The Ukraine International Airlines plane was shot down by the Iranian military in January. The crash outside Tehran killed all 176 passengers and crew, including 55 Canadians and dozens more people who were headed to Canada.
After initially denying any responsibility, Iranian authorities arrested several people and promised to hold them to account. Iran says the plane was misidentified by an air-defence battery shortly after Iran itself launched missiles at western forces in neighbouring Iraq.
Ukraine nonetheless launched its own criminal investigation and speaking in the Ukrainian city of Lviv on Friday during a tour of eastern Europe, Champagne said the RCMP has sent an officer to help Ukrainian police to ensure justice for the victims.
“We always said from the beginning that we wanted to bring closure, accountability, transparency and justice and this is the justice part of it, where we wanted to do everything we can to support because obviously this was a Ukrainian airline flight,” he said.
“So we’re supporting Ukraine in their criminal investigation of those that would be responsible.”
Champagne also said he pressed Ukraine’s president and foreign affairs minister — Dmytro Kuleba, who succeeded Vadym Prystaiko in a shuffle this week — for the airline to quickly compensate families of those Canadians who were killed.
“What I’ve been pushing for is potential advance payment to the families and we’re going to keep following up on that because, as you know under the Montreal and Warsaw conventions (on international air travel), this is a statutory payment that needs to be done by the airlines,” he said.
Champagne was expected to meet with the head of the carrier, Yevhenii Dykhne, during his visit to Ukraine. But the minister, who has previously spoken to Dykhne by telephone, said a scheduling conflict scuttled the planned meeting.
In the meantime, he said Canadian authorities are working with the airline and the London law firm hired by Ukraine International Airlines’ insurer to identify next of kin so compensation can start flowing as soon as possible.
“Certainly what I’ve agreed with my new counterpart, the new foreign minister of Ukraine, is to continue to push Ukrainian airlines,” Champagne said. “There’s obviously legal questions around that because this is a payment from the insurance companies of the airlines to individuals.”
Canada and other countries that lost citizens in the plane crash have also been pushing a separate effort to get the Iranian government to compensate the victims’ families.