says the country’s military had to stay on high alert due to “unprecedented threats” from the U.S., which had ordered a strike that killed top-ranking Iranian military officer, Gen. Qassam Soleimani, on Jan. 3.
According to the statement, the airliner was approaching a “sensitive military base” belonging to the Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps after takeoff.
However, in a statement posted by the Tasnim news agency on Saturday, Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization said the plane had not veered off its normal course.
“Until now no flight deviation of the airplane which had the accident has been proven,” the statement said.
The news prompted protests in Iran.
Up to 1,000 people chanted slogans in Tehran against the authorities, the semi-official Fars news agency said in a rare report on anti-government unrest.
The aircraft went down just a few kilometres from the airport in Tehran, hours after Iran launched a number of missiles at two military bases in Iraq housing U.S. forces.
In a tweet Rouhani said that the country “deeply regrets this disastrous mistake.”
“Investigations continue to identify & prosecute this great tragedy & unforgivable mistake,” he said.
Rouhani, during the telephone conversation with Trudeau, promised further investigation into the downing of an Ukrainian passenger plane, state news agency IRNA reported.
“Iran welcomes any international cooperation in the framework of international regulations to shed more light on the incident,” Rouhani said, promising further investigation into the crash that Tehran said was caused by its air defences.
Retired Canadian Forces Maj.-Gen. David Fraser, who commanded allied troops in Afghanistan, said he was surprised that the Tehran government would make any announcement of accountability.
But at the same time, he said, they had no choice.
The Ukrainian crash investigators “would have seen very quickly that it was shot down by a missile,” he told Global News Radio host Roy Green.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a tweet Saturday afternoon that he too had spoken with Rouhani, and said Iran’s acknowledgement that the plane was shot down was a “step in the right direction.”
“I insist on immediately completing identification of the bodies & their return to Ukraine,” the tweet reads. “The perpetrators must be held accountable.. We look forward to further legal & technical cooperation.”
In a televised address on Saturday, Zelenskiy said he had agreed with Rouhani on the beginning of joint work on decoding the black boxes of the plane.
He also urged the country’s international partners to be united and persistent until the investigation was complete.
Zelenskiy said Iran has pledged to quickly identify and return victims’ remains from the jetline and has also promised to prosecute any Iranian officials responsible for shooting down the aircraft.
Zelenskiy said he “will return all those dead to their families,” adding: “All the culprits will be punished.”
Sixty-three Canadians were originally thought to be on the plane, as cited by Ukrainian authorities, but Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne lowered that number to 57 on Friday evening after Canadian officials considered additional information.
On Friday, the Canadian government announced it would be leading the International Co-ordination and Response Group — an international task force — to put pressure on Iran to investigate the crash.
Iran and Germany did not join the task force despite losing citizens in the crash.
—With files from Eric Stober, Reuters, The Canadian Press and The Associated Press