In just over a week’s time, Canada will mark the 40th anniversary of one of its more celebrated overseas achievements – the rescue and eventual extraction of six American diplomats during the Iran hostage crisis. The Canadian mission in Tehran hid the Americans for nearly three months until a joint operation with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, depicted in the 2012 Hollywood blockbuster Argo, could usher them out of revolutionary Iran. The hostage crisis would conclude almost exactly one year later with the freeing of the 52 remaining Americans.
(Lesser known is the fact that Ken Taylor, the celebrated Canadian ambassador to Iran, also agreed to represent Israeli interests during that tumultuous period, to which an adviser to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini responded, “Are you out of your mind?” Nonetheless, Taylor took on the responsibility, saying, as documented in historian Robert Wright’s account of Canada’s role in the hostage crisis, Our Man in Tehran, “We were prepared to do something if (the Israelis) got into trouble.”)
The anniversary of the end of the hostage crisis is marked annually in Iran by the burning of the American flag and demonstrations at the former U.S. embassy in Tehran, now a museum to the Islamic Revolution. It will be interesting to see whether that tradition holds true this year amid growing popular protests across Iran. Over the weekend, as Iranians took to the streets to challenge their leaders, video showed protesters carefully sidestepping the Stars and Stripes – as well as the Israeli flag – as they marched.
Just days earlier, Iranians had marked the death of Maj.-Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force assassinated in a rocket attack by the United States. Millions attended his multi-day interment procession, the country’s largest funeral since Khomeini’s in 1989. Iranian leaders grieved for a notorious terrorist who was, by all accounts, instrumental in propping up Bashar Assad’s regime during the Syrian Civil War, as well as the arming of terror groups like Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was seen crying over Soleimani’s casket.
And then news started trickling out that Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 had crashed just minutes after takeoff. By the time the sun rose last Thursday, it was becoming abundantly clear that all 176 passengers aboard the plane, including 57 Canadian citizens and a total of 138 passengers en route to our country, had been killed by an Iranian missile. It took Tehran two more days to admit it had shot down the plane – a “disastrous mistake” according to a regime official – by which point the crash site had reportedly been compromised.
Since the downing of PS752, Canadians have learned a lot about those poor souls who never made it back here. So many of them – students on university campuses, professionals with burgeoning families – were working to make a better life in Canada. Their deaths are incomprehensible to all Canadians (no matter who exactly they blame for that outcome). At a Toronto vigil over the weekend, one mourner, whose brother, a married father of two, died on the plane, said, “There is no justice in this world. I don’t believe in anything anymore.”
Make no mistake: Iran’s actions have drawn Canada into the Mideast tinderbox in a significant way. It is incumbent upon our leaders to keep the pressure on Iran – not only to ensure some sort of fair investigation and compensation in this tragedy, but to bolster the case against its bloodstained regime of terror. We can’t ever bring back those souls snuffed out over Tehran, and that’s why we should do everything possible to call Iran to account.