Today marks the fourth anniversary of Iran’s downing of Ukrainian International Airlines flight PS752, killing all 176 people on board, including 85 Canadian citizens and permanent residents. The milestone underscores Tehran’s continuing failure to bring the perpetrators to justice — and Canada’s unwillingness to impose the toughest possible economic and political consequences on the Islamist regime.
On January 8, 2020, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) fired two surface-to-air missiles at flight PS752 three minutes after it departed Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport, engulfing the civilian aircraft in flames. The victims — Canadians as well as Ukrainians, Swedes, Afghans, Germans, Swiss, and Brits — included students on their way to college, newlyweds, a pregnant woman, and children.
At first, Tehran denied responsibility. But after video evidence emerged, the IRGC admitted fault, blaming the attack on “human error.” In April 2023, the Iranian judiciary said it had sentenced 10 alleged perpetrators of the shootdown to prison. However, Tehran refused to identify them, and the judicial process for the case remains shrouded in mystery. The regime even prevented the defendants from attending court hearings.
These developments suggest that Tehran aimed to conceal top leaders’ responsibility for the tragedy by blaming the ineptitude of low-level bureaucrats. Yet Iran’s behavior following the shootdown and its stated excuses suggest the IRGC’s top leaders knew precisely what they were doing.
In the hours after the downing of flight PS752, the regime bulldozed the crash site and secreted away the victims’ belongings. Security forces fired at protesters criticizing the Islamic Republic for its actions. Regime agents harassed and arrested family members of the victims to discourage them from overtly denouncing Tehran. The harassment continues until this day.
The regime’s explanation of what went wrong also lacked credibility. For example, Tehran claimed the IRGC mistakenly identified the plane as a cruise missile. Yet a passenger aircraft’s large size and high altitude — unusual for cruise missiles — should have precluded such a misperception.
In December 2020, the United Nations released an independent report asserting that Iran’s story “appears potentially to be contrived to mislead in one or more ways” and “led many to question whether the downing of the flight PS752 was not intentional.” Six months later, an Ontario judge ruled that the downing was an “act of terrorism” and “intentional.”
Today, Canada, Sweden, Ukraine, and Britain initiated dispute-settlement proceedings against Iran before the International Civil Aviation Organization. Earlier, the four allies asked the International Court of Justice to open proceedings against Iran. The Association of Families of Flight PS752 has filed a claim before the International Criminal Court. And Ottawa has sanctioned numerous Iranian officials and entities.
Still, in defiance of calls by Canada’s House of Commons and Senate, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has yet to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization pursuant to Canada’s Criminal Code.
In December 2023, a bipartisan group of 14 members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent Trudeau a letter urging him to do just that. “By officially designating the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization,” the letter stated, “Canada can join the United States in once again contributing to the global fight against terrorism, demonstrating a strong commitment to ensuring peace and stability.” The United States designated the IRGC in 2019.
However, by failing to punish the IRGC, Canada effectively sends Iran the message that it will face no meaningful consequences for its actions. Washington should continue pressing Trudeau to change course.
Tzvi Kahn is a research fellow and senior editor at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). Toby Dershowitz is managing director of FDD Action. They both contribute to FDD’s Iran Program. For more analysis from the authors and FDD, please subscribe HERE. Follow Tzvi and Toby on X @TzviKahn and @TobyDersh. Follow FDD on X @FDD. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy.