‘People are in shock’: Victoria prof. says Iran plane crash will reverberate across Canada

Death toll includes 63 Canadians, 11 of them British Columbians

A Ukranian jetliner that crashed minutes after takeoff from an Iranian airport, killing all 176 on board, is now being linked to a ballistic missile attack by Irani forces – news that will certainly impact the nation’s anxiety and grief, says a Greater Victoria professor.

The death toll includes at least 57 Canadians, more than one dozen British Columbians and one Greater Victoria resident – first-year bachelor of commerce student Roja Omidbakhsh.

“I think most Canadians are probably in a complete state of shock about what’s happened,” said Kenneth Christie, professor and program head for Royal Roads University’s Human Security and Peacebuilding graduate programs. “This is a national disaster. I think it’s going to take a long time. People are in shock and it’s obviously going to take quite some time for healing.”

RELATED: First-year UVic student among the 176 victims of Iran plane crash

According to an initial Iranian investigative report released Thursday, Flight PS752, a Boeing 737 operated by Ukranian International Airlines, was on fire and attempting to get back to the Tehran airport when it crashed after reaching nearly 8,000 feet of altitude. The report says the flight crew never made a radio call for help.

François-Philippe Champagne, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, released a ‘readout’ of his conversation with the Iranian foreign minister in which the Canadian official “stressed the need” for Canadian officials to get quick access to Iran to provide consular services, help with identifying the deceased and take part in the investigation of the crash.

RELATED: Iran says Ukrainian plane was on fire, tried to turn back before crash

Bodies of the victims of a Ukrainian plane crash are collected by rescue team at the scene of the crash in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. A Ukrainian passenger jet carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday, just minutes after taking off from the Iranian capital’s main airport, turning farmland on the outskirts of Tehran into fields of flaming debris and killing all on board. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

The crash followed a week of escalating U.S.-Iran tensions, starting with an American drone strike that killed top Iranain commander Qasem Soleimani near Baghdad Jan. 3. U.S. military forces were evicted from the region, and Iranian state television reported that Iran would no longer abide by limits of its 2015 nuclear deal.

“Canada typically follows the line that the U.S. follows in terms of its foreign policy,” Christie said. “Though I think in this case there’s probably some upset that the U.S. went and conducted the drone strike against Soleimani on their own.”

RELATED: Iran warns US to not retaliate over missile attack in Iraq

On the same morning the plane crashed, Iran launched missile attacks on Iraq bases where American, Canadian and allied troops were stationed, announcing the strikes as retaliation for Soleimani’s killing. U.S. officials now say it is “highly likely” that an Iranian anti-aircraft missile downed the jetliner.

“Precisely at that moment in time and just a few hours before, Iran was launching missiles at American air bases in Iraq and there is some speculation that a missile might have hit the plane,” Christie said. “I think that kind of uncertainty about what happened, and the fact that the Iranians have not handed over the black box … I think that uncertainty and ambiguity exacerbated all that worry and anxiety and tension.

“Part of that will be about closure, to know what happened in those final moments,” he added.

Canada has not yet commented on the news that Iran was “likely” behind the crash, but has condemned the Iranian strikes on Iraqi bases. Champagne told Iran’s foreign affairs minister that “Canadians have many questions which will need to be answered.”

RELATED: ‘Highly likely’ Iran downed Ukrainian jetliner: US officials

With files from the Associated Press.



nina.grossman@blackpress.ca

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