Politics

Garneau calls on Iran to explain why it didn't ground aircraft following missile attack

Minister of Transport Marc Garneau said today he wants to know why Iran kept its airspace open the night it "mistakenly" fired two missiles at Flight PS752, killing 176 people — 57 of them Canadian — and if Iran deliberately kept its civilian aircraft flying as a human shield.

New York Times report alleges Iran kept airspace open to discourage American counterattack

Rescue teams work through debris at the Flight PS752 crash site outside Tehran. (AFP via Getty Images)

Minister of Transport Marc Garneau said today he wants to know why Iran kept its airspace open the night it "mistakenly" fired two missiles at Flight PS752, killing 176 people — 57 of them Canadian — and if Iran deliberately kept its civilian aircraft flying as a human shield.

Garneau's remarks came after The New York Times reported that efforts by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Force to ground all flights were thwarted by Iranian officials who kept passenger jets flying to prevent U.S. attacks — "effectively turning planeloads of unsuspecting travellers into human shields."

When CBC News asked Garneau about the report, he said he wouldn't speculate on it — then said it's one of the questions Canada wants answered as part of a full, transparent investigation into the downing of the Ukraine International Airlines flight.

Minister of Transport Marc Garneau says he wants to know if there is any truth to a media report that says Iran deliberately kept commercial aircraft flying during the regime's missile attack on U.S. and coalition forces in northern Iraq. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

"That is one of the questions that we have," said Garneau after question period in the House of Commons Monday. "It's not a resolved question at this point."

Garneau said the answers could lie in the plane's "black box" flight recorders, which Canada has offered to help analyze.

"Iran has said that it accidentally fired two missiles at this airplane ..." Garneau said. "We want to know who made the decisions. We want to know why they made those decisions. We want to know why the airspace wasn't closed.

"And we will get those answers in due course because there's no way that information can be kept from us."

Iran admitted it "mistakenly" shot down the jet on Jan. 8 over the capital Tehran, just hours after Iran's forces fired missiles at Iraqi bases where U.S. troops were stationed. The attacks on the bases were in retaliation for a U.S. drone attack that killed a high-ranking Iranian military general.

Of those who died in the crash, 57 were Canadian citizens and 29 were permanent residents.

Black box expertise

It's been more than two weeks since investigators started sifting through the wreckage of the airliner. Iran has asked Canada to help with the analysis of the flight recorders and two experienced Transportation Safety Board specialists are on standby to deploy. But Iran still hasn't said where and when the plane's recorders will be downloaded and analyzed.

If Iran doesn't have the capacity to analyze the black boxes, the International Civil Aviation Organization's (ICAO) rules say they have to send them to someone who does.

"We are pressing Iran to proceed as quickly as possible," said Garneau. "We are ready to help and want to make sure that happens."

Garneau's comments came after MPs in the House of Commons voted unanimously to support a government motion to investigate the tragedy, hold Iranian regime officials responsible criminally, offer federal government support to the victims' families and pursue ongoing efforts to force Iran to compensate the victims.

Prime Minister Justin pays tribute to the 176 victims of Flight PS752 who lost their lives when that flight was shot down by Iranian missiles. 6:17

After the motion passed, party leaders in the House stood to offer tributes and condolences to the victims.

"I rise today to pay tribute to 176 people who were taken from this world too soon, to remember who they were, to stand in solidarity with the people they loved," Trudeau said.

"Among these passengers there were newlyweds, a mother and her teenaged daughter, a father on his way home to his young son, families of three, families of four, a grade 12 student who wanted to become a doctor, a talented dentist focused on starting a practice here in Canada, an ambitious 10-year-old boy who was confident that one day he would sit in the very seat from which I rise, confident that one day his voice would be heard in this House."

Trudeau said that while Canadians could not feel the pain the family members feel at the loss of their loved ones, Canadians do not want to let them grieve on their own. 

We must continue to demand accountability: Scheer

Outgoing Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said it was heartwarming to watch Canada come together over the tragedy as Canadians braved the cold to attend vigils from coast to coast.

"We stood together and were there for each other. That is who we are as Canadians," Scheer said. 

"We must continue to demand accountability from those responsible within the Iranian regime. It was the Iranian regime, and the Iranian regime alone that was responsible for this horrific crime."

Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer offers condolences in a speech he wishes he didn't have to deliver. 4:42

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet offered his condolences to the families of the victims and also to the people of Iran and "people of all origins," he said.

"We don't just have to find out who was responsible but also acknowledge together that military tension was at the root of this tragedy and that lasting peace would have avoided it," he said.

"Quebeckers, Canadians and all nations affected are entitled to the full truth, the unvarnished, unsparing truth."

Blanchet said his party would support the efforts of the federal government to get at that truth.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the horrible loss reminds us of the value of life.

"These were people who didn't only have great potential for their own lives, but had tremendous potential to give back to all of us, to enrich our own country, and it was a loss to all of us," he said.

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