Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his voice sometimes breaking, on Sunday told a vigil for some of those killed in an Iranian plane disaster that he would “pursue justice and accountability” for what happened.
Iran says it mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian airliner on Wednesday, killing 176 people. At least 57 Canadians died, most of them of Iranian descent, in one of the biggest single losses of life Canada has suffered in 40 years.
“You may feel unbearably lonely, but you are not alone. Your entire country stands with you, tonight, tomorrow, and in all the years to come,” Trudeau told a crowd of 1,700 in a basketball gymnasium in Edmonton, Alberta, home to 13 of the victims. Most had direct links to the University of Alberta.
As Trudeau spoke, young children could be heard in the audience, and boxes of tissues were passed among those present. Black-rimmed photos of the dead stood on the stage, where mourners had placed rose petals, candles and plates of dates.
“This tragedy should have never occurred, and I want to assure you that you have my full support during this extraordinarily difficult time … you give us purpose to pursue justice and accountability for you,” said Trudeau, who has demanded Canada take part in the crash probe.
“We will not rest until there are answers.”
Family and friends wept and hugged before the vigil started.
“Still I’m in shock, still I can’t believe it,” said Vahid Rezania, a friend of engineering professor Pedram Mousavi, who was killed. “I am always thinking, ‘He is going to come. This hasn’t happened’. It is very hard to accept.”
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, a prominent political Trudeau foe, lamented an “epic demonstration of human folly” and told the vigil he had confidence the prime minister would give his all to find out what happened.
Edmonton’s Iranian community is collecting funds to pay funeral and other expenses for the victims’ families.
Earlier in the day about 2,000 people packed into a Toronto university hall, voicing grief and rage.
“There is no justice in this world,” said Masoud Niknam, mourning his brother Farhad, a dentist and married father of two children.
“I don’t believe in anything anymore. We will have a hole in our hearts forever and that cannot be filled with anything.”
The memorials follow several days of grief in Canada, including candlelight vigils in many cities.