TORONTO — Anguished relatives in Canada mourned the loss of loved ones on Friday as they called for justice for the victims of a passenger jet the Iranian military shot down one year ago.
Memorial ceremonies, part of an international effort, began with a livestream on Thursday at 9:42 p.m. ET, the time the doomed Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 752 left Tehran's international airport.
In a chilly Toronto under sunny skies, a few hundred people gathered in near silence, some with tears streaming into their black face masks with "Justice" written on them. They carried placards bearing the faces of the dead.
"We lost them unjustly. They were innocent people. They were ordinary civilians. They were doing nothing against anyone," said Farzad Alavi whose wife Neda Sadighi was killed.
"Some people from a very cruel government, to save themselves, killed these innocent people. It wasn't an accident. We look for justice."
More than 100 of the 176 victims — at least one was pregnant — had ties to Canada, and 55 were Canadian citizens. Commemorative outdoor rallies were also scheduled Friday for Montreal and Edmonton.
An international group advocating for the victims called on Iran to come clean on what led to the downing of the plane. The statement also called on Tehran to compensate relatives properly.
"We urgently call on Iran to provide a complete and thorough explanation of the events and decisions that led to this appalling plane crash," the International Coordination and Response Group for the victims of Flight PS752 said.
"Our countries will hold Iran to account to deliver justice and make sure Iran makes full reparations to the families of the victims and affected countries."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Iran to provide the transparency, accountability and justice he said the victims and their families deserve.
"To everyone who was looking forward to seeing your beloved partner, child or parent, I cannot imagine your pain," Trudeau said to relatives of those killed. "This kind of unthinkable tragedy must never happen again."
At the Toronto rally, Rana Yekani sobbed as she held a sign bearing the face of her longtime friend Paniz Solatani.
"One-hundred-seventy-six civilians were shot down, were burned alive, torn to pieces on the ground," Yekani said. "It's horrible. Never, in my wildest nightmare would I have thought it."
The memorial ceremonies, organized by the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims, heard from loved ones speaking Farsi over images of faces young and old. Biographies of the 176 victims were read throughout Thursday night.
In Edmonton, close to 200 community members and loved ones of the victims gathered at the Alberta legislature. They lit candles for the victims and held a moment of silence.
"We can all feel their pain and loss and we just want to be there for them," said Alberta Lt.-Gov. Salma Lakhani, who attended the vigil with her husband.
"I hope they find some peace, comfort and solace in knowing Canadians share their pain and loss."
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards shot down the Kyiv-bound Boeing 737-800 shortly after it took off from Tehran.
A few days earlier, U.S. President Donald Trump had ordered a strike on the Baghdad airport, killing a top Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani. Iran initially denied downing the airliner, then said it was shot down accidentally after mistaking it for a missile.
Tehran recently pledged to pay $150,000 to each victim's families. But relatives in Canada say they only care about answers.
Masoud Niknam, brother of dentist Farhad Niknam who was killed, said what happened was a terrorist attack and those responsible should pay for their crimes.
In an earlier statement, Trudeau said Canada would offer a pathway to permanent residency for some family members, while those already here could apply to stay if needed. Canada, he said, was designating Jan. 8 as the National Day of Remembrance for Victims of Air Disasters.
The federal government also said scholarships would be set up in memory of the victims.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who announced $250,000 for a memorial fund at the University of Alberta, also expressed his condolences.
"For those who mourn lost loved ones, the pain is as raw and the sense of loss as overpowering as the moment they heard the terrible news last January," Kenney said.
On Friday, Western University announced an annual $3,000 fund in the name of one of four students at the school in London, Ont., killed on the flight.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 8, 2021.
Colin Perkel and Liam Casey, The Canadian Press
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