Marc Garneau says Canada is demanding a strong role in the Flight PS752 investigation
'This is something that we owe to those families,' says transportation minister
Canada will hold Iranian authorities to their commitments about investigating the Ukrainian International Airlines Flight PS752 disaster, says Transport Minister Marc Garneau.
All 176 people onboard the jet died when it was brought down by an Iranian missile shortly after takeoff last Wednesday.
At a press conference on Monday afternoon, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said that Iranian authorities have promised to give their investigators access to the wreckage and to the black box flight data, but it's not yet clear what role those investigators will be allowed to play in the investigation.
Garneau spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about what comes next. Here is part of their conversation.
We just heard from an Iranian-Canadian doctor in Tehran who lost friends in the crash, and he told us he knows families who are trying to recover the remains of their loved ones, and they're getting some pressure not to speak against the regime. And now he's worried that he might even have problems when he tries to leave Iran to return to Canada. So what can you do to help people who face those kinds of pressures?
We have a team of consular officials. There are 12 Canadians ... that will be in Tehran by the end of the day. And it is precisely for that kind of reason that they are there and it's to assist with the families of the victims and to ensure that they will have access.
And for those who may be in the country at the moment and who are seeking advice to leave, of course, we will offer our normal consular services to help them with respect to that.
You know that Iran does not recognize dual citizenship, and so we've run into this problem many times before with Canadians who have two passports. So how can you help Canadians if the Iranians don't recognize them as Canadians?
We are certainly ready to make the point, as we have in the past, that if they have Canadian passports, they are considered to be Canadian citizens. And we will insist that all regulations that govern … Canadian citizens are respected.
How would you describe the co-operation that your government, Canada, is getting from the Iranian government right now?
I would say that they, first of all, admitted that they downed that airplane. That is a first step, but only a first step.
The prime minister spoke to [Iranian] President [Hassan] Rouhani, [and] pointed out very, very clearly that we need their full co-operation on a number of areas.
One that you've just brought up, which is concerning the repatriation of the remains, and that this should be done in an expeditious manner and fully respectful of the families of the victims.
Secondly, that Canada was going to insist on playing a role with respect to the comprehensive investigation of what happened on this particular flight.
This is something that we owe to those families, and we are going to make sure that that is respected. And the indications we have had initially from Iran are that they are willing to co-operate.
But the proof will be in the pudding, so we'll see how this evolves in the coming days.
In Iran, there are different silos of power and they don't necessarily co-ordinate ... so how do you know you're even talking to the right people?
You're right, and this is one of the things that remains to be seen. That's why we are going to be watching this very carefully, and that's why we're not jumping to the conclusion that everything is going to operate smoothly.
But we will — and I can assure you of this — make sure that we are going to achieve our objectives, which is to take care of what the families want, which is to bring their remains back to Canada and to have full co-operation with respect to the investigation.
And if we do run into roadblocks along the way because, as you point out, perhaps there is no full co-ordination between different organizations in Iran, we will be pointing that out extremely forcefully to make sure that we resolve that.
But they have pointed it out themselves. The government has sometimes difficulty getting answers from the Revolutionary Guard, which is the organization that reportedly shot down the plane. So your Transportation Safety Board investigators on the ground, how are they going to get those answers if they can't talk to the right people?
We are going to be following this very, very closely and not making any assumptions.
But the initial indications are that the two TSB .... experts who are in Tehran right now will be allowed to have access to look at the wreckage ... but we will be checking with them to see whether any roadblocks have been put in the way.
Similarly, there will also be TSB experts downloading and analyzing black box data that are also going to be participating with the Iranians, the Ukrainians and others in getting the data out and figuring out exactly what happened.
And we will be monitoring this as we go along to make sure that what we want to happen is going to happen in accordance with the [International Civil Aviation Organization] rules.
Will you be able to look at the data from the black box? Will TSB be able to do that?
Transportation Safety Board [chair] Kathy Fox just spoke at a press conference earlier [Monday] and said that Iran has agreed that Canada, under normal circumstances, because we are a country that had nationals on board, we have observer status.
But it appears that they are going to go out of their way — Iran has said this, and we'll see if that happens — to allow us to look at the wreckage, but also to be present for the download and the analysis of the data.
So this is going further than would normally be prescribed in International Civil Aviation Organization's Annex 13 rules, which govern this kind of situation.
Why was the plane even in the air? Who authorized that? Why was there no shutdown of civilian flights in a theatre that was seeing that level of volatility?
The rule is that it is the country in which the flying activity is occurring that has full control over its airspace. So it is the country itself that decides whether it will close its airspace or restrict certain operations in its airspace.
It's an extremely important question, one that is very much on our minds, as to why the airport was operating as though nothing was amiss.
There were several flights that took off before the Ukrainian Flight 752, and there were many more that took off afterwards. So this is one of the questions that we will be looking for answers to.
Written by Sheena Goodyear and Sarah Jackson. Produced by Kevin Robertson. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.