2020年1月11日 星期六

Canada Letter: The grief from a distant tragedy comes to Canada

The downing of an airliner, apparently by an Iranian missile, has created a diplomatic crisis.

A Distant Missile Strike Spreads Grief Across Canada

Like most Canadians, when I saw the first bulletins about a jetliner going down near Tehran’s airport, I had no inkling that the tragedy would reach Canada in a significant way. But it has been hard felt, particularly in Edmonton, from where I’m writing this week’s Canada Letter.

At least 30 people from Edmonton died after Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 was apparently struck by an Iranian missile in what may have been an accident.Noel West for The New York Times

The city, its comparatively small Iranian community and the University of Alberta are bearing an extraordinary share of the grieving. At least 27 people from Edmonton, and at least 10 of them connected to the university, died after Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 was apparently struck by an Iranian missile in what is believed to have been an accident. A total of 57 Canadians were among the 176 passengers and crew who perished. (The figure was revised Friday evening from 63.)

That grim count may even understate how Canada has been affected. Many Iranians who do not hold Canadian citizenship study in the country. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said this week that a flight to Toronto that was supposed to connect with the ill-fated airliner in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, was short 138 passengers.

If the assessment of Canada and other nations is correct, Flight 752 will join a grim list of civilian airliners shot down, deliberately or unintentionally.

Mr. Trudeau is demanding that Canada be part of the investigation to ensure that its findings are honest. As I write this, Iran has rejected that it’s to blame. The history of relations between Canada and Iran could also complicate matters.

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Canada and Iran have not had formal diplomatic relations since 2012. John Baird, then the foreign minister in the Conservative government of Stephen Harper, cited several reasons for the rupture. They include an attack by a mob on the British embassy in Tehran the previous year, Iran’s support of the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, its noncompliance with United Nations resolutions on its nuclear program and the country’s human rights record. Mr. Baird also said Iran “routinely threatens the existence of Israel and engages in racist anti-Semitic rhetoric and incitement to genocide.”

When Canada pulled out of Iran in 2012, it didn’t have an ambassador to send home from Tehran because Iran had expelled Canada’s representative in 2007. While no reason was given, it was widely believed to be linked to Canada’s strong protests against the killing of Zahra Kazemi, a photojournalist, in an Iranian prison in 2003. Ms. Kazemi was a citizen of both Canada and Iran.

This was not the first break in relations. Most famously, Canada shut its mission in Tehran in 1980, after Kenneth D. Taylor, the Canadian ambassador, helped shelter six Americans who fled the United States embassy after it was overrun by Iranian militants the previous year. Along with John Sheardown, the chief immigration officer, who also sheltered some of the Americans, Mr. Taylor issued Canadian passports to the Americans and safely slipped then out of Iran by saying they were a film crew from Canada.

Mr. Trudeau took office in 2015 promising to renew relations with Iran. While the relationship thawed somewhat, it never reached the stage of reopening embassies in the two capitals. That step seems even further off now.

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And as my colleague Dan Bilefsky wrote, this week’s tragedy may also challenge relations between Canada and the United States.

While Mr. Trudeau did not blame President Trump for the downing of the Ukrainian airliner, some Canadians and some of Mr. Trump’s political opponents in Washington are arguing that he may bear some responsibility for creating a volatile situation.

My report about Edmonton won’t be published in time for this edition of the newsletter. But I’ve found that, at least for now, Alberta’s capital is more focused on getting through its grief than assigning blame.

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Trans Canada

Brenda Epoo, a midwife, checking Rita Lucy Ohaituk with Mary Naluktukruk, right, a student midwife, in Inukjuak, Nunavik.Amber Bracken for The New York Times

Around the Times

Near Maragle in New South Wales, Australia, on Friday.Matthew Abbott for The New York Times

A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.

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