Canada’s foreign affairs minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said on Sunday he has reiterated Canada’s stance to Iran that the black boxes from the downed Ukrainian passenger flight should be sent to either France or Ukraine for investigation, saying “Iran has a path to choose.”
“Either they go to the path of transparency, accountability and taking full responsibility,” he said. “When you say to the world you take full responsibility that comes with consequences.”
Speaking to media ahead of a cabinet retreat meeting in Winnipeg, Champagne said he expressed to his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, during a rare-in person meeting on Friday that the wishes of Canada and the international working group are that the black boxes be sent to Europe.
“What I did say to the Iranian foreign minister is that the wish of Canada, the wish of the coordination group would be that the black box be sent quickly either to Ukraine or to France,” he said.
He added though, that he has now followed up in writing, after having heard reports that Iran may be backtracking on its commitment.
176 people including 57 Canadians were killed when the Iranian military shot down the Ukraine International Airlines passenger jet earlier this month.
Iran has admitted responsibility for the incident, but has said it was “unintentional,” and was caused by “human error.”
Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency reported on Saturday that Iran would be sending the black boxes to Ukraine.
The report suggested authorities were also prepared for experts from France, Canada and the United States to examine information from the data and voice recorders of the Ukraine International Airlines plane.
However, on Sunday, the state’s IRNA news agency reported that Iran is trying to analyze the black boxes itself, and denied earlier reports that a decision had been taken to send the plane’s recorders to Ukraine.
“We are trying to read the black boxes here in Iran. Otherwise, our options are Ukraine and France, but no decision has been taken so far to send them to another country,” Hassan Rezaifar, a director in charge of accident investigations at Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, told IRNA.
Rezaifar had been quoted by Tasnim news agency on Saturday as saying the black boxes could not be decoded in Iran and would be sent to Ukraine after Kiev’s repeated requests. IRNA also reported on Sunday that the official had made similar comments a day earlier.
It was not immediately clear what prompted Rezaifar to backtrack.
In an update, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) said investigators working on the crash departed Tehran early Sunday morning.
“During their 6 days in Tehran, they had several meetings with officials from the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau of the Islamic Republic of Iran (AAIB), visited the accident site and examined the wreckage, which is secured in a separate location,” the statement reads.
This week, TSB says investigators will travel to Ukraine to meet with the National Bureau of Air Accidents Investigation of Ukraine (NNAAI) to “collaborate as best they can to help further the investigation.”
The TSB said it is its “understanding” that the black boxes are still in Iran.
“The AAIB’s investigator-in-charge may travel to Ukraine this week to meet with the NBAAI to discuss the investigation and visit the NBAAI recorders lab.
“There are still no firm plans as to when and where the aircraft recorders will be downloaded and analyzed,” the update reads. “The TSB will deploy a second team of investigators who specialize in aircraft recorder download and analysis once it is clear when and where that work will be done.”
Ahead of Sunday’s cabinet retreat meeting Champagne also told reporters that all of the next of kin of the Canadian citizens on board the downed flight have been notified.
He said the wishes of the victim’s families are “paramount.”
In some cases, Champagne said burials are taking place, while in others, repatriation is taking place.
Champagne said a number of families remain undecided on how they would like to proceed, but that once the government receives word of their wishes that they will “follow up.”
“As of today what I can see and what has been reported, the wishes of the families is paramount and we will ensure that this is the case in all cases,” he said.
Canada’s national defence minister Harjit Sajjan told reporters on Sunday that Canada is “actively working” to make sure the Iranians have the black boxes moved to Ukraine or France.
“We are working very hard to make sure that the investigation that is going to be conducted is going to be credible and independent with the appropriate expert advice from us,” he said.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the Canadian government would be giving $25,000 to families of the plane crash victims to assist them with funeral arrangements and travel, among other “immediate needs,” but that he still expects Iran to compensate the victims.
“I want to be clear. We expect Iran to compensate these families,” he said at a news conference in Ottawa. “I have met them. They can’t wait weeks. They need support now.”
In a tweet on Saturday, Champagne said a web portal had also been created to allow the families who have lost a loved one to access information and services available to them.
Meanwhile on Sunday, the bodies of 11 Ukrainians killed in the crash arrived back in Ukraine for a farewell ceremony.
The bodies were brought to Kyiv’s Boryspil Airport aboard a Ukrainian air force plane. An honour guard solemnly carried the coffins into the airport terminal, where a farewell observance is to last until the evening.
—With files from Global News’ Rachael D’Amore, Reuters and The Associated Press