Politics

Ottawa has agreed to DNA-test remains of Iran plane crash victim, family says

A family member of a Canadian who died when Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 was shot down over Iran says the federal government has agreed to DNA-test his loved one's remains to ensure Iran didn't make a mistake.

'I would like to make sure this is my family member,' man tells CBC News

The Canadian government has finished repatriating the remains of 13 Canadians who were killed in the crash. Families of 73 other Canadian citizens or permanent residents requested their remains stay in Iran. (CBC)

A family member of a Canadian who died when Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 was shot down over Iran says the federal government has agreed to DNA-test his loved one's repatriated remains to ensure Iran didn't make a mistake.

Canada has now finished the process of repatriating the remains of Canadians and permanent residents killed in the crash. The remains of 13 individuals have been returned to Canada, while 73 remain in Iran according to the families' wishes.

CBC News spoke to one family member who says he became skeptical when he learned that the only personal belongings Iran returned to his family from the crash site were a credit card and passport.

"I don't trust they have done the tests properly," said the man, who asked that CBC News not publish his name to avoid potential repercussions against his family members in Iran. "I would like to make sure this is my family member."

He said the family was in contact with Global Affairs Canada and was told the RCMP would be involved with the testing. 

He said he fears the Iranian regime just gathered up human remains from the crash site, "put them in different boxes and [sent] them over."

"I don't trust that they respect our relatives' remains." 

Canada is still pushing for more access to the investigation into the downing of a Ukrainian jetliner over Tehran earlier this month. (AFP via Getty Images)

Iran admitted its military mistakenly shot down the jet shortly after it took off from Tehran on Jan. 8, just hours after Iran's forces fired missiles at Iraqi bases where U.S. troops were stationed. That attack was in retaliation for an American drone strike that killed a high-ranking Iranian military general in Iraq. Of the 176 people killed in the plane crash, 57 were Canadian citizens and 29 were permanent residents.

Iran says it has arrested suspects in the case. President Hassan Rouhani has called for a special court to prosecute those responsible and promised his administration would be transparent as it pursues answers.

Dennis Horak, Canada's last head of mission to Iran, from 2009 to 2012, said the federal government risks causing more tension with Iran by doing the DNA test. 

"If it turns out the DNA doesn't match, I think then we're into a situation where the Iranians will be quite angry about this," he said. "They'll be very defensive about it and perhaps even suggest Canada will have ulterior motives in doing this and that they're trying to embarrass Iran, and that could have an impact on co-operation."

Canada cut diplomatic ties with Iran in 2012.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continues to ask Iran to give Canada full access to the crash investigation to ensure it is thorough and transparent.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, centre, leaves a news conference in Ottawa on Jan 11, where he discussed the deadly plane crash in Iran. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Omar Alghabra, the prime minister's parliamentary secretary, said for privacy reasons, he can't confirm if the government will do any DNA testing on human remains recovered from the crash site.

He says Canadians should know the government is continuing to help the families of the downed plane in any way it can.

"Families are going through a very traumatic and dramatic loss," he said. "It's very important that they know the government stands with them and that we'll do whatever we can to assist them."

He said throughout Canada's talks with Iranian authorities, it's been made clear that the families' wishes must be respected. He said Iran has been co-operating. 

"We obviously remain vigilant because we want to make sure that Iranians uphold their duties to those families."

About the Author

Ashley Burke

Reporter

Ashley Burke is a senior reporter with CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. Have a story idea? Email her at ashley.burke@cbc.ca