Families of PS752 victims push for government action against Iran on anniversary of deadly crash


As families of Flight PS752 victims mark the fourth anniversary of the aircraft’s destruction, the federal government isn’t ruling out designating the entire Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization — a measure the families have demanded for years.

PS752 was shot down by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) shortly after taking off from Tehran on Jan. 8, 2020, killing all 176 people onboard, including 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents.

The Iranian government claimed in a 2021 report that the airliner was shot down accidentally after being “misidentified” by an air defence unit as a “hostile target” — a conclusion Canadian safety officials say Iran failed to support with evidence.

The Ukrainian airliner was shot down five days after the U.S. assassinated Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. That action pushed the U.S. and Iran to the brink of war, with Iran launching a series of retaliatory missile strikes against U.S. personnel stationed in Iraq.

Four years later, families of the PS752 dead are urging the federal government to finally heed their call to list the IRGC as a terrorist entity in Canada — a move the government isn’t ruling out.

“Canada has to find a way to list this organization as a terrorist organization,” Kourosh Doustshenas, spokesperson for the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims, told CBC News Friday. Doustshenas’ fiancée, Forough Khadem, was killed when the airliner was shot down.

“This is not a regular military force of a country. They are interfering in all other countries. And also they are being used as an arm for suppressing any demand for freedom or expression of opinions (inside Iran),” said Doustshenas, citing the Iranian regime’s brutal crackdown on protests following the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini.

“This organization is nothing but a terrorist organization.”

The IRGC is a paramilitary force created after Iran’s 1979 revolution. According to the U.S.-based Council on Foreign relations, the IRGC is charged with defending the Islamic Republic from both internal and external threats.

Ottawa designated Iran’s Quds force, a branch of the IRGC responsible for extraterritorial operations, as a terrorist entity in 2017.

But the Liberal government has for years resisted calls from the opposition Conservatives and from families of PS752 victims to designate the IRGC in its entirety as a terrorist organization. It has argued in the past that such a listing would be a blunt-force approach that could affect low-level people who were forced to serve in the paramilitary force.

The CIA says conscripts make up more than 50 per cent of the IRGC.

When asked Friday, however, Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc did not rule out a possible terrorist designation for the IRGC.

WATCH: Ottawa not ruling out terrorist designation for IRGC   

Ottawa not ruling out naming Iran’s IRGC as a terrorist organization

Asked about calls for Canada to list Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist entity, Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc says he has asked national security agencies to continue to update their advice to the government on possible future listings.

“Our government is always looking at measures to reinforce national security, to hold terrorist organizations to account,” LeBlanc told reporters at an event in Dieppe, N.B.

“I have asked the national security agencies to continue to update the advice to the government on possible future listings and when we have more to say on a particular change in posture, we will have something to say at that point.”

The United States named the IRGC a terrorist organization in 2019 under then-U.S. president Donald Trump. President Joe Biden’s administration has maintained the listing.

In December, a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urging his government to add the IRGC to its list of terrorist organizations, citing the paramilitary force’s ties to Hamas.

“In both words and deeds, the IRGC as an entity is ideologically committed to destroying Israel and undermining U.S.-Canadian security interests in the the Middle East and around the world,” says the letter.

“By officially designating the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization, Canada can join the United States in once again contributing to the global fight against terrorism.”

Can the IRGC be listed?

Leah West, an associate professor at Carleton University who teaches national security law, told CBC News in December that listing the IRGC as a terrorist organization would be a largely symbolic gesture that could run counter to Canadian law. 

“The Criminal Code basically has a carve-out for the definition of terrorist activity that excludes military units or parties to an armed conflict,” said West.

“The terrorist entity listing is dependent on that terrorist activity definition. So, essentially, if the Quds force arguably shouldn’t have been listed because of that definition, it makes it even harder to list an entire military for that reason — at least lawfully.”

Doustshenas said that if that’s the case, the law needs to change.

“Why not amend the laws to capture the situation like the IRGC being a terrorist organization. What are we waiting for?” he said.

Doustshenas also said the Canadian government should figure out a way to exempt low-level IRGC conscripts from being affected by a potential terrorist entity listing.

Families of PS752 victims are set to mark the fourth anniversary of the airliner’s downing on Sunday and Monday with vigils and ceremonies in several Canadian cities, including Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.

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