Shut out of Iran-probe for plane crash that killed 63 Canadians: Garneau

Politicians in Ottawa react to the news of the Ukranian plane that crashed in Iran, which resulted in 63 Canadians being killed.

Transport Minister and former astronaut Marc Garneau says Ottawa may need alternative intelligence to understand the reason why Ukraine International Airline flight 752 crashed shortly after takeoff from Imam Khomeini international in Tehran Wednesday morning.

“There are a number of possibilities and we will have to wait to obtain more information, perhaps from the black boxes or from other intelligence,” Garneau told reporters during an Ottawa press conference barely 22 hours following the tragic crash.

The Boeing 737-800 took off at 6:12 a.m. Tehran time and crashed killing all 176 passengers, barely four hours after Iran executed its missile bombardment of two military bases in Iraq housing NATO troops.

The missile attack was done in retaliation for United States’ killing of Qassem Soleimani, Iranian Quds Force commander who died at Baghdad airport on Jan. 2 in a drone strike.

“The indications we have from satellite data that we got from the area on systems, suggests that (flight 752) took off in a normal fashion, climbing to altitude,” said Garneau.

“A very, very standard departure. However, we lost contact with it, suggesting that something very unusual happened but we cannot speculate at this point.”

Of those killed in the crash, 63 were Canadians and more than 138 were enroute to Canada; including some among 82 Iranians, 11 Ukrainian passengers and crew, 10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Germans and three Britons who also perished.

Garneau’s comments came on the heels of a Transportation Safety Board statement indicating its appointed expert was available, but not be part of the joint Ukraine-Iran investigation.

“Iran is leading the investigation into the accident…(and) TSB has appointed an expert who will receive and review factual information released by the (Aircraft Accident Investigation Board of the Civil Aviation Organization of the Islamic Republic of Iran),” as per international law, according to TSB.

Asked about access to black box voice and system recorders on the downed jet that Iran indicated it would not turn over U.S. manufacturer Boeing, Garneau said, “It’s important to remember that the Iranians are leading this investigation, because the accident happened on Iranian soil.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau led off the the joint press conference with condolences to the victims, but remained firm on Canada’s NATO commitment to the region despite recent tensions.

“We need to stabilize Iraq, we need to counter Daesh (Islamic State),” said Trudeau, who “condemned” Iran’s attack on two military bases in Iraq, including Irbil, where the PM confirmed Canadian soldiers were present during the attack.

Yesterday, Chief of Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance said most Canadian forces in Iraq on NATO training and assist missions–IMPACT and NMI–were on pause and personnel was being moved for their safety to Kuwait.

No NATO or Iraqi casualties resulted from Iran’s bombardment. During a Wednesday morning press conference at the White House in Washington DC, Trump said he considered the military tit-for-tat with Iran closed.

Trump also said he would ask NATO partners to increase their commitment to stabilizing Iraq and the region, rocked by Islamic State and proxy wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran that have spilled into neighbouring countries.

While Canada has lacked official diplomatic ties with Iran since 2012, the same year Ottawa designated Quds Force a “listed terrorist entity”,  Trudeau remains hopeful TSB experts could play a more meaningful role in the crash investigation.

“I am confident that in our engagement… we are going to make sure we are a substantive contributor to this investigation,” he said, noting that Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne would be speaking with Iranian officials on Thursday.

Trudeau also said he spoke with the leaders of other NATO partners including United Kingdom, Australia and France, as well as U.S. President Donald Trump, who ordered the takedown of Soleimani, alleging the Iranian general was planning imminent attacks on American interests in the region.

Asked whether Canada could believe Trump, Trudeau said Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, for which Quds Force is its “clandestine branch” according to Public Safety Canada, is well-known.

“Canada has long been aware of the threat posed by the IRGC…(and) the Americans made a decision based on their threat assessment.”

The PM also would not say what a future Canadian NATO contribution might look like, nor commit to any increases.

“In my conversation with the president, I highlighted how Canada is part of the NATO mission…(and) we will continue to support international partners,” Trudeau told reporters who hounded the PM about Trump’s NATO comments.

In an interview with The Post Millennial, Conservative MP and Defence critic James Bezan said Iran should cooperate with Canadian investigators by “turn(ing) over all the information as it becomes available, including the black box voice recording and the flight data recording.”

“All that information should be shared and we can get down to what the facts are,” said Bezan, whose party aligns with Trudeau insofar as any NATO commitment is concerned.

“I encourage the Iranian regime to work closely with Canada and the Ukraine… this is a tragedy that’s hopefully is not connected with everything else that went on with the needless bombing of military bases in Iraq last night that involved Canadians and allied forces.”

As Trudeau’s minority Liberal government and Opposition Conservatives remain relatively aligned on Canada’s NATO involvement in the region, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh demanded Parliament be recalled to debate the country’s future military involvement.

“All Canadians deserve to have their voices heard through their MPs so we can benefit from Canada’s reputation for building peace,” said Singh in a statement.

“And so we can send a strong message against following Donald Trump down this dangerous path and possible war.”

Wednesday morning (Jan. 8), Foreign Affairs Canada issued an elevated travel advisory for Iran warning against non-essential travel to the country, specifically for dual Iranian-Canadian citizens.