An international dispute over the cause of the Tehran plane crash deepened on Friday even as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met the families of some of the dozens of Canadians killed in the crash and investigators scrambled to get into Iran.
The private conversations between Trudeau and the families of victims in Toronto were the latest attempt by the prime minister to reach out to those affected by Wednesday’s tragedy that killed 176 people.
Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne has revised the number of Canadians killed in the crash to 57, down from an earlier estimate of at least 63. He says it’s a very fluid situation and 57 is the latest number after documents were checked.
Trudeau previously attended a vigil on Parliament Hill to remember the victims Thursday, only hours after asserting that multiple intelligence sources had indicated the Ukraine International Airlines flight was brought down by an Iranian missile, possibly by accident.
Other vigils and memorials were being held across the country Friday and are planned throughout the weekend. There were also reports that Canada was sending a 10-person team to Iran to help the families of the deceased.
While the federal government did not speak to those reports, Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said representatives from Global Affairs Canada’s standing rapid deployment team and the Transportation Safety Board had arrived in Ankara, Turkey.
“To date, Iran has granted us two visas,” Champagne said on Twitter. “We are hoping the other visas will be approved soon so that we may begin to provide consular services, to help with the identification of victims and to participate in any investigation.”
Meanwhile, the dispute over exactly what happened to Flight 752 was heating up.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo became the highest-level American official to directly pin the blame on Iran, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australia’s Scott Morrison having made the same conclusions based on intelligence assessments.
“We do believe it is likely that that plane was shot down by an Iranian missile,” Pompeo said as he and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin announced new sanctions against Iran for having launched a salvo of missiles against two military bases in Iraq this week.
He said the U.S. will allow time for Canada to get resources on the ground in Iran and for the probe to wrap up, but added: “When we get the results of that investigation, I am confident that we and the world will take appropriate actions in response.”
Flight 752 went down shortly after Iran launched missile strikes against a military base in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil, where Canadian special-forces soldiers have been operating for the past five years.
The attack, which did not cause any casualties, was in response to the U.S. having killed Iranian Maj.-Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
Iran denied any responsibility for the plane crash, blaming it on a fire in the Boeing 737-800’s engine even as it urged the U.S. to wait for the full investigation to conclude and to stop spreading lies and propaganda.
In a statement published by the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency, the Iranian government said: “We recommend the U.S. government to attend to the results of the investigations by the probe committee instead of scattering lies and engineering psychological warfare.”
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press