PS752 Three Years After The Terrorist Attack: Justice and Healing

Written By Daniel Bordman, Posted on January 10, 2023

It has been 3 years since the terrorist attack that downed Ukrainian airliner PS752 killing 176 innocent people, many of whom had a connection to Canada. After PS752 lifted off from Theran the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) fired a missile at the plane. The missile connected, and 30 seconds later a second one was fired killing everyone on board.

The IRGC is an ideological paramilitary force that comprises likely the biggest power block in the Islamic Republic of Iran. They have an international branch, the Quds Force, and a domestic branch that controls over 50% of the economy. The best historic comparison would be to the Nazi’s SS battalion. 

Much has been made about the Liberal’s failure to honour their promise of listing the IRGC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization back in 2018 when they voted in favour of a Conservative motion to do so. In fact, the anger from the community is now a permanent part of the story. Decisions have consequences, and in this case, it was indecision.

It is impossible to know if the victims of PS752 would still be alive today if the IRGC had been listed, but activists keep pushing for it since the Islamic Republic’s M.O. is to pick soft targets that are unlikely to respond with force when they target civilians. There are many numbers that can be thrown around when talking about geopolitical decisions. How many lives have been lost due to the IRGC in Canada, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Argentina, Germany, and everywhere else the IRGC is active, or the amount of money being laundered in Canada through their proxies and the influence it buys. But I want to focus on one, one life that was lost, Arad Zarei.

On Saturday, January 7th, Arad’s father Mehrzad Zarei organized a memorial to his son and the other victims of PS752 at Elgin Mills cemetery. The memorial also honoured Iranians who have been recently executed by the Regime and those in prison for supporting the revolution. 

The event was well attended by family members of the victims and members of the Iranian Canadian community, most of whom have some story of loss and persecution at the hands of the regime over the last 44 years.

I have spoken to Mehrzad multiple times over the last few years and chronicled his quest for justice alongside others in his situation. He is a father who is hurt by the loss of his son, and a man driven to do everything in his power to bring the perpetrators to justice. His story is easy to understand. So is it with the rest of the Iranian community, who unfortunately are all too used to these events as the regime, they are fighting leads the world in child executions? Arad becomes just another murdered youth to add to an ever-growing list of the Islamic Republic’s crimes.

But who was Arad Zarei outside of the context of the revolution and what did his life mean?

At the memorial, I saw a group that seemed stuck out from the crowd. A group of 10-15 youths of different backgrounds looking to be having a bit of an emotional time. I approached them on a hunch that they were friends of Arad’s and they were kind enough to take me aside and provide some insight into the life of Arad Zarei, and what losing him was like.

The first thing that became obvious to me was that despite the cool exterior put up, some of these kids had a three old scars on their souls that had not yet healed. Blame it on not being able to be together during the pandemic, blame it on the horrific nature of Arad’s death, and provide whatever explanation you want, the reality is that the evils of terrorism affect more than just the dead.

Their raw emotional state is very understandable, this was Arad’s group of high school friends. Together they were in their final year at Richmond Green secondary school, and as their final semester started, tragedy struck in the first week. Not only that but in the following months the world would be shut down for two years making it hard for them to get some closure as a group. One of his friends told me their story about PS752. He and a few others were in a group chat with Arad while he was visiting family in Iran. They admitted they were a bit nervous about his time there as in the week leading up to his flight home there was chaos and instability in the region, particularly the drone strike that took out Qasem Solemani and the subsequent attack on the US base in Iraq. Teenage boys being teenage boys, admitted to engaging in a bit of dark humour surrounding Arad’s situation, but ultimately they were just happy that Arad was getting out of Iran and on his way back to the safety of Canada. They talked with him at the gate, then after he confirmed that he was boarding the flight, that was the end of the conversation and they went to bed.

It was the next day at school, with no messages from Arad, that they started to put the pieces together. Sorties and pictures of an airliner shot down in Iran and radio silence from Arad had them go online and check the passenger list of Flight PS752 and check the passenger list. At the bottom was Arad’s name. Shock, horror, sadness.

Another one of Arad’s friends told me that she had told their English teacher of what had happened, from there they went to the principal and an announcement was made informing the rest of the school.

Another perspective was given to me by Arad’s friend Kai, who wasn’t at school that day as she was competing in a ski tournament that day. As one does on days like this she had to get up super early to head up north for the event. Being a good friend, she fired off a text to Arad at 5 am figuring she’d get a response from him when he landed and was able to text back. It was around 9 am after she finished a run that she decided to go on Snapchat and see what her friends were saying, and that is where she saw the story RIP Arad. 

Her first reaction was anger, not at the regime, but at the person who posted the story since this must have been a sick joke. Despite a conversation with her mom the night before about just how messed up the government in Iran is, it was still hard to believe that something so horrible could be done to a group of innocent people for no other reason than to create chaos. It was when she confronted her friend who posted the story that is when she found out it was not a bad joke, but a horrible reality. The rest of the day as she describes it, isolated from her friends and anyone else who knew Arad would be one of the worst of her life.

Memorials like this are so important to hold because for the majority of people there, it was Arad’s death, along with the other victims, that held meaning. But to this group, it was his like that held meaning, and by their description, it was a life worth honouring.

The group was emotional when describing Arad and the man he was. Kai told me that Arad had been the friend she relied on to talk to when she would go through a rough patch in her life, a friend who would always be there for her. A sentiment shared by the rest of the group. They describe Arad as a person of genuine kindness, a teenage boy that even when participating in the ritual razzing that defines high school boys, would do so in a way that would build you up, not tear you down. A trait, myself included, that we, unfortunately, would not be able to ascribe to our teenage selves.

What got to me though is when they told me about Arad’s ability to set and accomplish goals. According to them, Arad had the ability to put his mind to something and see it through. In his senior year, Arad had set fitness and health goals and was quite serious about his meal prep. They told me that they at some points became slightly exasperated with Arad’s commitment as it was hard to get him to go out for lunch when he already had his meal schedule set and prepared. Again, a rarity among teenage boys and no doubt something that his father was incredibly proud of.

It speaks to the lost potential of a life cut way too short and the destructive power of evil when left unchecked. This brings us to his father Mehrzad and his own goal of stopping the Islamic Republic and preventing the IRGC from taking another victim.

As the event went on the families led the crowd in some anti-regime chants as there are currently other families back in Iran who have had their children murdered by the regime or are facing down the prospect of an execution verdict from a kangaroo court. 

However, things did not get really contentious until the very end when Liberal MP Ali Ehsassi showed up to offer some words of support. As previously mentioned the anger at the Liberal party’s inaction can not be separated from the story at this point. For example, it took them three years to finally admit it was an intentional terrorist attack. So when Ehsassi offered some classic political platitudes of unity and togetherness for justice, another father of a victim, Shahin Moghaddam, quite bluntly pointed out that all Ehsassi offers is “empty words”. This would be the kindest most diplomatic criticism of Ehsassi as the mounting criticism caused him to lose his cool.

Aside from that, the memorial was a lovely and cathartic event that was desperately needed by all parties involved.  It was nice to get to see Mehrzad perform his very Persian hosting duties offering everyone coffee and snacks and equally nice to see the community rally around him and the other families. It is clear that we lost something the day they shot down PS752, and it remains the duty of the living to fight for justice for the dead. 

Daniel Bordman

Daniel is the host of political satire show Uninterrupted, runs multiple podcasts and has written for a variety of publications. Daniel is also the communications coordinator of the Canadian Antisemitism Education Foundation. You can find him on Twitter here. Uninterrupted on YouTube

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