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COMMENTARY: There are ways to take action over Flight 752

Rescue workers search the scene where a Ukrainian plane crashed in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, on Jan. 8.
Rescue workers search the scene where a Ukrainian plane crashed in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, on Jan. 8. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Ebrahim Noroozi

I was boarding a plane when I first heard the news.

It was early in the morning on Jan 8. As I sat in my seat I learned the early details of a downed jetliner near Tehran. Since then, like so many Canadians, I feel like I’ve been walking in a fog of emotions. I do not even know any of the victims personally. But I do know grief. And I know love. And the nightmare for the loved ones left behind feels unbearable.

The following day, I returned home. Before takeoff, I noticed the people around me — kids laughing, couples holding hands — all these same, otherwise everyday moments that likely occurred as Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 had taken off.

READ MORE: Canada, other countries issue demands for Iran, including compensation for victims

When our plane touched down in Toronto I cried, thinking of the 138 passengers who never made it on that connecting flight destined to touch down where I just had.

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Since then, in learning the personal stories of devastating loss, with numbers replaced by names, I’ve been overcome with sadness, anger and myriad emotions I’m not quite sure how to express. Whether we knew the victims personally, their loss has touched so many of us because we see ourselves or someone we love in them. The children. The students and professors. The newlywed couple. Parents left childless. Kids left without parents. Families ripped apart and lives shattered. The senseless loss is immeasurable.

I also keep thinking back to 1985 — Air India Flight 182. That tragic crash claimed the lives of 329 people — many Canadians of Indian descent — on a flight to Delhi from Toronto via Montreal and London. I was only a child when it happened, but I still remember it. Those families still feel the pain so raw.

Growing up, I remember the grief and devastation within our Indian community. Through the years, with each anniversary of the crash, I recall it feeling more like an Indian tragedy and day of mourning than a Canadian one — perhaps because it was treated as one. As an adult, I see how meaningful it is to treat the tragic loss of life on Flight 752 as a Canadian tragedy — and come together to grieve and heal.

Trudeau wants compensation, justice for Canadians on Flight 752
Trudeau wants compensation, justice for Canadians on Flight 752

How our leaders speak matters. Last weekend at a vigil in Edmonton — home to many Canadian victims of the crash, including newlyweds Arash Pourzarabi and Pouneh Gorji — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the crowd. His voice broke throughout his speech.

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“Across this great country, we stand united together in this time of sorrow,” he said. “This tragedy struck our Iranian-Canadian community, leaving cities like Edmonton reeling. But this was truly a Canadian tragedy. All Canadians are mourning your loss.”

The government would pursue “justice and accountability,” he added.

“You may feel unbearably lonely, but you are not alone. Your entire country stands with you, tonight, tomorrow and in all the years to come.”

Garneau details how Canada is supporting families of Iran plane crash victims
Garneau details how Canada is supporting families of Iran plane crash victims

Speaking in Ottawa earlier this week, Transport Minister Marc Garneau said he wants the participation of the two Canadian investigators in Iran as part of an international probe formalized, though they have been getting good co-operation.

“We will not accept a situation where we are not being given the information we are looking for,” he said.

Language expressing this as a Canadian tragedy by our political leaders matters. Sentiments and actions to seek justice matter. It is meaningful for all of us, but most importantly, for the loved ones of those lost, unlike Air India, when those Canadian families felt mostly alone.

Often feeling at a loss for words, I’ve started to look at ways I can instead do something. The news cycle moves quickly and in a few weeks, then months, we will hear less and less about these victims, though the pain and anguish of these families will be felt for years to come.

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READ MORE: Canadian friends of Iran plane crash victims wonder what to do with belongings

There are a number of funds set up to provide financial support for the families of the victims:

Canada Strong Campaign

Mohamad Fakih, president of Paramount Fine Foods and founder of the Fakih Foundation, has launched a campaign to collect funds for the victims of Flight 752. With oversight from law firm Dentons Canada LLP, all donations will flow through the Toronto Foundation and be granted to those affected.

Flight PS752

The Canadian Iranian Foundation is raising funds for the Flight PS752 crash victims to assist the families left behind with many expenses. All funds raised will be distributed to them and organizers say there will not be any administration or other costs for this fund.

Iranian Student Memorial Scholarship Fund

Eight members of the University of Toronto community, including six students, were among those whose names were on the plane’s passenger manifest.

To honour the memory of those lost, the university has established an Iranian Student Memorial Scholarship Fund. This endowed fund will provide needs-based scholarships to international undergraduate or graduate students from Iran or students from any background studying Iranian studies at U of T.

Mojgan Daneshmand, Pedram Mousavi and Victims of Flight PS752 Memorial Fund

The Mojgan Daneshmand, Pedram Mousavi and Victims of Flight PS752 Memorial Fund has been established at the University of Alberta in memory of professors Mojgan Daneshmand and Pedram Mousavi; U of A students and alumni Pouneh Gorji, Elnaz Nabiyi, Arash Pourzarabi, Nasim Rahmanifar, Saba Saadat, Sara Saadat, Amir Saeedinia and Mohammad Mahdi Elyasi; and all who perished. This memorial fund will support graduate student scholarships at the University of Alberta.

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Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC)

Families of victims located in Canada or the U.S. can call 1-833-864-2831. Those in need outside of North America can call 1-438-843-2029. The IRCC can also be reached at operationPS752@cic.gc.ca.

Global Affairs Canada

Canadians in need of emergency consular assistance while abroad can reach Global Affairs either at 1-800-387-3124 or sos@international.gc.ca.

Our country is heartbroken. There will never be enough words or money to make this right. One cannot find sense in such senseless loss. But standing together in our grief is an important first step towards hopefully, one day, healing.

Meera Estrada is a cultural commentator and co-host of kultur’D! on Global News Radio 640 Toronto.