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Kirk LaPointe: Memorial decision disappoints families of PS752 victims

The Association of Families of PS752 Victims were hoping to build a memorial in North Vancouver's Victoria Park, but that location has been rejected
Friends and family members of the victims of the Flight PS752 crash gather in North Vancouver in January of 2024 to mark the fourth anniversary of the tragedy. | Hamid Jafari / North Shore News

The cause of the grievous downing of Ukraine Airlines International Flight PS752 as it left Tehran before sunrise on Jan. 8, 2020, was the errant firing of a surface-to-air missile by the Iranian military.

The effects endure today: calls for an independent investigation, victim compensation, and memorial sites to appropriately recognize the human toll of 176, including at least seven from the North Shore.

Locally it appeared for some time that the City of North Vancouver and the Association of Families of PS752 Victims were on the same page to create a public art monument. A process started by Mayor Linda Buchanan and her council in mid-2022, aided on the most recent anniversary of the tragedy by B.C. Premier David Eby’s commitment of $100,000 toward the project, promised a respectful contribution to the Iranian community’s healing.

The association of prominent Iranian community leaders had scouted the sites provided by the city staff: Ray Sargent Park, 10th and St. George, Jack Loucks Court, Rogers Plaza, Green Necklace off Victoria Park West, East Keith Boulevard, Grand Boulevard – and its unanimous choice, Victoria Park East.

The association noted every other site was tied for second place by a distant margin in scoring. It never considered other locations as they were simply not serious contenders. It wrote the city and cited the attributes of Victoria Park: “centrality of location, suitability for a large gathering place, availability of transport options, peaceful and somber setting and ambiance, integration to other important monuments and symbols of Canadian heritage.”

It held a townhall meeting, attended by city staff, and thought everything was in line for its choice to be developed into a site of great pride and tribute.

Around that time, something went amiss.

Somewhere along the way last fall, extensive consultations ceased. Plans to consult other stakeholder groups with monuments in Victoria Park, and to share the results of the scoring, simply vanished. Regular bi-weekly meetings between the association and the city staff suddenly were cancelled – again and again and again, for five months.

A council meeting behind closed doors instead chose Jack Loucks Court, a site that was far from the top choice. It was a significant disappointment to the association, which had raised $200,000 toward a $500,000 goal. Suddenly the trust and good faith was out of the exercise.

Compounding matters is that the city can’t explain the change. The decisive meeting was in camera, and anyone divulging details without full council approval is breaching conditions of employment or election.

Amanda Gibbs, the city’s senior manager of communications and engagement, said the city believes “this central location will provide the level of prominence, visibility and opportunities for learning and gathering commensurate with a space of reflection and commemoration.”

She says the city hopes to work with the steering committee on the next steps of design and implementation. “Again, we are confident this site can provide an important home for the memorial and meet community aspirations for a quiet place of calm reflection.”

The efforts of the community deserve better. Mayor and council ought not to be using the privilege of in-camera discussions to deny grieving families and the wider community an understanding of how they changed course, especially when everyone outside of city staff and politicians thought it was a done deal.

 It would be important to disclose if city politicians were lobbied, and by whom, to keep the public art from Victoria Park, where there is a prominent veterans memorial. Until then, the Iranian community has a right to feel cavalierly treated. They might well wonder, too, if the decision was racialized – that the deaths in their community do not carry the same weight as those in wartime.

A meeting is tentatively scheduled later this week. Much is to be gained by restored candor.

• • •

In my last column about public input at council meetings, I errantly said Bill 16 gave councils the discretion to bypass public hearings on housing proposals if they fit the official community plan. In fact it was a later piece of legislation, Bill 44, passed last year. Different bill, same deal.

Kirk LaPointe is a West Vancouver columnist with an extensive background in journalism. His column on North Shore issues runs biweekly.