Contrasting reactions to Air India 1985 bombing and Ukraine International Tehran crash: From “Indians” to Canadians

Following the coverage of the UIA PS752 crash and the devastating number of Canadian victims, it struck me just how much Canada has changed in terms of how it characterizes the victims.

In the Air India case, the initial reaction was to dismiss the victims as Indians and it was only some 20 years later that is was formally recognized as a Canadian tragedy.

“During his first term, the Air India Flight 182 bombing occurred. This was the largest terrorist act of the time, with the majority of the 329 victims being Canadian citizens. Mulroney sent a letter of condolence to then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, which sparked an uproar in Canada since he did not call families of the actual victims to offer condolences. Gandhi replied that he should be the one providing condolences to Mulroney, given that the majority of victims were Canadians. There were several warnings from the Indian government to the Mulroney government about terrorist threats towards Air India flights, which arised questions remain as to why these warnings were not taken more seriously and whether the events leading to the bombing could have been prevented. (Brian Mulroney – Wikipedia)”

In contrast, UIA PS752 coverage and commentary named the victims as Canadians, full-stop, as did PM Trudeau’s statement and subsequent press conference. The federal, some provincial and municipal governments are flying the  Canadian flag at half-mast to commemorate this Canadian tragedy.

The personal descriptions of the lives lost illustrate the breadth of the Iranian Canadian community across Canada and their impressive contributions to Canada. Moreover, there have been calls for Canada to be part of the crash investigation and the commitment by the PM in his press conference for Canada to be involved.

“This morning, I join Canadians across the country who are shocked and saddened to see reports that a plane crash outside of Tehran, Iran, has claimed the lives of 176 people, including 63 Canadians.

“On behalf of the Government of Canada, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to those who have lost family, friends, and loved ones in this tragedy. Our government will continue to work closely with its international partners to ensure that this crash is thoroughly investigated, and that Canadians’ questions are answered.

Today, I assure all Canadians that their safety and security is our top priority. We also join with the other countries who are mourning the loss of citizens. (Statement by the Prime Minister on the fatal plane crash in Iran)”

Full press conference statement:nJustin Trudeau’s statement after plane crash in Iran: Full transcript

An encouraging reminder how Canada has changed in how we view our fellow citizens.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

4 Responses to Contrasting reactions to Air India 1985 bombing and Ukraine International Tehran crash: From “Indians” to Canadians

  1. Robert Addington says:

    ‘Real’ Canadians and ‘Others’

    Officially, at least, the lesson of Air India Flight 182 has been learned. Sadly, however, some Canadians still embrace a two-tiered model of citizenship: one tier for the ‘real’ Canadians (those they happen to like), and another for the rest. ‘Real’ Canadians are those who were born in Canada, have European names and have never lived outside Canada. The rest are dismissed as ‘Canadians of convenience’ — even if they have lived most of their lives in Canada.

    Curiously, though, if you’re an expatriate ‘celebrity’ like Wayne Gretzky (dual citizen), Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Christopher Plummer, Celine Dion, Angela Hewitt (classical pianist), Alex Trebek or the late Leonard Cohen — the list goes on and on — you get a free pass. You can even get the Order of Canada.

    What a strange country we are.

  2. Andrew says:

    I suspect, based upon general polling on immigration, that the “real Canadians” view is likely a minority (strong one), being more prevalent among older, rural, lower income and less educated Canadians.

    But yes the expat celebrity, or the “lost Canadians” issue, do indicate a racial bias.

    • Robert Addington says:

      Some of the online comments I’ve seen from ‘real’ Canadians are truly disgraceful, and disrespectful to the bereaved families.

  3. Andrew says:

    I try to avoid spending too much time in the comments section but yes, I have seen some of these. Unfortunate, but not unexpected, and fortunately largely drowned out by the extensive and sympathetic coverage, along with the vigils across the country.

    Likely the same people that comment negatively on any immigration or multiculturalism issue.

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