Jan 10 (Reuters) – Friends and families of some of the 63 Canadians killed in a Ukrainian plane crash in Iran are calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take a tougher stance after Ottawa accused Iran of having downed the plane, albeit probably by mistake.
But while Trudeau faces pressure at home to respond strongly, his options are few. Iran has said it will allow Canadian, U.S. and other international officials to participate in the investigation into Wednesday’s crash.
Trudeau said on Thursday that the airliner was likely brought down by an Iranian missile, a view echoed by the United States and Britain. Iran denied that the airliner had been hit by a missile, and asked Canada to supply proof.
The prime minister “completely misses the point” when he does not condemn the Iranian government, said Ali Ashtari, 39, a data scientist from Toronto who lost a friend in the crash.
Ashtari said Canada should designate the entire Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization and impose sanctions on them.
“This is the minimum that we want from the government,” Ashtari said at a vigil in Toronto. “Otherwise it’s just giving speech with teary eyes, it gives nothing.”
Trudeau said that Ottawa had demanded Canadian access to Iran to provide consular services, identify victims and participate in the crash investigation. Shooting down the plane may have been unintentional, he said, adding that he was “standing with” mourners.
The crash, which killed all 176 people on board, occurred as Iran was on alert for possible reprisals after it launched missiles to attack U.S. troops in Iraq.
“We would just urge him (Trudeau) to use all his power to find out what really happened and hold the responsible accountable,” Amir Arsalani, who lost his sister Evin Arsalani, her husband Hiva Molani and their one-year-old daughter Kurdia Molani in the crash, told Reuters.
Canada broke off diplomatic ties with Iran in 2012, and trade is already limited by sanctions related to Iran‘s nuclear program. The government lists the Revolutionary Guards’ overseas arm, the Quds Force, as a terrorist group and has imposed sanctions on senior individuals and specific entities connected to the broader organization.
This means Trudeau has few ways to punish Iran in the short term.
“This cannot go without consequence,” said Edmonton engineering student Ali Azimi, 21, whose professor was killed. “If it is determined and proven that this was related to a missile launch, we need to make the government of Iran pay.”
Trudeau was asked this week whether the United States should be held at least partially responsible for the crash, given that tensions in the region ignited after a U.S. drone killed Qassem Soleimani, the former leader of the Quds Force.
“It is too soon to be drawing conclusions or assigning blame or responsibility in whatever proportions,” he told reporters.
Asked whether he supported the U.S. government assertion that killing Soleimani prevented an imminent attack, he replied: “The Americans made a decision based on their threat assessment.”
Relations between Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump are formal at best, with Trudeau last month caught on camera joking about the U.S. president, and Trump calling him “two-faced”.
There was no benefit to the government “to make a big public statement” about the United States, further souring relations, said Stephanie Carvin, a former national security analyst and international relations professor at Carleton University in Ottawa.
“Canadians however are increasingly concerned that we are collateral damage in several campaigns by the United States in achieving its political objectives without any consultations whatsoever,” she said. “(This) is probably top of mind and that is not good for our long-term relationship.”
Canadian government officials including the prime minister’s office were not immediately available for comment. Iran said on Friday it wanted to download black box recordings itself, and that a probe into the crash could take up to two years.
“I don’t know how much justice we can expect,” said Mana Yeganeh, 28, a student at York University in Toronto who knew several people killed.
(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Edmonton, Alberta, Moira Warburton and Allison Martell in Toronto, Steve Scherer, David Ljunggren and Kelsey Johnson in Ottawa Editing by Frances Kerry)