Canada’s response to Iran crash a ‘180-degree shift’ from Air India disaster, experts say

More on the contrast between Canadian reactions to the Air India bombing and the shooting down of Ukraine International in Tehran:

Canada’s response to the Ukrainian air crash tragedy is very different from the way Canadians reacted to the Air India disaster 35 years ago, experts say.

News of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752’s destruction and the deaths of all 176 people on board — including 57 Canadians, a number revised downward from 63 on Friday — touched off a nationwide period of public mourning.

On Parliament Hill, provincial legislatures and municipal sites across the country, the Canadian flag was lowered to half-mast. Vigils and memorials are being planned in communities from coast to coast.

That collective outpouring of grief is quite unlike the public’s reaction to the Air India disaster 35 years ago, when Flight 182, carrying 329 people — most of them Canadian citizens or permanent residents — was brought down by a bomb attack on June 23, 1985.

Chandrima Chakraborty, a cultural studies professor at McMaster University, said the Air India crash was dismissed as a “foreign tragedy” and met with widespread indifference by the Canadian public. Despite the scale of the tragedy — 82 children were killed — the event did not resonate as deeply with Canadians as PS752’s crash in Iran seems to be now, she said.

“It was an Air India plane, (thought to be) primarily Indians, so it must be an Indian tragedy,” she said. “That hasn’t happened this time.”

Chakraborty said this week’s crash is being framed as a Canadian tragedy in the media and by the federal government, and Canadians themselves are mourning the victims as fellow citizens.

Brian Mulroney, prime minister at the time of the Air India crash, was criticized for offering condolences to the Indian government rather than to the Canadian families of victims after the disaster.

“Once the government has that kind of gut response, it pushed the bombing to the margins of Canadian public consciousness. It did not result in the outpouring of grief or public mourning that we’re seeing now,” Chakraborty said.

“Canada’s lack of acknowledgement of the Air India loss as Canadian, I think, exacerbated the family’s grief of losing family members.”

Public understanding ‘hazy’

Today, scholarly research on the Air India tragedy remains relatively scarce and public understanding of the event is “hazy” in the minds of most Canadians, she said.

The Air India disaster led to a public inquiry and lengthy criminal trials. In 2010, a quarter century after the disaster, then-prime minister Stephen Harper delivered a formal apology to the families of the victims for Canada’s failure to prevent the tragedy and for mistreating the families in the aftermath.

“Your pain is our pain. As you grieve, so we grieve. And, as the years have deepened your grief, so has the understanding of our country grown,” he said on June 23, 2010.

“Canadians who sadly did not at first accept that this outrage was made in Canada accept it now. Let me just speak directly to this perception, for it is wrong and it must be laid to rest. This was not an act of foreign violence. This atrocity was conceived in Canada, executed in Canada, by Canadian citizens, and its victims were themselves mostly citizens of Canada.”

Jack Major, a former Supreme Court justice who presided over the Air India public inquiry, said the circumstances of that disaster are vastly different from those of the PS752 crash. The recent event, he said, drew immediate global attention due to the increasing volatility of the security climate in the Middle East and what he called the “world fright” about what might happen next in the U.S-Iran conflict.The news cycle and the media landscape also have changed in the decades since Air India, he said.

“It became an international story immediately because of the relationships in the Middle East, which had absolutely nothing to do with Air India,” he said. “I don’t know you can draw much of a parallel.”

Major said there’s “no doubt” the Air India victims were treated differently because they were considered Indian, or “late-come Canadians,” but he said Canada’s mishandling of the disaster had more to do with government authorities passing the buck.

‘India’s problem’

“Their first reaction was that it’s India’s problem, not ours,” he said.

Sociologist Sherene Razack, who provided expert testimony during the Air India inquiry on whether racism played a role in the government’s response to the bombing, said it was a “positive moment” to hear the federal government claim those who died in this week’s crash as Canada’s own.

“Few in the media even did the usual hyphenation and simply said Canadians died in the crash,” said Razack, now a professor at UCLA. “This was a remarkable difference from the response to Air India and I can only hope that it signals some progress on the racism front …

“Is it possible that the nation has begun to change? I can only hope so.”

Andrew Griffith, a former senior immigration official who now researches diversity and multiculturalism, said he regards Canada’s current response as an “encouraging reminder” of how Canadians have evolved in terms of how they see, accept and embrace fellow citizens who are immigrants or members of visible minorities.

“What really struck me, as these horrific stories came out, was the reference is ‘Canadian.’ It wasn’t even Iranian-Canadian. It was simply these are Canadians, this is a Canadian issue and tragedy,” he said.

“I don’t think any of that really happened in the early years following Air India.”

Griffith suggested one possible reason for the change is the fact that Canada is now far more diverse than it was at the time of Air India, when visible minorities represented a smaller, newer share of the population.

“Now it is part of the Canadian reality,” he said. “That’s a sea-change, in my view.”

After Air India, the Indo-Canadian community was bitterly resentful of the authorities they believed failed to take the investigation seriously.

Canadians’ reaction to the Ukrainian airline crash represents a “180-degree shift,” Griffith said.

“It means that Iranian-Canadians will feel more accepted, more welcome, more integrated, more part of society, whereas with Indo-Canadians it dragged on and on,” he said.

For the family members of Air India victims, the pain remains fresh.

Eisha Marjara, who lost her mother and sister in the bombing, said she sees a difference in the response to the two disasters.

“The response for the Air India tragedy was disappointing and heartbreaking,” she said. “We were left in the dark for a long time.

“So seeing the way the prime minister and the media [have] swiftly and transparently handled the crash and prioritized the well being of the families of the victims is very encouraging.”

