Father of Flight PS752 victim marches to Ottawa to demand justice
Mehrzad Zarei on last leg of 400-kilometre march to deliver list of demands to PM on Thursday
The father of one of the 176 people killed when Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 was shot down by Iranian missiles in January 2020 is marching to Ottawa in hopes of meeting with the prime minister to demand justice for the victims of the tragedy.
Mehrzad Zarei began his two-week, 400-kilometre journey on Aug. 10 at the gravesite of his son, Arad Zarei, at Elgin Mills Cemetery in Richmond Hill, Ont., north of Toronto.
His walk will end at the Office of the Prime Minister on Wellington Street on Thursday, where Zarei hopes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will meet with him and the families of other PS752 victims to receive a letter containing a list of demands, including classifying Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a branch of the Iranian military, as a terrorist group.
In May 2021, Ontario's Superior Court of Justice ruled the downing of the plane was "an act of terrorism." The court later awarded $107 million to the families of six victims, including Zarei.
But, he said, "The families of PS752 … do not need money. We need justice. We need the murderers to understand the government is standing for us."
The Prime Minister's Office would not say if it had received any communication from Zarei or if Trudeau would meet with him.
'My world is broken'
The flight departed from Iran's capital of Tehran on Jan. 8, 2020, bound for Kyiv, Ukraine.
Zarei's 17-year-old son, Arad, was returning home after visiting his mother in Shiraz in southern Iran.
Shortly after takeoff, the Boeing 737 was struck by two Iranian missiles. All 176 passengers and crew were killed, including 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents.
Zarei recalls speaking to Arad before he boarded the plane. He told his son to call when he landed in Kyiv, "so that I know you're safe."
The single father had been working as a tractor-trailer driver that day. After getting home from work, he opened his laptop to check the news.
He had to read reports of the disaster several times before reality sank in. He powered down the laptop thinking "it's not possible," he recalled.
He turned it back on and compared the flight number in reports on the crash with that of his son's one more time.
Zarei drove to Toronto's Pearson Airport in the middle of the night to try to get answers, but didn't find anyone who could help him.
When relatives in Iran confirmed the news, he knew he had lost his only child.
"My world is broken," he said, reliving the moment. "I feel empty."
Zarei still counts the days that have passed since then — it will be 960 when he arrives in Ottawa on Thursday.
Calls for sanctions, criminal investigation
The demands Zarei hopes to present to the prime minister echo calls made by the families of PS752 victims since the tragedy.
They include designating the IRGC a terrorist entity, imposing sanctions on Iranian officials for human rights abuses, taking the case to the International Court of Justice, and opening a criminal investigation into the murder of Canadian citizens aboard the flight.
"The murderers," said Zarei, referring to Iranian officials, "the only language they understand is the language of sanction, the language of power."
He said he has embarked on his walk, despite a bad back and leg, in part because he believes more Canadian lives could be at stake.
"If we do not act, they will kill more and more and more."
Iran has been largely reluctant to co-operate with other countries in the wake of the disaster.
In a statement, Jason Kung, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, said the International Coordination and Response Group — formed by Afghanistan, Canada, Sweden, Ukraine and the United Kingdom to pursue justice for the victims of PS752 — has determined "further attempts to negotiate with Iran are futile at this time."
"We are now focused on the subsequent actions to resolve this matter in accordance with international law," he added. "We will not rest until the families get the justice, transparency and accountability from Iran that they deserve."
Zarei has met with Prime Minister Trudeau twice before. On one of those occasions, he said Trudeau spoke about losing his own brother, Michel, who died in an avalanche while skiing in British Columbia in 1998.
"I feel he understands my pain," recalled Zarei.
But, he added, he no longer feels the federal government is doing enough to bring justice to the families who lost loved ones aboard PS752.
"We should feel the country is beside us," he said, "not that we are alone."