Many wept openly for friends and families of 63 Canadians lost in Flight 752, which the Prime Minister now says was mistakenly shot down by an Iranian missile
Hundreds of mourners packed Mel Lastman Square last night to remember those who perished Wednesday’s disastrous passenger jet crash in Iran.
The vigil was organized by the Iranian Canadian Congress (ICC) and the majority of those who showed up were members of Toronto’s Iranian-Canadian community, many of whom had direct connections to those who perished in the crash.
The immensity of their loss was on full display throughout the night as many wept openly during speeches and other memorial services which took place inside the North York Civic Centre council chambers.
Dozens placed flowers along a table lined with photos of those who died as traditional Persian santur music played in the background. Of the 176 fatalities (there were no survivors), 63 were Canadian citizens. More than 130 people on the flight were headed to Canada via Kiyv.
The passenger jet, Flight 752 from Ukrainian International Airlines, crashed not long after taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport. The crash happened not long after Iran launched missiles at two bases in neighbouring Iraq that hosted U.S. troops, all in retaliation for the U.S. drone strike that killed influential Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, along with U.S. and U.K. officials, say that Flight 752 was shot down mistakenly by an Iranian missile and called for a full investigation into the incident. The Ukrainian government has not assigned direct blame. The Iranian government has denied they shot down the plane.
Though gathered in tragedy, the series of communal responses to the crash, portrayed at length by media around the world, has shown just how diverse and settled the Iranian diaspora is in Canada.
“We’ve lost people all across the country, we’ve lost scientists, we’ve lost legal advisors, we’ve lost professionals, we’ve lost researchers, we’ve lost professors, we’ve lost dentists, we’ve lost doctors, we’ve lost lots of young individuals who are being identified as leaders in their fields,” Majid Jowhari, a Liberal MP for Richmond Hill, which has a large Iranian community, told the gathering.
Later, Jowhari broke down in tears while talking about one of his Iranian-Canadian constituents who lost his wife and eight-year-old son in the crash. The two were in Iran to tell their extended family that they’d finally attained stability and success in their lives as immigrants in Canada after many years of struggle and hard work.
“The two never made it back,” he says. “They don’t deserve that.”
Right before Jowhari’s heartfelt remarks, the night’s processions were momentarily interrupted by a handful of protesters right outside of the chamber doors.
One man, in particular, was especially belligerent, chanting “Death to the Islamic Republic!” loud enough for everyone inside to hear him. Building security had to be called to escort him out.
“There’s a very, very tiny minority of people in our community who wants to politicize everything,” said Pouyan Tabasinejad, vice-president and secretary of the ICC. “They’re always using every instance, even a tragedy like this, to advocate for aggression and war against Iran. It was they who tried to interrupt our event, it’s the same five people all the time.”
A detailed course of events leading up to the plane crash has yet to emerge and different factions within the Iranian community place different degrees of blame on the clerical regime in Iran. But the main message of the night, articulated repeatedly by elected officials and others, was unity and community in the face of difference and tragedy.
Others who spoke included Doly Begum, the NDP MPP for Scarborough Southwest Daisy Wai, the PC MPP for Richmond Hill Godwin Chan, a Richmond Hill city councillor and John Filion, a Toronto city councillor who helped the ICC secure an appropriate venue for the vigil.
But their speeches and gestures of solidarity were overshadowed by Elnaz, a university student whose emotional remarks painted a vivid portrait of her friends, Zainab and Mohammed, both of whom perished in the crash.
“They had so many dreams, they tried so hard to help others, especially in the realm of mental health, where they started an NGO and counselled other students to have a better and more peaceful life,” she says. “Their dreams are gone, but the least we can do as a community is to continue their work and to try and make their dreams come true.”
The message to come together was repeated throughout the night.
“I know many of my friends who’ve lost people,” said Navid Korhani, a graduate student and the president of the Iranian Association at the University of Toronto. “That has affected me very badly as well. I know people who have lost up to half of their family, including young children, and they all need emotional support. We have to provide that as a community.”