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Pain still fresh for North Shore families, friends of Iranian plane downing victims

A year after Flight PS752 shot down, North Shore families still seek answers
Vigil for Air Crash web
Two family members join others from the North Shore’s Iranian community in paying their respects to victims of downed Ukrainian Flight 752, outside North Vancouver's Amir Bakery in January 2020. The bakery owner’s wife and daughter were among 176 passengers and crew who perished when the commercial flight was shot down by the Iranian army shortly after takeoff from Tehran’s airport.

A year after a passenger plane was shot down by the Iranian military, killing all 176 people onboard, the pain is still fresh for family and friends of local victims.

“The pain in timeless,” said Shahnaz Oleh, whose friend Ayeshe Pourghaderi and her daughter Fatemeh Pasavand were among the eight North Shore victims of the crash.

On Friday, Oleh and her husband set up a memorial marking the tragedy outside Amir Bakery in North Vancouver, which Pourghaderi and her husband Amir Pasavand ran for a decade on Lonsdale Avenue.

After his wife and daughter were killed in the plane crash, Pasavand found it too painful to continue his life North Vancouver, said Oleh, a close friend of the family.

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Eventually Pasavand decided to return to Iran, she said, handing over the bakery to Oleh and her husband to run.

“I promised Amir we’d keep the bakery,” she said, to honour the business her friend worked so hard to build, and keep employees working.

Oleh first met Pourghaderi in Iran, she said, and the families lived together for two months when Pasavand and Pourghaderi first immigrated to Canada a decade ago.

This week, on the one-year anniversary of her friend’s death, Oleh said she’s remembering the smiles of Pourhaderi and her daughter, who was a student at Carson Graham.

“She was the best mom for their daughter,” Oleh said of Pourghaderi.  And while she worked long hours in the bakery, “She never complained. I really miss them.”

For the family of Naser Pourshabanoshibi and Firouzeh Madani, the pain on the one-year anniversary of the plane crash has been similar.

“Crash” isn’t even the right word to describe what happened, as the plane was deliberately shot down in mid-air, said Sara Hezarkhani who is Madani's niece and a cousin to the couple’s surviving daughter, 20-year-old Kimia Pourshaban.

"We still feel like it's day one."

“It's so fresh is still after one year. It's unimaginable. We still feel like it's day one,” said Hezarkhani. “It’s been a very difficult year. Especially I think for my mom and for the rest of the family as well as Kimia. I think the pandemic has made it a little bit harder as well, because it couldn't be as close as we would have loved to.”

The family had immigrated from Iran several years earlier, said Hezarkhani. The couple – both physicians in their home country – had been working to get their credentials in Canada while building a life and volunteering in North Vancouver. They had been flying home from visiting family in Iran.

After the crash, her uncle’s remains were buried in Iran by family there, but they were able to have her aunt’s remains brought back to Canada, said Hezarkhani . No personal possessions were returned. “Barely anything was given to any of the families,” she said.

Hezarkhani said the Canadian government has been “remarkably helpful” in supporting the families – from providing for counselling to helping with legal and bureaucratic issues. “But of course, given what we've achieved so far, we think an even stronger pressure is required . . . so that an impartial party can be assigned to investigation and we can find the truth as soon as possible,” she said.

Trudeau holds private virtual memorial for families

On Thursday, several families of the Canadian plane crash victims, which included 14 passengers with ties to B.C., took part in a private virtual commemoration service with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and several MPs.

Jonathan Wilkinson, MP for North Vancouver, was among the members of parliament who attended the virtual event.

Wilkinson said the anniversary was a sombre reflection of an event that shocked both the local Iranian Canadian community and the whole community. He said the families were also given an update on some of the work the Canadian government has continued to call for greater accountability and transparency from the regime in Iran.

“Iran has certainly not been as transparent as we would have liked nor expected,” he said.

A year earlier, Trudeau met with local family members before approximately 400 people attended a vigil in North Vancouver to honour the memory of  the eight North Shore residents who died aboard Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 when Iran's military hit the plane with two missiles shortly after it took off from Tehran.

Pourshaban had arrived from Iran a week earlier than her parents to resume her university studies when she got the news.

Other local victims included engineer Daniel Saket and his hygienist wife Faye Kazerani, and Langara College student Delaram Dadashnejad, who was an international student flying home to Vancouver after a visit with family in Tehran.

Since the tragedy, however, there has been little justice for the victims’ families, said Hadi Ebrahimi, editor of Shahrvand, a Persian Interest newspaper.

“There are questions. They haven’t got answers after a year,” he said.

In a report released last month, former Liberal cabinet minister Ralph Goodale pointed to serious flaws in aviation rules that have allowed Iran to be the lead investigator of its own military force shooting down the aircraft.

During the first three days following the downing, Iranian authorities publicly blamed it on mechanical issues. Later authorities acknowledged the plane had been shot down by missiles, but blamed it on human error.

The Iranian government also restricted access to the crash site and to the black boxes containing flight information.

Families still seeking answers

Wilkinson said Canada had played a leading international role in pushing for answers.

“We have been pushing Iran to be much more forthcoming on the events that actually led to this, to ensure that they take responsibility and action for those who are responsible . . .” he said.

“The only thing that I believe every single one of the families is looking for is the truth," said Hezarkhani. "And justice . . . We want the details of why this happened, how it happened. And we want all those responsible to be held accountable for it. So basically, truth and justice. That's all we're looking for.”