Canada and four other countries have formally agreed to co-operate in negotiations with Iran over compensation for families of victims killed when Tehran shot down an airliner in January.
The nations, which all lost citizens when Iran’s Revolutionary Guard fired missiles at Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, have signed a memorandum of understanding, the Canadian government said.
The United Kingdom, Ukraine, Sweden and Afghanistan also signed along with Canada. Fifty-five of the 176 passengers and crew were Canadian citizens, and 30 were permanent residents of Canada.
“Members of the group … formalized a common approach to holding the Iranian regime accountable and signed a memorandum of understanding on co-operation regarding negotiations on reparations by Iran, paving the way for state-to-state negotiations,” the government said.
“They also discussed the downloading of the flight recorders in France, compensation from Ukraine International Airlines and the criminal investigation into the tragedy.”
“The group continues to advocate for accountability, transparency, justice and compensation for the families and loved ones of the victims,” according to the statement released by Global Affairs Canada.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif promised to begin compensation talks in a phone call last month with Global Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne.
He also agreed to hand over the plane’s black boxes but has yet to do so, six months after the incident.
“I think if they have one voice, it’s going to be more effective,” said Hamed Esmaeillion, the spokesperson for the Association of the Families of Flight PS752 Victims.
But he said compensation was not atop the list of concerns for families, who want an independent investigation and justice to be the priorities.
“First we have to know what happened, then we can talk about compensation,” said Esmaeillion, a Toronto-area dentist whose wife and daughter were aboard the flight.
He said the families want Canada to take Iran to the International Court of Justice but were advised by Champagne that they must first exhaust other avenues for justice.
Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 was bound for Kyiv when it was shot down shortly after takeoff on Jan. 8. Iran spent days denying responsibility before admitting to firing missiles at the plane.
Tensions were high at the time after Iranian-backed militias allegedly killed an American translator in Iraq, prompting the U.S. to kill Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s Quds Force.
The incident occurred as Iran was anticipating retaliation after attacking military bases in Iraq used by U.S. and Canadian troops. Tehran has claimed the Iranian Revolutionary Guard mistook the flight for a U.S. warplane.
Most of those on the doomed flight were on their way back to Canada. Many were university students, and the tragedy was felt on campuses across the country.