Champagne announces international working group to push Iran for answers on downed airliner
Federal government revises number of Canadian victims down from 63 to 57
Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne has announced the creation of an international working group of countries assembled to press the Iranian regime for a full and thorough investigation of the destruction of Flight PS752.
The group will be made up of representatives from countries whose citizens were passengers on the plane, including the United Kingdom, Sweden, Ukraine, Canada and Afghanistan. Iran also had citizens on the plane but it will not be part of the working group.
"Canadians can be rest assured that our government will continue to do everything it can," he said.
Champagne said that officials with the group's member nations will talk and share information on a daily basis in an effort to confirm the cause of the crash.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said yesterday that multiple intelligence reports indicate that the Ukrainian passenger aircraft that crashed outside of Tehran on Wednesday, killing everyone on board, was shot down by an Iranian missile.
The crash killed 176 people. Initial reports said that 63 of the passengers were Canadian citizens; Champagne said that number has since been revised to 57.
The minister also said that Prime Minister Trudeau has asked Clerk of the Privy Council Ian Shugart to set up an emergency task force of senior officials to ensure that loved ones and family members of the victims have the support they need.
The Liberal government also will be setting up a dedicated process to help families struggling with visa issues related to the crash, he said.
"Our priority at this time is providing support to the affected families. They need us and we are looking at all possible options to do this."
Champagne said that the parliamentary secretary to the prime minister, Omar Alghabra, has been asked to work directly with families of the crash victims.
The tragedy happened shortly after Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two military bases in Iraq housing U.S. and coalition troops — an act of direct retaliation for the Trump administration's targeted killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani just days earlier.
Asked if he told U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Canada was upset at not being warned in advance of the plan to kill the general, Champagne sidestepped the question, saying the U.S. is an important player in the region.
"I won't get into the details of what I discussed specifically with the secretary. This is a national tragedy for Canada so we spent the bulk of our time speaking about the downing of the aircraft," he said.
"The U.S. presence in Iraq is essential to be able to provide the security and stability that the Iraqi people have wanted."
Canada has about 500 troops in Iraq; some have been moved to Kuwait in recent weeks in response to the ongoing volatility on the ground. About half of those Canadians are with the NATO training mission, while the others — including up to 250 special forces members — are involved in the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition.
Trudeau confirmed that there were Canadian personnel present at one of the two bases targeted by the Iranians when the attack occurred.
Tensions in the region flared up on Dec. 27, when an Iranian-backed militia group killed an American contractor in Iraq.
Iran's civil aviation authority said it's following international rules and will allow other countries to participate in its investigation of the crash.
But the role Canada is being offered by Tehran amounts to the bare minimum required by the international legal convention on aviation accident investigations — and at this point does not include active participation in the probe of the Ukraine International Airlines flight.
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) confirmed Thursday that Iranian authorities have invited it to the crash site and it is "making arrangements" to travel there and work with "other groups and organizations already on site."
Canada's designated expert also will be able to receive and review information released by Iran's aviation officials, monitor the progress of the investigation, and receive a copy of the final investigation report.
Today, Global Affairs Canada told CBC News that it is seeking visas for two TSB investigators and another 10 visas for consular officials. So far, the two visas that Iran has issued are for consular officials.
Champagne was asked if he's confident that Iran is approaching the investigation of the crash in good faith. "Time will tell," he said.
"The world is watching. We've been clear with them we want to cooperate. Over the course of the next days ... we'll see if they're genuine in their interest in having a full and transparent investigation. Transparency is what the world, the international community, is looking for now."