Families of victims of Ethiopian and Iranian air disasters will be able to get permanent residency
Policy applies to families of victims who were Canadian citizens, permanent residents or on path to residency
Family members of people who died in two recent air disasters and had ties to Canada will be allowed to obtain permanent residency here under a new program launched by the federal government today.
The new policy applies to the relatives of those who were Canadian citizens or permanent residents when they died aboard Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 or Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752.
The policy also applies to the families of the victims who were foreign nationals at the time of the disasters and already had been deemed eligible on their Canadian permanent residence applications.
It will allow those family members already in Canada to apply for permanent residency until May 11, 2022.
The government says it is also expanding an existing policy that allows certain family members of Flight 752 victims to obtain temporary residence in Canada.
- What we know about Canada's victims of Flight PS752
- Grief and anger as families try to identify loved ones killed in Ethiopia Airlines crash
Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed six minutes after taking off from Addis Ababa international airport in March 2019, killing all 157 passengers — including 18 Canadians and many others with ties to Canada. The crash has been blamed on a flawed flight control system triggered by faulty sensor data on the Boeing Max 737 Max 8 aircraft, which was grounded worldwide after the crash.
Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 was shot down in January 2020 by Iranian military forces shortly after departing Tehran's airport during a period of heightened military tensions in the region. All 176 passengers on board died, including 55 Canadian citizens, 30 permanent residents and many others with ties to Canada.
WATCH | Immigration minister announces pathway to permanent residency for families of victims in two recent air disasters:
Speaking at a press conference in Ottawa today, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said the new policy is a demonstration of compassion that will allow the victims' relatives to reunite permanently with family already in Canada. He also framed it as a show of support for the families of Flight 752 victims as they push to hold Iranian authorities accountable for the disaster.
"We believe by introducing this public policy that we are demonstrating solidarity with the families in their efforts to seek justice, and we're also demonstrating compassion at a time that has been extraordinarily difficult," said Mendicino.
Negotiations with Iran expected to start soon
Transport Minister Marc Garneau told MPs today Canada will soon enter into negotiations with Iran on reparations for the victims' families. The association representing those families has said repeatedly it wants answers and justice before any talks about compensation begin.
Garneau said that Canada will be seeking "full accountability" during the talks.
"The behaviour of the Iranian government has been, frankly, unconscionable in the past 15 months," Garneau told a parliamentary committee studying the government's response to Flight PS752 Thursday afternoon.
"What they're doing is laying the blame on some low-level people who operated the missile battery and not providing the accountability in the chain of command and the decision makers surrounding this ..."
Garneau said Canada will be releasing its own forensic examination of the plane's destruction in the coming weeks.
Many victims' families already in Canada
The new pathway to permanent residency meets a key demand made by many Iranian family members of Flight 752 victims who came to Canada after the disaster — to grieve with family, organize funerals, handle finances and clear out their homes — and who stayed after the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Others fled to Canada as refugees, or to seek asylum, after facing threats and intimidation from Iranian authorities for demanding answers in the wake of Flight 752's destruction.
Mendicino said these families have told him they want to stay.
"The grief and anguish is real and ongoing. They tell their stories and they describe how their loved ones are now gone. And they mourn the loss of them, whose lives were so cruelly taken. The families are in pain and they still ask questions," said Mendicino.
"Today, the government is taking a step to help heal some of those wounds."
Amir Eghbalian, who lost his sister and 8-year-old niece aboard Flight 752, flew with his family to Canada from Iran for the funeral more than a year ago and hasn't returned yet over concerns about his family's safety. He is now seeking refuge in Canada.
He said that in Iran, he felt he was under pressure from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the government and generals to attend the funeral for the victims of Flight 752, accept compensation and move on. In Canada, Eghbalian said, he can continue the search for justice without worrying about the Iranian state coming down on him.
Iran originally denied responsibility for the the downing of Flight 752. In response to international pressure, it later admitted that its forces shot down the Boeing 737-800 passenger plane, claiming it was an accident caused by human error. In its official investigation, safety investigators from Iran's civil aviation authority said the plane was "misidentified" by an air defence unit as a "hostile target."
Canadian officials and victims' families have cast doubt on that conclusion, arguing that Iran failed to prove the passenger jet was shot down due to human error and that the official report left many important questions unanswered.
They have criticized Iran for a lack of transparency and continue to push for answers and compensation from the Iranian government.
WATCH: Immigration minister answers questions about new permanent residency program
Who qualifies for the program?
According to the immigration department, people are eligible for the program if they are now in Canada and are spouses or common-law partners of Canadian victims of flights ET302 or PS752.
Applicants also qualify if they are the children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, siblings (including half-siblings) aunts or uncles, nieces or nephews of Canadian victims, or of their spouses or common-law partners.
The program excludes family members of victims who were international students in Canada, and those who are not currently in the country.
Mendicino said the government is looking at ways for family members who are not in Canada to obtain permanent residency, and encouraged them to apply for asylum if they fear for their safety.