Source: cbc.ca/news/politics/…

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.

‘A reminder of what it means to be Canadian’: Tehran crash a shock to our outdated ideas of identity

Good piece by Joseph Brean:

The meaning of disasters sometimes reveals itself in a spectacular instant. Planes exploding into Manhattan skyscrapers were obviously terrorism. A train of oil exploding in Lac-Mégantic was obviously an outrageous accident.

But sometimes the significance of mass casualty events must be discerned from more compelling falsehoods. Commonsensical intuitions can obscure as much as they reveal, and make it easier to dismiss faraway calamities that really ought to trouble the domestic Canadian soul.

This is how the crash of a Ukraine-bound plane outside Tehran that first looked obviously like military escalation in the standoff between the United States and Iran was revealed overnight as an especially Canadian aviation tragedy.

“This disaster is a reminder of what it means to be Canadian and to belong to this cosmopolitan nation,” said Payam Akhavan, a Tehran-born former United Nations war crimes prosecutor, now a professor of law at McGill University, who gave the 2017 CBC Massey lectures on the perils of “us versus them” politics.

“There is a certain fluidity of identity when you open your doors to the whole world,” Akhavan said, and this crash is a reminder of how outdated views of national identity can distance Canadians from their own tragedies.

The Canadians on board included professors of engineering at the University of Alberta in Edmonton; an expert in Iranian indigenous nomads pursuing a doctorate at the University of Guelph in Ontario; a staffer at an Ontario high school teachers union; students from schools across Canada; a nine-year old girl from Richmond Hill, Ont.; an eight-year-old girl from Toronto; a one-year-old girl on her first trip with her parents; and a young couple returning to their new house in Montreal after being married in their ancestral homeland.

Even the Iranians on board were largely young students coming or returning to Canada to study, according to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He said nearly everyone on board was bound for Toronto, transiting through Kyiv on a popular route. Trudeau said a plane arrived in Toronto from Kyiv on Wednesday with 138 empty seats, on which the victims were due to have travelled.

If the theory of an accidental crash holds up, this was a tragedy of dozens of Canadians and others killed through no fault of their own at high points in their lives. It involves a web of storylines that meander back from that field near Tehran’s airport through the Western prairies and Ontario university towns to the large urban communities in Edmonton and Toronto that grew throughout Iran’s post-revolutionary decline so much that they spawned good-natured nicknames used by the diaspora, like Tehranto.

As such, the crash is closer in kind to last year’s Ethiopian plane crash — which was also in a Boeing 737 that crashed soon after takeoff, with 18 Canadians among 157 passengers, second only to Kenyans — than to the Malaysian Airlines flight that was shot down in 2014 during a hot war between Ukraine and Russia, with one Canadian aboard.

But it initially seemed to be the other way round, given the rising tension between the U.S. and Iran, and the expectation of retaliation by Iran to the assassination of a top general. It seemed to be other people’s problems.

This search for meaning can be difficult for Canadians in the early days of a shocking new disaster, existing as Canada does on the periphery of so many global conflicts, without taking sides or bearing the burden of the fighting. Why should this plane crash not simply blur into the foreign news like the deaths of African migrants in the Mediterranean or the victims of an Asian typhoon?

A secondary tragedy of the 1985 Air India bombing, the worst-ever Canadian terrorist attack that killed all 329 passengers including 268 Canadians, was the common sense that this was a foreign outrage, an attack by Indians against Indians that just happened to occur after some of the victims and perpetrators had moved to Canada. Recognizing the racist folly of that view has been a civic challenge ever since, taken up by politicians, media, educators. It has invited reflection on definitional aspects of Canadian identity in an age of immigration and multiculturalism.

A generation later, in an age when dual citizenship is common and international travel accessible to the broad Canadian middle class, these sorts of things get especially confused. Canadians can long for distant homelands. They can leave home to go home without any contradiction.

The trouble with Iran is that, over the same period, it has seemed to get farther and farther away, such that for the average Canadian, travelling to Beijing or Mumbai can seem like simple tourism in the land of one’s ancestors, but travelling to Tehran just seems reckless.

Why would Iranian-Canadians go back, knowing dual citizens are regularly taken as hostages by the regime, such as Homa Hoodfar, and even killed, such as Zahra Kazemi?

“Exile is a longing to belong. It’s an emotional space that we confuse with a physical space,” said Akhavan, who fled Iran before the 1979 revolution and, as a member of the Baháʼí faith, could expect persecution, detention and worse if he ever tried to return. “There is this very strong identity which is based on historical continuity.”

Much of the Middle East was carved up in the 20th century by European opportunists out of the carcass of the Ottoman Empire, but not Iran. Although the culture is diverse, Iranians have this deep attachment to what Akhavan described as “a rich mystical culture that refuses to be eclipsed despite the wars and invasions of the centuries.”

He described meeting Armenian Christians who love to speak Persian, which endured despite the spread of Arabic, and Iranians in Tel Aviv who share this national pride not just in cuisine, which every culture more or less shares, but also in unique traditions of poetry, literature, architecture, and art that are scarcely matched anywhere else.

The Iranian community in Canada is likewise diverse. It includes exiles, wealthy economic migrants, skilled entrepreneurs, and people in the orbit of the Islamist regime who have invested in Canadian real estate. So it is a common thing for people to go back for lavish weddings, to see family who stayed behind, to leave home for home.

One photo from Tehran by journalist Borna Ghasemi showed a girl’s red party shoe lying upright on gravel, its bow slightly singed but otherwise shiny and new, as if it had just been worn for the first time, as if at a wedding or family reunion.

Source: ‘A reminder of what it means to be Canadian’: Tehran crash a shock to our outdated ideas of identity