RICHMOND HILL, Ont. — Merzhad Zarei moved swiftly through a crowd of people waiting to meet Justin Trudeau at an outdoor food-truck festival north of Toronto, hoping to get the Liberal leader's attention.
“Mr. Trudeau, Mr. Trudeau,” he shouted from behind a mask, as the incumbent prime minister turned his head.
Trudeau was finishing up the second week of this campaign that ends on election day on Sept. 20, rolling out promise after promise of what a re-elected Liberal government would do.
Zarei was there to remind Trudeau of another promise, one made months after the 2019 election.
Zarei's 18-year-old son Arad was on board Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 on Jan. 8, 2020, when it was shot down minutes after takeoff from Tehran.
A few days, Zarei and other families of the victim met with Trudeau about the road ahead.
Zarei recalled that Trudeau promised the families answers, accountability for those involved and ultimately justice for their loved ones.
In the immediate aftermath of the shootdown, Iran denied responsibility, but acknowledged three days later that its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard mistakenly hit the Ukrainian jetliner with two surface-to-air missiles.
All 176 people on board died, including 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents.
Preliminary reports released by Iranian authorities pointed to an air-defence operator who mistook the Boeing 737-800 for an American cruise missile, but a final report from Iran's civil aviation body blamed "human error," yet named no one responsible.
Zarei was one of four plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed against Iran that an Ontario judge earlier this year allowed to move ahead after deeming the shootdown an act of terrorism.
On Friday, Zarei asked Trudeau about why Canada wasn’t criminally prosecuting members of the Iranian regime despite the evidence against them, and why the government hadn't labelled the incident as an act of terrorism.
"He promised me to to get justice for the families," Zarei said after the meeting. "That's what he promised me, the same as before."
Trudeau listened about the unfulfilled promise amid a campaign where he is making new promises to voters. Animated, Zarei pressed his point.
Finally, Trudeau reached out and hugged Zarei, speaking in his ear and promising anew to do everything possible to get justice for the victims, doing so in a small pocket inside a crush of security, journalists and onlookers as the Liberal leader hit the hustings.
"I hear now he's talking from (the) bottom of his heart to go for justice for the families," Zarei said afterwards, wearing a small button on his chest bearing his son's face and name.
"That's why I kept calling. And I believe him (that) he is going to do the justice for the people."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 27, 2021.
Jordan Press, The Canadian Press