An official report by Canadian experts says it has found no evidence that the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane shot down after takeoff from Tehran early last year was "premeditated." Tehran rejected the charge as "baseless and unacceptable."
Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) flight PS752 crashed on January 8, 2020, while en route to Kyiv, killing all 176 people on board. More than 130 of them had ties to Canada. Citizens or residents of Afghanistan, Britain, Iran, Ukraine, and Sweden were also killed.
Days after official denials, Iran admitted that a unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) had inadvertently shot down the plane when it fired two missiles amid heightened tensions with the United States.
Tehran, which has come under international criticism for misleading statements and hampering independent inquiries, has said it had mistaken the aircraft for a U.S. missile.
A special Canadian forensic team charged with examining all available evidence about the tragedy said in a June 24 report that the blame lied with Iran's "civilian and military authorities."
However, the eight-month investigation "found no evidence that Iranian officials ordered the shoot-down or that it was premeditated."
The probe concluded that an air-defense-unit operator "likely acted on his own in making the decision to launch the missiles," but it added that the incident would not have occurred if not for the "incompetence, recklessness, and wanton disregard for human life" of Iranian officials.
According to the report, Iranian antiaircraft missiles were on high alert, yet the authorities did not close its airspace or notify airlines in operation at the time.
The report also acknowledged a lack of access to the evidence, crash site, and witnesses.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohsen Baharvand on June 25 criticized the report as "highly politicized," and said that Canada “is not qualified to present reports” on the crash.
"The part of the Canadian report which criticizes Iran's report on the issue in the technical aspect is baseless and unacceptable," Baharvand added.
Iranian authorities initially denied responsibility and allowed the crash site to be bulldozed. They have also provided little public information about the 10 people indicted for their role in the incident.
In May, Human Rights Watch accused Iranian security agencies of harassing and abusing families of the victims of the Ukrainian passenger jet in order to "squash any hope for justice."
The IRGC's Aerospace Force said an air-defense unit had mistaken the Boeing 737-800 for a U.S. missile, and a final report from Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization in March concluded that an operator "misidentified" the plane and fired the missiles without authorization from a commander.
The Iranian government in December 2020 allocated $150,000 to compensate the family of each passenger, but some families have refused the money.
Iran's air defenses were on high alert at the time because the country had just fired ballistic missiles at two Iraqi military bases hosting U.S. troops in retaliation for the killing of top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad five days earlier.
"Iran does not get off the hook in any way whatsoever," Canadian Foreign Minister Marc Garneau told a news conference.
"It is totally responsible for what happened," Garneau said, adding that a missile operator made "a series of extremely flawed decisions that could have and should have been avoided."
He also said that Iran's military command and control had been too slow both in addressing the failures and taking measures to prevent future tragedy.
Garneau said the Iranian report had "gaping holes" and "places all of the blame on people lower down in the structure," but he admitted that his government's forensic team relied upon the report and was unable to draw conclusions that differed from Iran's formal "human error" explanation.
"Iran's official account of events is disingenuous, misleading, and superficial, and intentionally ignores key factors," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement.
"Senior regime officials made the decisions that led to this tragedy, and the world must not allow them to hide with impunity behind a handful of low-ranking scapegoats," he said..
He said Canada would "vigorously pursue full reparations for the downing and the harm that Iran has caused to the victims and their families," which he said will include "seeking a full accounting of the events that took place, complete transparency regarding the ongoing criminal prosecutions, and concrete guarantees by Iran that measures have been taken to ensure such a tragedy never happens again."
Canada will also demand accountability from Iran in international forums, he added.
Trudeau's administration has indicated interest in pursuing sanctions or going before the International Criminal Court over the incident.