PS752 probe finds no evidence the aircraft's destruction was 'premeditated' — but says Iran isn't off the hook

Canada's eight-month forensic examination of the destruction of Flight PS752 shows that Canada does not have evidence of its own proving the catastrophe was "premeditated," CBC News has learned.

'The report demonstrates that Iran’s official account of events is disingenuous, misleading,' says PM

Canada has released its long-awaited forensic examination report on the destruction of Flight PS752 on Jan. 8. 2020. (Social media video via Reuters)

Canada's eight-month forensic examination of the destruction of Flight PS752 shows that Canada does not have evidence of its own proving the catastrophe was "premeditated," CBC News has learned.

CBC News has viewed a copy of a long-awaited unclassified report on the circumstances and causes of the aircraft's destruction. The analysis is based on all evidence and intelligence available to the Government of Canada, according to the former CSIS deputy director leading the probe.

"While the Forensic Team found no evidence that the downing of Flight PS752 was premeditated, this in no way absolves Iran of its responsibility for the death of 176 innocent people," says the report.

"Given the totality of information available, the Forensic Team concludes that a series of acts and omissions by Iranian civil and military authorities caused a dangerous situation where previously identified risks were underestimated and not taken seriously," the report said.

The report says the team concluded Iran has "fallen short" of providing a "credible explanation of how and why" a branch of the country's military shot down the plane.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau and Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said the report shows Iran's civil and military authorities — through their decisions, actions and omissions — are fully responsible for the deaths of everyone onboard the aircraft.

"The report highlights the authorities' recklessness, incompetence and wanton disregard for human life," said Garneau at a press conference Thursday. "It also shows how Iran has covered up information, bulldozed the crash site, providing only a misleading and superficial account of events."

WATCH: 'Recklessness, incompetence, disregard for human life ' — Garneau comments on forensic report 

'Recklessness, incompetence, disregard for human life ' -- Marc Garneau comments on PS752 forensic report

2 years ago
Duration 1:55
Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau releases details of a forensic report on the destruction of Flight PS752 by the Iranian military in 2020.

World cannot allow Iran to 'hide' behind 'scapegoats': Trudeau 

The report paves the way for Ottawa to move forward and decide what sanctions, if any, it will impose on Iran.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote a message to the families in the report. In it, he said the government will pursue all available options, including the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

"The report demonstrates that Iran's official account of events is disingenuous, misleading and superficial, and intentionally ignores key factors," wrote Trudeau.

"The downing cannot be conveniently blamed on a few junior personnel. Senior regime officials made the decisions that led to this tragedy, and the world must not allow them to hide with impunity behind a handful of low-ranking scapegoats."

Canada presented Iran on June 3 with a series of demands from several countries — including a formal apology and the return of items stolen from victims.

If Iran responds, Garneau said, Canada can start negotiations; if not, Canada can take the case to the International Civil Aviation Organization for dispute resolution. If that fails, he said, the case could be taken to the International Court of Justice.

Garneau said Canada will not wait "years" for a response from Iran, but wouldn't provide a more concrete deadline.

"There's a limit to our patience in terms of waiting for Iran to get back to us," he said. "After some point in time if we are feeling they are not replying to us, then we will go to those alternate options."

"Canada will negotiate reparations with eyes wide open," wrote Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the report. "Should negotiations with Iran not result in an accept- able outcome for Canada on behalf of the families, we will pursue all available options, including recourse to the International Court of Justice." (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Report's key findings

More than 17 months ago, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 in the skies over Tehran with two surface-to-air missiles, killing all 176 passengers, including 138 people with ties to Canada.

Officials have said Iran's pattern of behaviour since the tragedy has convinced Ottawa it can't trust Tehran's version of events — which is why Canada relied on a specialized team inside the country to chase down the facts. Canada's former foreign affairs minister, François-Philippe Champagne, has said he does not believe Iran's claim that human error was to blame.

The federal government tasked former CSIS deputy director Jeff Yaworski in October 2020 with leading the forensic team, which reports to Vincent Rigby, the prime minister's national security and intelligence adviser.

Four relatives of people killed on Flight PS752 in Iran last year embrace at a memorial for the victims in February 2020. Mahmoud Zibaie, Hamed Esmaeilion, Alireza Gandchi and Shahin Moghadam all lost their children and wives in the crash. (Samira Mohyeddin)

For more than eight months, Yaworski said, the team has been "sifting through a mountain of data, working with our allies and declassifying intelligence where possible, while protecting sources."

The report says the forensic team analyzed the information at its disposal but "only Iran has full access to the evidence, crash site, and witnesses.

"The onus is on Iran to provide definitive answers about all aspects of this tragedy."

The report offered three key findings: 

  • Iran failed to take measures to ensure the safety of its airspace and notify airlines of the risks
  • Surface-to-air missile operators made a series of decisions that resulted in the aircraft's destruction 
  • Iran's military command and control over the surface-to-air missile unit failed

"Iranian civilian and military authorities — through their actions and omissions – directly put Flight PS752 and other civilian aircraft in danger by creating conditions in which a [surface-to-air-missile] operator could launch missiles at them and by failing to take adequate preventative measures to reduce this high risk," the report said.

    Yaworski said the team has also tapped into the valuable detective work of victims' families, including information about other flights, the surface-to-air-missile system and its operator.

    Gathering information 'came with risks'

    The Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims created its own team of fact-finders and used its network of connections around the world and inside Iran to share leads with Yaworski's team. 

    In some cases, families may have put themselves in harm's way, Yaworski said.

    "I recognize that the gathering of this information by the families came with risks, especially given the actions taken by Iran," Yaworski told the committee, adding their contributions were greatly appreciated.

    Victims' families say the head of the RCMP told them the case is too difficult and complex to investigate on Canadian soil since only Iran has access to the evidence gathered from the scene.

    Victims' families supplied information to the Canadian investigative team, officials said. (Patrick Foucault/CBC)

    For three days after the flight's destruction, Iran denied any responsibility. Only after evidence mounted worldwide did Iranian officials state their military "mistakenly" shot down the passenger plane.

    Within days, the crash site was bulldozed. Families claim victims' wedding rings, wallets and luggage were looted. Regime officials barred the families from planning their own funerals, and state-arranged funerals for the crash victims featured banners on the caskets congratulating them on their "martyrdom." 

    It took six months for Iranian authorities to download and analyze the plane's flight data recorders — and Canada was not given access to the data. Over the past year, victims' families in Canada have reported being stalked, threatened and intimidated by suspicious individuals.

    Iran's final report on the disaster maintained that the plane was shot down accidentally in January 2020 after being "misidentified" by an air defence unit as a "hostile target."

    That report, conducted by Iran's Aircraft Accident Investigation Board, backs the Iranian government's claim that it was human error and not a deliberate military attack that led to Flight PS752's destruction. Canadian officials said Iran failed to prove Flight PS752 was shot down in error and called the findings "incomplete."


    Ashley Burke

    Senior reporter

    Ashley Burke is a senior reporter with the CBC's Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa who focuses on enterprise journalism for television, radio and digital platforms. She was recognized with the Charles Lynch Award and was a finalist for the Michener Award for her exclusive reporting on the toxic workplace at Rideau Hall. She has also uncovered rampant allegations of sexual misconduct in the Canadian military involving senior leaders. You can reach her confidentially by email: ashley.burke@cbc.ca or https://www.cbc.ca/securedrop/