Family of Canadian who died in Iran-downed jetliner shares its grief

3 min

Toronto (Canada) (AFP)

Pain mixed with anger -- an Iranian-Canadian student who lost his mother when Iran shot down a Ukrainian jetliner with 57 Canadian nationals onboard shares his grief.

"Once you start to cope with the sorrow a little bit, then came the tragic news that it was downed by a missile, and it was almost as if she died again," Amirali Alavi told AFP.

"Thinking how it could have been avoided, how somebody's responsible for it," the 27-year-old Toronto law student said it made him furious and inconsolable.

His mother, Neda Sadighi, a 50-year-old optometrist, had gone to visit family over the holidays in Tehran. She had left the Iranian capital ten years ago with her husband Farzad, a doctor, and her son to settle in Canada.

"I spoke with her before she was going to the airport in Tehran, I told her I was worried with everything that was going on in Iran, between Iran and the US. She told me, 'Don't worry, I'll be fine, I'll be there tomorrow.'"

A few hours later, the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 was shot down by an Iranian missile -- in what Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called a "human error" -- killing all 176 passengers and crew onboard.

"All deaths are saddening, but some deaths are tragic and wrench your heart," said Alavi at a memorial ceremony in Toronto on Sunday.

"It wasn't just a regular tragedy, it was the fault of those who seek war at the expense of the people's life," he added, pointing to the escalating tensions between the United States and Iran which led in his view led to the crash.

Alavi says he went through "a rollercoaster of emotions" including shock, sadness and then misunderstanding and anger when Iran, under pressure, finally admitted that one of its missiles had shot down the plane by mistake.

"It was almost as if she died again. It's almost like it's for no reason."

The accident was a deep blow to the Iranian community in Canada, which is home to North America's largest Iranian diaspora. According to the last census, there were 210,000 Canadians of Iranian origin living in this country in 2016.

- Broken dreams -

Across the country, from Edmonton in the West to Halifax on the Atlantic coast to Canada's biggest cities Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, and its capital Ottawa, vigils have multiplied over the past five days.

On Sunday in Toronto, where half of the Canadian-Iranian community lives, a tribute ceremony brought together several thousand people.

Many spoke of the broken dreams of these immigrants, most of them highly educated who came to Canada in search of a better future.

This was the case of Neda Sadighi who immigrated with her husband and son 10 years ago through a program for skilled workers.

Both surgeons, they no longer felt safe in Iran and had left everything to start from scratch, Neda Sadighi's husband Farzad Alavi, 55, said.

Based in Toronto, the pair worked hard to rebuild their lives. She resumed studies and became an optometrist, and while he worked as a naturopathic doctor.

The father and son say they were touched by the "outpouring of support" and sympathy they received in Canada, from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's compassionate words on Sunday in Edmonton to personal messages from classmates and teachers at university.

"That the outpouring of support in Canada," Amirali Alavi said. "It really made me feel that this is my home, and it reminded me again that we made the right choice to come to Canada."