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Rescue workers search the scene where an Ukrainian plane crashed in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020.
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attends a news conference in Ottawa on January 9, 2020.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau comforts a woman at the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill during a vigil for those who died in the crash of Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 752.
Political leaders can’t change the cards they are dealt but they can control how they play their hand.
The bombshell revelation by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that Ukrainian International Airlines flight 752 was in all likelihood shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile was an important moment in his political leadership.
He has been caught in the turmoil of the Mideast showdown between America and Iran, as we all have. But his reaction does not instil confidence that the families of the 63 Canadians who perished will see any kind of justice.
To give Trudeau credit, he has been visible, holding press conferences two days in a row. But on Thursday, he stuck rigidly to the line that we need a thorough investigation into the tragedy before discussing next steps.
“The families want answers. I want answers – closure, transparency, accountability and justice,” he said. “This government will not rest until we get that.”
There was no anger about the tyranny of the Iranian regime; no unease about its duplicity, even as a researcher for the investigative website Bellingcat said he found it “very distressing” that bulldozers are being used to clear the crash site, potentially a mass murder scene.
Instead, the prime minister expressed a bizarre solidarity with Iran. The tragedy “binds us together in our grief”, he said.
The Iranian people are undoubtedly grief-stricken – their citizens made up the majority of the victims – which is precisely why the Ayatollahs will never admit that its trigger-happy military is responsible.
Trudeau was grilled about the investigation being compromised but clung to the line that such questions made it all the more important that Canada and its international partners be included in the investigation. “The Iranians have indicated they understand this,” he said.
The desire to collect evidence is understandable. After Iran Air flight 655 was mistakenly shot down by the U.S. Navy in 1988, with the death of all 290 people on board, Iran took the U.S. to the International Court of Justice. The case was dropped in 1996 and reparations of US$62 million paid by the Americans.
But anyone who has followed Iranian politics for more than five minutes knows there will be no transparency or accountability.
If Canadians were looking for their prime minister to express their fury and the anguish, they were sorely disappointed. All those young families, students, brilliant academics and newly weds; all those lives unfulfilled. The number of dead Canadians is officially listed as 63 but it was likely that many more of the 138 people who were due to fly into Toronto from Kyiv lived here too. Of the eight Ottawa residents who died, only two held Canadian passports.
This wasn’t an act of God, it was an act of man.
The thought that their deaths were the result of a blunder – likely air defences on high alert after the Iranians bombed a military base in Iraq (where Canadian troops were stationed, incidentally) is exasperating and it demands a tougher response.
In truth, it’s not clear what Canada can do. We don’t have diplomatic relations with Iran, so we can’t withdraw our ambassador. American sanctions already apply to 80 per cent of the Iranian economy, so making Iran’s isolation absolute would be hard.
There have been calls from people like former Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler to use the Magnitsky Act against Iran’s leaders
The Conservatives urged the Liberals to act on a motion passed by Parliament in 2018 that named Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. But the Qods Force, the armed wing of the IRGC, is already listed and that has had a limited impact in curbing the excesses of this brutal regime.
There have been calls from people like former Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler to use the Magnitsky Act against Iran’s leaders. It authorizes the government to impose sanctions such as travel bans and assets freezes on individuals deemed responsible for human rights violations. “It is a novel, necessary and just foreign policy option that has not yet been exercised,” he said last year.
Yet it’s not clear that many of the despots who run Iran have bank accounts or other assets in Canada.
Trudeau’s line, even before the plane came down, has been to encourage a de-escalation of tension in the region. But if the families are to have closure and justice for the loss of their loved ones, Ottawa has to find a point of leverage and exploit it.
The Trudeau government’s position since it was elected in 2015 has been to re-engage with countries like Iran and Russia, after the Conservatives severed ties. “Our world is highly imperfect and to improve it we must engage with it with our eyes open, not withdraw from it,” said then foreign affairs minister, Stéphane Dion in his infamous “responsible conviction” speech in 2016.
But the mullahs support terror organizations, threaten to blow Israel off the map with ballistic missiles and prop up the murderous Assad regime in Syria.
This is not a regime that wants to “engage”. This is not a regime that is going to admit its mistakes.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020