Canada creates international task force to pressure Iran for plane crash details

The Canadian government is leading a group of nations that lost citizens in the crash of a plane outside Tehran to advocate with “one single voice,” Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said Friday.

The government is also creating a task force of top public servants to make sure Canadian families affected by the crash get the support and information they need, Champagne added.

The crash of the Ukraine International Airlines flight near Tehran on Wednesday killed 176 people, including 138 who were bound for Canada. Those dead also included citizens from Sweden, Afghanistan, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and Germany.

The new International Coordination and Response Group, as it is known, includes those countries with the exception of Germany and will likely focus on pressuring Iran to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation.

“Transparency is what the international community is looking for now,” Champagne said, adding: “The world is watching what the Iranian government is doing now.”

The creation of the new group follows Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s statement on Thursday that multiple intelligence sources indicate the plane was downed by an Iranian missile, possibly by accident.

The Iranian government has denied any responsibility and blamed a fire in the plane’s engine. Iranian investigators have obtained the plane’s black boxes, but there are fears that Iran will attempt to prevent a thorough investigation.

Asked about those fears, Champagne said: “Over the course of the next few days, we will see if they are genuine.”

Canada has deployed a team of consular officials while the Transportation Safety Board says it is sending two investigators to participate in the probe into the cause of the crash.

Iran has so far issued two visas for Canadian officials, Champagne said, adding the immediate priority is getting access to the country to start identifying the victims’ remains and work on the investigation.

The TSB reported late Friday that it has been in direct contact with Iran’s Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau and that two Canadian investigators would be leaving to meet up with Canadian consular officials.

“We are continuing to pursue increased involvement in the Iranian accident investigation,” the TSB said in a statement.

“However, the full extent of the TSB’s role in this investigation — including the degree of site access and the type of work to be carried out once at the site or elsewhere — is still being determined.”

Champagne revised the number of Canadian citizens believed to have been aboard the plane to 57 from the 63 initially provided by Ukrainian authorities. He said the new number is based on more careful cross-checking of travel documents, birthdates and other information.

The Canadian Press has independently confirmed at least 72 victims with ties to Canada, many of them students at Canadian universities.

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