Iran's failure to properly investigate the shooting down of a passenger jet 12 months ago means it remains unsafe to fly over Tehran, the Canadian government's key adviser on the disaster has told The National.
As the anniversary looms, Ralph Goodale said the downing of flight PS752 could “happen again tomorrow” because of the lack of a thorough and transparent inquiry into how the Ukrainian Airlines jet was shot down by its military on January 8, 2020, killing all 176 people on board.
The jet was brought down by two missiles within minutes of take-off but the anniversary is set to pass without any sign of a final and definitive report which should detail the circumstances leading up to the crash.
Canada was most affected by the tragedy with 138 of those on board either its nationals, permanent residents or on their way to the country to visit or study. It is leading efforts with the UK, Ukraine, Sweden and Afghanistan, whose nationals were also killed, to secure answers from Iran.
Mr Goodale said that all options open to Canada remained on the table including sanctions targeting prominent Iranians under the country’s version of Magnitsky laws aimed at punishing state-backed abusers of human rights.
“We’ve indicated very clearly that we have taken nothing off the table, every tool in our arsenal is available to be used and we will use them at the appropriate time,” he said.
A series of reports in The National this week reveal how the story of the year-long Iranian investigation into the crash has been one of delays, misinformation and cover-ups that have failed to provide clear answers about what went wrong.
The shooting down of the plane came just five days after an American drone killed Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The regime was on a war-footing and hours before the shooting down of the aircraft fired missiles into Iraq targeting the US military.
Despite some national authorities stopping their carriers from taking off during the tense period, Iran failed to close its airspace and nine commercial flights took off before the ill-fated PS752 flight.
Some relatives believe that the downing of the plane was a deliberate and carefully calibrated retaliation against western interests that would stop short of bringing the US into an all-out war.
The Iranian authorities claim the attack was a tragic accident but Mr Goodale, a veteran politician appointed by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to oversee efforts to hold Iran accountable for the crash, said fundamental questions have yet to be answered.
Iran has published four interim reports into the crash but fail to provide evidence to back up its account of events.
“They put forward a certain narrative about how this tragedy occurred but without any evidence being cited,” said Mr Goodale. “It’s simply a list of conclusions and some of them are rather extraordinary that a number of people, including the families, are sceptical about.
“Right now, it’s not safe to fly in the skies over Tehran because what happened on January 8 could well happen again tomorrow because the underlying factors continue to exist.”
He said that basic questions, including who gave the orders and who fired the missiles, had not been answered.
“Very basic questions. You would think an investigator fresh out of police school would be asking those fundamental questions and, to the best of our knowledge, they have not been asked, and they certainly have not been answered.”
Iran only admitted that its military had brought down the aircraft after three days, after bulldozers had disturbed the crash site and evidence had been removed. Data from black box recorders were not downloaded until July in Paris, in a breach of crash investigation rules.
International aviation regulations declare that Iran – where the plane crashed – has the prime role in an investigation despite its apparent vested interest in the outcome of any investigation as families seek compensation for their losses.
The aircraft had been cleared for take-off by both the military and civilian authorities and its flight pattern was normal until it was shot down within three minutes of take-off.
The release of Iran’s final report is not expected for several months, with a draft report normally circulated to the aircraft and engine manufacturers 60 days before publication. That is not believed to have happened.
“We just don’t have enough information in the international arena now to arrive at definitive conclusions," said Mr Goodale.
“And therefore for the families, there is this lingering anguish, this lingering doubt and all of he suspicions as they look at Iran’s explanation.
“So Iran has one more report and hopefully they will take the time to answer the questions. If they don’t there will be very little solace for the families and even, perhaps more significant for Iran, the international civil aviation community will have very good reason to doubt that Iran can run a safe airspace.
“If there’s not a full explanation with facts and figures and evidence and hard information to back it up about what happened in the skies over Iran on the morning of January 8 then the world will be sceptical. And the doubt will be there that it could happen again.”
Mr Goodale said Iran could have handed over control of the investigation because of the conflict of interests but chose not to do so. He cited the precedent of flight MH17, the Malaysian aircraft that was shot down over the Russian-Ukrainian border which was handed to the Dutch to investigate.
“It will always be suspect, because it is not independent,” said Mr Goodale. He is leading efforts for a new Safer Skies initiative that would allow countries to effectively close the airspace over a country where an irresponsible country has refused to do so.
It would also deprive the country that refused to close its airspace of the revenue that comes from keeping that airspace open.