On January 8, with the crash of Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 752 just after takeoff from Tehran, Canada suffered a loss that was of a magnitude not experienced for many decades. Initially called an “aviation accident” by the Iranian authorities, it was subsequently revealed to be a missile attack that took the lives of 57 Canadians along with an additional 100 or so individuals who had ties to Canada. The country was in shock, grieving and angry.
While the Iranian-Canadian community felt the greatest impact from the tragedy, many of the victims – 85 by my count – also were members of the Canadian scientific and academic communities as faculty members, researchers, lecturers and students at various levels of study. As a member of both these groups – the Iranian-Canadian community as well as the scientific community – the loss has deeply affected me.
For many, these past days and weeks have been defining moments in our lives. The aftermath of the tragedy crystallized for us what it means to be Canadian. It was not just Iranian-Canadians, it was not just residents of Edmonton or other major cities, nor was it just members of the scientific community – it was all of Canada that was grieving and united in support of those who lost their loved ones.
Canada is a country comprised of people from across the globe, all of whom feel a deep sense of belonging to their communities, cities and their country Canada. Representatives of various levels of governments attended the many vigils and memorial ceremonies. Leaders of various sectors, communities and organizations stepped forward not only to express their grief and empathy, but also to assist in any way they could to help the families overcome the tragedy that has befallen them.
I personally received countless email messages and calls of support from across the country. This powerful sense of community and solidarity demonstrates the strength of Canadian society, unified at a time of need by their fellow Canadians. This tragic moment has proven how dear Canada is to us and how connected we are, and what it means to be Canadian.
As a member of the scientific community that has lost so many members, I feel terrible. Campuses across the country were in mourning and struggling as the long list of names and their affiliations became known. The tremendous talent that perished on that ill-fated airplane is remarkable. I doubt our scientific community has witnessed such a great loss since the Second World War. These individuals could have been the future award winners, innovators and researchers who would treat diseases or invent something extraordinary.
The lost potential is unimaginable and the scientific community will not forget this tragedy. Various campuses have stepped up with memorial scholarship funds in honour of the victims. One of the extraordinary aspects of the Canadian scientific community is its diversity, which is a tremendous asset that should be cherished by all Canadians.
Our prime minister’s heartfelt reaction from the outset of this tragedy is yet another indicator of the Canadian spirit. The prime minister and his government did an excellent job of mobilizing the necessary support structures for those who lost loved ones. It was a lovely gesture from the government to meet with the families, to attend vigils and be with the communities.
More importantly, however, was Canada’s role in revealing the truth as the first step to bringing justice and closure to the victims’ families. By rallying international pressure, Canada held the Iranian regime – a government that denied the truth for days – accountable and forced them to confess that the plane was brought down by a missile launched by the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps). Our prime minister stood firm on this matter and demanded the truth, and he deserves credit for his timely actions.
This tragic event was an indication that Canada has more leverage than we might think in international affairs. We have so many untapped resources that demonstrate our ability to help, to be engaged and to persist in revealing the truth about human rights issues and to bring justice to victims of atrocities. In that regard, I urge my fellow Canadians to stand firm to support the struggle of the Iranian people for democracy and freedom.
Mehrdad Hariri is the founder and CEO of the Canadian Science Policy Centre. He was born and raised in Iran, and immigrated to Canada in 1996.