OTTAWA — Canada and its allies are accusing Iran of snubbing the families of those killed when its military shot down a passenger jet two years ago by refusing to negotiate a settlement.
The joint condemnation Thursday by Canada, Britain, Sweden and Ukraine comes after Iran ignored a Wednesday deadline by the coalition of countries to negotiate a settlement for the Jan. 8, 2020 disaster that saw Iran's Revolutionary Guard shoot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752.
Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly and her counterparts called the snub an "affront" to the loved ones of the 176 people on board who were killed on the plane, including 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents, along with nationals of Britain, Ukraine, Afghanistan and Sweden.
They said they have tried repeatedly to negotiate with Iran but now find those efforts to be futile, so they will pursue other avenues in international law.
The coalition of countries, which calls itself the International Co-ordination and Response Group, had last month given Iran a deadline of Wednesday to come to the bargaining table and negotiate compensation for the victims' loved ones.
"Iran is now categorically rejecting any further negotiations with the Group related to our collective demand for reparations. As reparations are owed to the affected states, this matter must be discussed collectively, so that all victims are treated fairly and equally," says the joint statement issued on Thursday..
"We will never forget this senseless loss of life and stand in solidarity with the victims’ families. They deserve transparency, justice and accountability for this reprehensible tragedy."
The group says it is now clear that Iran is avoiding its international legal responsibilities and needs to "make full reparations for its actions. We will not stand for this affront to the memories of the 176 innocent victims," says the joint statement.
“Despite our best efforts over the past two years and multiple attempts to resolve this matter through negotiations, the Coordination Group has determined that further attempts to negotiate with Iran on reparations for the destruction of Flight PS752 at this time are futile."
Hamed Esmaeilion, whose wife and nine-year-old daughter died in the tragedy, has said Iran's latest inaction should come as no surprise, and called on Canada and its allies to refer the matter to the International Civil Aviation Organization for more aggressive action toward Iran.
"This case should have gone to ICAO a long time ago. We had said to all these governments since the beginning that Iran won't comply. They decided to learn it the hard way," Esmaeilion said Wednesday.
Esmaeilion, the spokesman for the Association of Victims' Families of Flight PS752, has in the past criticized the ICAO for failing to hold Iran accountable and enforce international aviation rules.
Canada and its coalition countries had initially asked Iran to discuss compensation during the week of Jan. 17, but because Iran showed what they have called "apparent reluctance" that deadline was moved up to Wednesday.
The Jan. 8, 2020, tragedy unfolded against a backdrop of escalating violence in the region. Days earlier, a U.S. drone strike killed Iran's top military commander in Iraq.
Iran then retaliated by launching missile attacks on bases in Iraq where American troops were stationed. Canadian troops were also stationed on the bases as part of an international mission. No military personnel were harmed.
Then came the shootdown of PS752. Iran initially denied responsibility but admitted three days later that its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard mistakenly hit the Ukrainian jetliner with two surface-to-air missiles.
Iran has blamed human error, but Canada and its allies have dismissed the explanation and demanded a full accounting from the country — demands that have been ignored in Tehran.
Esmaeilion will join families and political leaders on Saturday in Toronto for a special ceremony to commemorate the second anniversary of the disaster. They will take part in an outdoor vigil and will be joined for a video livestream that will include Joly, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Toronto Mayor John Tory.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 6, 2022.
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press