Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said Canada is sending officials to Iran to deal with the aftermath of the plane crash that killed dozens of Canadians.
Separately, Canada’s Transportation Safety Board, the government agency responsible for investigating air accidents, put out a statement Thursday saying it’s making plans to visit the site of the Ukraine International Airlines crash near Tehran that killed 176 people, including at least 63 Canadians. The board could not say whether it’s sending one or several investigators.
The agency said it has accepted an invitation from Iran’s Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau and will be “working with other groups and organizations already on site.”
It’s not clear whether there will be restrictions on what the Canadian investigators can do in Tehran. However, the Convention on International Civil Aviation, to which Canada and Iran are signatories, says countries with a “special interest in an accident by virtue of fatalities or serious injuries to its citizens" are entitled to visit the accident scene, have access to “relevant factual information which is approved for public release by the state conducting the investigation" and receive a copy of the final report.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday that intelligence sources indicate the plane, Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, was shot down by an Iranian missile.
Mr. Champagne said he called Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Wednesday night to discuss the crash, the first ministerial contact between Canada and Iran in more than 18 months. Canada does not currently have diplomatic representation in Iran.
Mr. Zarif demonstrated “an openness” to offering access to Canadian officials, Mr. Champagne said during a joint news conference with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab Thursday.
Mr. Trudeau told reporters that Canadian officials need access to Iran “to provide consular services, identify the victims and participate in a thorough investigation" of the incident.
“It’s more important than ever that we know exactly how such a tragedy could have happened," he said. “The families of the victims, and all Canadians, want answers. I want answers. That means closure, transparency, accountability and justice. This government will not rest until we get that.”
An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, quoted on Twitter by the editor-in-chief of Iran Front Page, an Iranian news outlet, said: “Iran welcomes [the] presence of experts from countries whose nationals have died in the heartbreaking accident” and asks Canada and other governments to submit information to Iran’s investigation committee.
Iran Front Page editor-in-chief Abas Aslani added on Twitter: “Iran has begun investigations into the cause of the crash in accordance with international standards” and has invited Ukraine, and Boeing as manufacturer of the downed airplane, to participate in the investigation.”
Mr. Champagne said he asked Mr. Zarif to issue Canada’s “quick reaction team” Iranian visas so it could enter the country to provide consular services to families of Canadians killed in the crash.
“It seems the discussion of yesterday was followed up, that the officials have received an indication that they can go forward with the issuance of the visas. We are following that, I would say minute by minute or hour by hour, and we will [be] providing all the information to Canadians,” Mr. Champagne said.
Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada, Andriy Shevchenko, said his government has flown two planes with 45 technical specialists, including forensic and aviation experts, into Iran to assist with the investigation. He said Ukraine intends to share the black box information with Canada if it gets access to it.
With reports from Michelle Carbert in Ottawa and Mark MacKinnon in Doha