Iran not forthcoming on investigation into downed airliner, Canada’s government says

Iranian officials have accused Canada of exploiting the incident for political purposes.

al-monitor A woman stands in front of a makeshift memorial at the Boryspil airport outside Kyiv, Ukraine, on Jan. 11, 2020, as she pays tribute for the victims of the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 that crashed near the Iranian capital, Tehran.  Photo by SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images.

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Dec 16, 2020

An independent adviser to Canada’s government Tuesday criticized Iran’s handling of the ongoing investigation into the shoot-down of a Ukrainian passenger airliner near Tehran early this year.

"The party responsible for the situation is investigating itself, mostly in secret," read a 74-page report released Tuesday by Ralph Goodale, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's appointed special adviser on the incident.

Iran “has not conducted its investigations in a truly independent, objective, and transparent manner,” Goodale’s report reads. The report also critiques certain international aviation rules regarding investigations, saying they are ill-suited in cases of military shoot-downs of civilian aircraft.

“In the case of a military shoot-down, that means the very government involved in causing the disaster (Iran in this case) is in complete control of the safety investigation, obvious conflicts of interest notwithstanding, with few safeguards to ensure independence, impartiality or legitimacy,” the report read.

“This undermines the investigation’s credibility and enables a sense of impunity in avoiding essential questions.”

The report is the latest international criticism of Tehran’s conduct in its investigation into the cause of the deaths of all 176 people, including more than 50 Canadians, aboard Ukrainian Airlines flight 752 on Jan. 8.

Iran’s military shot down the passenger jet while on high alert on the same night it fired ballistic missiles at US troops in Iraq in retaliation for the assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad days earlier. Iran’s government initially denied responsibility for the incident but later acknowledged its air defenses had shot down the plane after substantial evidence surfaced.

Iran’s government has said that it would not pay to replace the aircraft because Ukraine's insurance policies could cover that cost, but that it would tap into its National Development Fund to compensate victims' families. In August, the head of Iran’s civil aviation body said the flight’s black boxes had only limited recordings of conversation between the first and second missile strike.

Goodale’s report said that many details of the incident that are likely accessible to investigators in Tehran remain unknown to Canadian officials and the wider world, including why civilian airspace remained open in the area given tensions with the United States, and exactly what caused members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to target the aircraft. Goodale was appointed in March, largely to address the needs of victims' families.

Canada’s government formed its own team of forensic examiners in October. The country does not have diplomatic relations with Tehran. Ukraine’s government has also accused Tehran of slow-rolling the investigation. A third round of talks between those two governments has been set for this month.

Iran’s ambassador to Ukraine last month blamed the COVID-19 pandemic for delays in the investigation and accused Canada of exploiting the incident for political ends, emphasizing that Iran lost more of its own citizens on the flight than did any other country.

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