Cross Country Checkup

Repatriating loved ones killed in Iran plane crash will be 'challenging': former diplomat

As family and friends of those killed in the Iran plane crash come to terms with the tragedy, many are faced with the challenge of returning loved ones' remains to Canada. According to former diplomat Dennis Horak, repatriation of deceased loved ones to Canada could be ‘a difficult process.’

Canadian officials travelling to crash site will 'help facilitate' arrangements, says Dennis Horak

Iman and Parinaz Ghaderpanah died in the Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 752 crash. Their brother-in-law, Ramin Alaen, says they've planned a funeral for the couple in Toronto, though their remains will stay in Iran. (Submitted by Houtan Seirafian)

Typically, on Sundays, Ramin Alaen and his wife would join her brother, Iman Ghaderpanah and his wife, Parinaz, for brunch — but this week he's mourning the loss of his in-laws.

The couple were killed Wednesday when Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 752 crashed outside of Tehran, taking the lives of 176 passengers.

"They were so kind to everyone," Alaen told Cross Country Checkup. "Nobody can believe it, that it's happened to them."

On Saturday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that the country's military was responsible for "unintentionally" launching a missile that struck and downed the plane, blaming "human error." 

Speaking in Ottawa after Rouhani's admission, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that he told the Iranian president that his government needs "full clarity on how such a horrific tragedy could have occurred."

Now, as friends and family of the 57 Iranian-Canadians who died in the crash come to terms with the tragedy, many are faced with the challenge of returning loved ones' remains to Canada.

Alaen expects Iman and Parinaz's bodies will remain in Iran, as most of their family lives there. 

But according to former diplomat Dennis Horak, repatriation of deceased loved ones could be challenging.

"It's always a difficult process, even when there's one person that's been killed, it's challenging," said Horak, Canada's former ambassador to Saudi Arabia and former head of mission in Iran.

"When we get people on the ground, that'll help facilitate that."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held a news conference in Ottawa on Saturday, saying Iran must take "full responsibility" and that a full and complete investigation must be conducted. 6:12

Iran should provide compensation, says Horak

Trudeau, in his comments on Saturday, said that Iran approved visas for three members of Canada's Rapid Deployment Team, which provides critical services for Canadians in distress during emergencies overseas. He added that he expected more approvals in the coming days.

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino also announced Saturday that his department has set up a hotline that family members can call to help with visa issues.

Horak led Canada's mission in Iran before then-prime minister Stephen Harper cut diplomatic ties with the country in 2012, and was part of the team that closed the embassy there.

He says having a diplomatic presence in Iran today could have allowed quicker access to the crash site, "but whether it would help in going forward in facilitating our access to the investigation, I'm not sure."

Dennis Horak is Canada's former ambassador to Saudi Arabia and the former head of mission in Iran. (CBC)

As the investigation moves forward — and families make arrangements for perished relatives — Horak says compensation will be an important topic of discussion. Trudeau raised the issue on Saturday.

"Compensation is something that, as he [Trudeau] said, many of the families here need," Horak said. 

"The government, I think, will make that a priority in due course," he added, suggesting that the government's first priority is likely to investigate the crash.

Whether or not recent talks between the Canadian and Iranian governments will mean a return to diplomatic relations is unclear, but Horak says it's a possibility.

Friends and family of Iman and Parinaz Ghaderpanah held a funeral for them in Toronto on Saturday.

And as Alaen mourns the loss of his siblings-in-law, he says Parinaz's family plan to travel to Iran in the coming days in order to make arrangements for the couple's remains.

But right now, the challenge in reaching their loved ones isn't political or bureaucratic in nature — it's returning to Iran.

"They can't find any flight back. That's the problem," Alaen said.

On Sunday, Cross Country Checkup will open the phone lines for Canadians to share their thoughts on the Flight 752 tragedy.

Join host Duncan McCue live simultaneously through six time zones on CBC Radio One, and streaming on CBC Listen and Facebook Live.

1 p.m. PT, 2 p.m. MT, 3 p.m. CT, 4 p.m. ET, 5 p.m. AT, 5:30 p.m. NT.

Toll-free number during the broadcast: 1-888-416-8333


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