Canada and four other countries whose citizens died when the Iranian military mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet are formally joining forces to seek "full reparations" from Tehran, according to a letter sent to the families of the victims on Thursday.
The letter from the coalition of five nations, viewed by Radio Canada International, says that Canada, Afghanistan, Sweden, the U.K. and Ukraine "intend to work together to negotiate with Iran to seek to ensure that they are held accountable and make full reparations for the downing of Ukrainian Airlines Flight PS752, including in the form of compensation for the deaths of your loved ones."
Fifty-five Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents of Canada were among the 176 people killed when Flight PS752 was shot down by two Iranian missiles shortly after takeoff from Tehran on Jan. 8.
The five countries — members of the so-called PS752 Coordination Group — were to sign a formal memorandum of understanding (MoU) today establishing principles for proceeding with negotiations with Tehran, the letter said. Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne's office tells CBC that Canada has signed the MoU.
"All five of the Coordination Group members believe that this form of state-to-state negotiation is the most likely way to ensure that we come to an agreement on how to settle this matter fairly," the letter said.
"However, if talks are not successful, having previously negotiated with Iran in good faith will allow us to be in a position to pursue the matter further."
A settlement could protect Iran in court
The letter says that while these state-to-state negotiations do not affect the right of victims' families to seek compensation "from the relevant airlines pursuant to the applicable international civil aviation treaties," once a settlement agreement with Iranian authorities is reached, it would prevent the families from going after Iran in international courts.
The coordination group has appointed Ukraine to speak for it during negotiations, officials at Global Affairs Canada said in a media statement.
The group has set up an advisory committee with representatives from each member nation that will be present during the negotiations and will support the work of the spokesperson, the statement said.
The five countries also have discussed the planned downloading of the flight recorders in France, compensation from Ukraine International Airlines and the criminal investigation into the tragedy, the statement added.
"The group continues to advocate for accountability, transparency, justice and compensation for the families and loved ones of the victims," the statement said.
Families want justice before money, says spokesperson
Hamed Esmaeilion, spokesperson for the association representing the families of the Canadians who died on the flight from Tehran to Kyiv, said the families have made it clear to Champagne that accountability and justice matter far more to them than any monetary compensation could.
"We have said to Mr. Champagne that compensation for us is [a] full and independent investigation and then justice," Esmaeilion told Radio Canada International. "Compensation stands third."
Iran announced on June 26 that it will send the black boxes from the downed Boeing 737 to France to be deciphered later this month.
In a joint statement, Champagne and Transport Minister Marc Garneau welcomed the announcement.
"We will continue to hold Iran to account and seek accountability, transparency, justice and compensation for the victims of this tragedy, including a thorough, credible and transparent investigation," said the statement.
After initially denying any responsibility for the crash, Iranian officials were forced to admit that an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps air defence battery mistakenly shot down the airliner minutes after departing Tehran's Imam Khomeini International Airport amid heightened tensions with U.S. forces in neighbouring Iraq.
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