TORONTO — Grieving friends and relatives of victims killed during the downing of Flight PS752 called for justice and accountability from the Iranian regime Sunday as Canadians from coast to coast marked three years since the country's military shot the plane down.
At a highly-emotional and politically-charged ceremony in North Toronto, The Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims remembered those lost in the crash while loudly condemning the Islamic Republic of Iran's human rights violations.
"We expect the governments of the affected countries to continue to stand with us and show to the world that justice will only be achieved with the truth," association head Hamed Esmaeilion said during the ceremony.
Family members who lost loved ones in the crash sobbed, called for justice and fiercely criticized the Iranian regime throughout the nearly three-hour event, where chants of "Justice for Iran" and "Woman, Life, Freedom" resounded constantly through the auditorium.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, one of several dignitaries who addressed the crowd, touched on similar themes.
"This tragedy happened because of the Iranian regime's heinous disregard for human life," Trudeau said in remarks directed at grieving relatives.
"Your grief has been compounded by their refusal to be held accountable."
Families took part in 12 rallies from Vancouver to Toronto and St. John's, N.L., to mark the anniversary of the crash, which killed 176 people including 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents.
The Ukraine International Airlines jetliner was bound for Canada via Ukraine and shot down shortly after its takeoff from Tehran in January 2020.
The marquee ceremony was preceded by a morning reception and art gallery viewing and followed by a candlelight vigil nearby.
Trudeau spoke briefly with some of the victims' family members ahead of the official ceremony, which also featured musical performances and video presentations.
The photos, names and ages of the victims were shared throughout the ceremony and a moment of silence was held to remember them.
In addition to honouring the lives lost, speakers stressed the importance of seeking justice.
Federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre called for more severe consequences for the Iranian regime, including listing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization — a demand echoed by victims' family members.
"It is appalling that today, three years after this organization murdered 85 of our own people, it is perfectly legal in Canada for this organization to operate," Poilievre said.
In October, Trudeau's government barred more than 10,000 former IRGC members from entering Canada, but it has remained hesitant to list the entire corps as a terrorist organization because it could punish those conscripted into the force for non-combat roles.
Community members and dignitaries also expressed solidarity with those in Iran protesting since the killing of Mahsa Amini, a young woman who died in custody of Iran's morality police in September.
Similar calls for justice also came from those who attended commemorative events outside of Toronto, who urged Ottawa to take a tougher stance against Iran.
In Montreal, hundreds gathered in front of McGill University to mark the somber anniversary and honour the victims. Protesters marched in the frigid cold to the building that houses the International Civil Aviation Organization, also located in the city's downtown core.
Nastaran Razmjoo, a protester who lost a friend aboard PS752, said not nearly enough has been done for the victims' families to support their quest for justice and accountability.
“The families are angry. They say it’s not enough what the government of Canada has done,” Razmjoo said.
“We are asking the aviation organization to take action because silence is violence.”
On Dec. 28, Canada joined peer countries in starting the process to send the Flight PS752 case to the International Court of Justice and attempt to force Iran to compensate victims' families.
Advocates argue the move should have come sooner and the RCMP should have launched a criminal investigation while Ottawa was negotiating with Tehran.
Trudeau met with grieving family members on Friday and said Ottawa would be relentless in fighting for truth, justice and accountability.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 8, 2023.
— With files from Nojoud Al Mallees in Ottawa and Marisela Amador in Montreal
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Tyler Griffin, The Canadian Press