Goodale’s report on Flight PS752 tragedy says Iran should not be ‘investigating itself’

The prime minister’s special adviser on the destruction of Flight PS752, Ralph Goodale, issued a report today saying that Iran should not be left in charge of the investigation — since it was the actions of the Iranian military that caused the deadly crash in the first place.

“The party responsible for the situation is investigating itself, largely in secret,” former federal cabinet minister Ralph Goodale wrote in the report, released this afternoon. “That does not inspire confidence or trust.”

“In the circumstances of this case, as known thus far, there are indications of incompetence, recklessness and wanton disregard for innocent human life.”

Goodale said that while international procedures assign the responsibility for investigating such air disasters to the country where the crash took place, those rules create a “conflict of interest” in military-related incidents and lack “safeguards” to “ensure independence, impartiality or legitimacy.”

“This undermines the investigation’s credibility and enables a sense of impunity in avoiding essential questions,” Goodale wrote. 

Goodale’s 74-page report comes ahead of the one-year anniversary of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) shooting down the Ukraine International Airlines plane on Jan. 8 shortly after takeoff in Tehran with surface-to-air missiles. The attack killed all 176 people onboard, including 138 people with ties to Canada.

Justin Trudeau appointed Goodale in March to oversee Canada’s response, with a focus on the plight of grieving families. The federal government was accused of doing little for families in the wake of the Air India disaster in 1985 and the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash of last year.

As a “country, we must acknowledge shortcomings in our responses to previous tragedies and ensure vital lessons are taken to heart,” wrote Goodale. 

Case was ‘complex and difficult’

Goodale said investigating the crash was “complex and difficult” in part because Canada does not have diplomatic relations with Iran and has identified it in Canadian law as a “state supporter of terrorism.” He said Iran has “not yet been forthcoming” in answering questions posed by Canada — including a key one about the fact that Iran’s airspace was left open the night its military forces fired missiles at U.S. locations in Iraq.

“Many of the key details of this horrific event remain unknown to Canada, to the other Coordination Group nations and to the families,” said Goodale. 

“Iran bears responsibility for that because — at least thus far — it has not conducted its investigations (safety, criminal or otherwise) in a truly independent, objective and transparent manner, and answers to critical questions have not been forthcoming.”

For days after the crash, Iranian officials denied any wrongdoing — until evidence gathered around the world showed otherwise. Only then, when “confronted with irrefutable evidence, they belatedly admitted Iran’s responsibility for this deadly travesty” and committed to an investigation, says Goodale’s report. 

Iran has blamed human error and other deficiencies 

Iran has provided updates about its investigation and has “suggested that a lengthy chain of human errors and other deficiencies resulted in the mistaken firing of the Iranian missiles” at the aircraft, the report said.

Canada has rejected Iran’s intermin investigation report, which claims that the missiles were not properly reoriented after being moved and that a communication breakdown caused two IRGC members guarding the missile to misidentify the commercial plane as a threat and open fire twice without getting approval from senior ranking officers.

“Given the extraordinary nature of this description of events, it is understandable that the victims’ families find Iran’s explanations to be difficult to accept — at least so far,” wrote Goodale. 

Goodale also criticized Iran for the half-year it took to read out the plane’s black box flight data recorders — something which is supposed to happen “without delay” after an incident, according to international conventions.

“In the end, it took more than six months, fuelling anxiety and harming credibility,” he wrote.

Iran also turned down Canada’s request to become an accredited representative in the investigation, which would have given Canada more first-hand knowledge. Instead, Goodale wrote, Canada’s status was “limited to that of an observer.”

Six people in Iran have been charged in connection with the destruction of Flight PS752. Goodale’s report points out that Iran has not released any further details, including “who these people are, what they are alleged to have done, their degree or level of responsibility, the evidence being used against them, the substance of their defence, and the exact judicial process by which their guilt or innocence is being or will be determined.”

Canada’s response 

The report devotes a chapter to describing how federal officials responded behind the scenes after hearing reports of the crash.

Canada has its own forensic examination and assessment team trying to piece together evidence it’s gathering from family members. The independent Transportation Safety Board of Canada will review Iran’s final investigation report when it’s completed and “point out any deficiencies as necessary,” said the report. The International Coordination Response group, made up of countries that lost citizens in the crash, will continue pushing for answers and reparations from Iran, Goodale wrote.

CBC News has reported family members in Canada who have criticized Iran’s government after losing their loved ones in the downing of Flight PS752 have reported they’re being targeted with threats and intimidation — and they blame Tehran.

In his report, Goodale urges Canadian police and national security agencies to investigate every case of threats and harassment against Canadians and says they should be “prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

His report also contains a list of recommendations on how Canada should respond to mass casualty events like Flight PS752 in the future. They include putting families’ needs at the forefront, combating misinformation and fear by quickly organizing a response, gathering relevant facts early, providing mental health and post traumatic stress counselling services, and delivering facilitation letters to families in lieu of death certificates.

Goodale also cites the idea of creating a national centre of expertise to help law enforcement and the government coordinate and prepare for mass casualty events. 

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