The meeting on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference on Friday quickly sparked criticism online given that Iran shot down a passenger plane last month near Tehran killing all 176 on board, including 57 Canadians. Since then, it has refused to hand over the black boxes recovered from the crash site.
Iranian state propaganda platforms posted images of that meeting after the fact.
Trudeau was questioned by reporters on Friday about why he stopped in on the scheduled meeting between Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne and Zarif, and defended the move.
“I made a promise to families in Canada to do everything I could to make sure that they get answers, that we have a full and complete investigation, that we understand exactly what happened,” he said.
“I went by to impress upon the foreign minister of Iran how important it is that we work together.”
News of the handshake and meeting prompted academics, political critics and human rights activists to question Trudeau’s decision.
“Not a good look to see PM Trudeau with smiling FM Zarif of Iran after Canadians killed at the hands of Iranian incompetence and malice on Ukrainian plane- not to mention the innocent Iranian protestors‘ killed,” tweeted Bessma Momani, senior fellow with the Centre for International Governance Innovation and an expert on Canadian relations with Iran.
Kaveh Shahrooz, senior fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, tweeted that while shaking hands sometimes comes with the job, it should have been avoided in this instance given Iran’s killing of the 57 Canadians, which had originally been pegged at 63 when the tragedy first occurred.
“Look, I get that leaders sometimes have to shake hands with unsavoury people,” he tweeted. “But Iran just killed 63 Canadians. Maybe the PM could’ve avoided this particular photo op. Maybe a UNSC seat isn’t worth a firesale of every last thing Canadians hold dear.”
Masih Alinejad, an Iranian journalist with Voice of America’s Persian service, said the families of the plane crash victims are “furious.”
Canada and Iran do not have formal diplomatic relations — the former Conservative government shuttered the embassy and cut off ties in 2012.
The Liberal government initially promised to reopen that embassy but has not done so.
But the downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 by Iran last month has forced rare direct communication between top Canadian officials and their Iranian counterparts as Canada and other countries that lost citizens in the crash attempt to push for accountability.
Those efforts have included calls for Iran to hand over the two flight recorders recovered from the site of the crash so that they can be decoded and analyzed.
Iran has refused to do so.
Champagne tweeted a readout of the meeting, which said he used the meeting to stress the need for Iran to send the black boxes to France for analysis and agree to compensate the families of victims.
He said countries have been “speaking with one voice” in urging Iran to hand over the recordings.