'To never forget': Family of Iran plane crash victim calls for justice

The family of an University of Alberta student killed aboard Flight PS752 gathered on Friday to remember a life cut short while calling on the Canadian government to ensure Iran is held accountable for downing the jetliner. 

Amir Hossein Saeedinia, a U of A postgraduate student, was killed aboard Flight PS752

Leila Latifi fled Iran after she says the military pressured her not to speak publicly about the downing of Flight PS752, which killed her son Amir Hossein Saeedinia. On Friday, what would have been her son's 26th birthday, Latifi called on the Canadian government to ensure the victims receive justice. (Peter Evans/CBC)

The family of a University of Alberta student killed aboard Flight PS752 gathered on Friday to remember a life cut short, while calling on the Canadian government to ensure Iran is held accountable for downing the jetliner. 

Amir Hossein Saeedinia would have turned 26 on Friday. Instead of a celebration, his family held a small remembrance at Hawrelak Park with a close-knit group of about 30 friends and supporters. 

Leila Latifi said she feels a responsibility to ensure justice for her son and all 176 victims aboard the Ukranian International Airlines flight. It's a responsibility that forced her to flee Iran and seek refugee status in Canada after she says the regime pressured her not to speak publicly about its handling of the investigation. 

"It is important for me because it's a matter beyond losing my own son. It's an opportunity to remind the governments, to remind the authorities and those in power that we are seeking justice," she said in Farsi through a translator. 

"His absence is such a loss and is such an empty space in our hearts that we cannot go back to the days before losing him."

Saeedinia and his girlfriend Nasim Rahmanifar were flying back to Edmonton on Jan. 8 after spending the winter break in Iran. The young couple were mechanical engineering postgraduate students at the University of Alberta.

Minutes after taking off from Tehran, Ukrainian International Airlines Flight PS752 was shot down by two Iranian surface-to-air missiles, killing all 176 people onboard, including 55 Canadians citizens and 30 permanent residents. More than half of the passengers were travelling to Canada. 

The tragedy resonated deeply with the Edmonton-Iranian community, who had connections to more than a dozen victims, including 10 University of Alberta faculty and staff. More than five months later and the victims' loved ones are still left with more questions than answers. 

'We demand the government follow up' 

As Latifi spoke about her son, pictures of other local victims were arranged on a table beside her surrounded by flowers and candles. 

"I have promised myself to shout my son's name and remind myself over and over again to never forget," Latifi said. "We demand the government follow up on this." 

Latifi's calls for justice join the chorus of families who recently launched the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims. The group has accused Iran of covering up facts in the case and wants to see the regime held accountable before the International Court of Justice.

"Iran must be prosecuted in the International Court of Justice for the tragic crime that they have done, for the many unanswered questions," said Reza Akbari, president of the Iranian Heritage Society.

Leila Latifi speaks at a memorial for her son Amir Hossein Saeedinia, a victim of downed flight PS752. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

Iran initially denied responsibility but later admitted the military had shot down the jetliner. Iran has since been accused of stonewalling the investigation with Canadian officials still pushing the government to release the all-important flight recorders. Iran has blamed the COVID-19 pandemic for stalling the delivery of the so-called black boxes. 

Akbari and Latifi fear Iran is using these flight recorders as leverage in an effort to push the Canadian government to resume diplomatic relations, severed since 2012.

"Iran must be isolated because by extending the relationship, the government is going to find ways to ... extend their rule," Latifi said. 

Latifi broke down in tears as her son's professors recounted memories of Saeedinia, remembered as an upstanding ambassador for the University of Alberta. 

"He'll be missed. I think about him often. I think about him when I'm with my son," said professor James Hogan. "Amir Hossein was so excited to come to Canada. He was so excited to come to the university." 

Iran admitted it mistakenly shot down Flight 752 after it took off in Tehran on Jan 8. (Ebrahim Noroozi/Associated Press)

Latifi says adjusting to life in Canada while she grieves her son's death has been made easier by the Iranian Heritage Society's support, which is helping her secure refugee status. Volunteers helped organize Friday's remembrance and check on the family regularly. 

"I am assured that the appearance of such nice people in our life is just because of my son's loving and kind way," she said.