"Canadians have questions," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday, "and they deserve answers."
Yes, they do. But whether Mr. Trudeau, or anyone else in his government or in the broader global community, will be able to provide answers that offer some measure of comfort and certainty to the many Canadians affected by the crash of Ukrainian International Airlines flight 752 remains to be seen.
Information about the tragedy — which claimed the lives of all 176 on board, including at least 63 Canadians — has been advanced in an ever more troubling tangle of updates, contradictions and occasional denials, with a picture emerging by Friday of a catastrophe that was decidedly not the result of internal aircraft failure.
Rather, what has become clear is that Flight 752 was the target of a surface-to-air missile, launched by Iranian interests, which makes the 176 lives lost direct casualties — whether deliberate or unintended — of the heightened-of-late hostilities between Iran and the United States.
The threads that tie Canada to this horrific event are numerous and strong; in addition to the 63 citizens (at least eight from Manitoba) who perished in the rocket-initiated crash, many other passengers — in total, 138 of the 176 on board — had Canada as their final destination. Every one had a family or a connection here, and as a result the anguish and heartbreak that has descended on Canada has been indescribably intense and undeniably far-reaching.
It might be worth noting, for future discussion purposes, that there were reportedly no Americans on the flight’s passenger manifest.
But as the grief lingers and the anger continues to percolate, the most pressing issue for the federal government is cutting through the diplomatic haze and myriad bureaucratic obstacles that stand between the affected Canadians and the answers that might offer them some small measure of closure.
In acknowledging the reality that the Ukrainian airliner was, indeed, downed by a military missile, Mr. Trudeau added Thursday that "This may well have been unintentional." That is a possibility that cannot be dismissed outright, but given the ratcheted-up tension in the region after the Jan. 2 U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Iraq, and the subsequent Jan. 7 retaliatory Iranian missile attack on two Iraqi military bases housing U.S. troops, there also remains every possibility that the destruction of the civilian passenger plane was not accidental.
Late Friday, Iran state TV, citing the military, said the country "unintentionally" shot down a Ukrainian jetliner because of human error.
Until that point, Iran was in deep denial mode. In the immediate aftermath of the Flight 752 crash, officials there attributed the disaster to technical/mechanical issues. Even after video obtained by various media outlets seemed to rule out conventional mechanical difficulties, Iran continued to deny the assertion that ground-to-air missiles were involved.
Now, however, there remains no doubt about the missile-related facts of the matter. What remains is a determination of motive — hostile or accidental — and getting to the truth will be no easy feat.
Canada has not had diplomatic relations with Iran since 2012, when our embassy there was closed and Iranian diplomats were expelled from this country over non-compliance with a UN Security Council resolution regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Since then, Italy has been Canada’s diplomatic voice in Iran.
Reports that Iran will allow officials from Canada’s Transportation Safety Board to access the crash site are encouraging. But they are only the beginning of what will be an exhaustive — and, no doubt, exhausting — search for the truth in a region in which truth holds very little political currency.
But Mr. Trudeau must remain steadfast in his determination to deliver it. Canadians deserve answers.
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.
Updated on Friday, January 10, 2020 at 10:50 PM CST: Updates with Iran's statement late Friday.