The Canadian press has independently confirmed at least 89 victims with ties to Canada, many of them students and professors returning after the December vacation to visit relatives in Iran.
Fortin said the RCMP, which operates the Ottawa office of the global law enforcement organization Interpol, began supporting victim identification efforts at the request of the equivalent Tehran office.
She said the RCMP will work with local police forces to contact relatives of victims of Canadian aircraft accidents.
“Some family members may therefore be asked to provide biological samples to help identify the victims,” Fortin said. The addition of those samples would then be used to generate a DNA profile that would later help to identify remains.
Dr. David Sweet, professor of dentistry at the University of British Columbia and former Interpol chief scientific officer for disaster victims identification, said such material is an essential part of all efforts to name people killed in large-scale tragedies.
He said the profiles generated in Canada are compared with fragments of teeth, jawbones, and other tissues that are likely to have survived the crash, which occurred on January 8 when the aircraft was hit by at least one ground-to-air missile fired by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards of Iran.
But Sweet said that officials around the world may face challenges in their efforts to identify the dead due to local conditions in Iran.
“The homeland did not initially request assistance and may not have had a defined response plan or a team that could respond quickly with all the infrastructure and … expertise needed to do things effectively,” he said.
Iran is not alone in this regard, Sweet said, and although Canada has become a world leader in victim identification, the international community is generally not well equipped to respond to such situations.
“Training and capacity building is needed over a certain period, and nobody worries about that,” he said. “It’s death, and you don’t want to focus on things like that under normal circumstances, and then suddenly when this happens and you realize you really need someone, where do you find them?”
Attempts to identify victims will unfold against an increasingly tense political background.
Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne attended an international meeting in London on Thursday that Canada hopes will lead to justice and financial compensation for the families of the victims of the crash.
The meeting in the Canadian High Commission included representatives from Ukraine, Sweden, Afghanistan and Great Britain and was billed by Ottawa as a step towards “closure, accountability, transparency and justice – including compensation.”
Canada, which has no embassy in Iran, has demanded official status in the investigation into the crash in that country.
During a press conference on Wednesday, Transport Minister Garneau said that two Canadian researchers are in Iran as part of an international team and have had good cooperation, but he wants their participation in the probe to be formalized.
Meanwhile, Canada has also expressed its support for a decision by European leaders to activate part of their 2015 nuclear agreement that could reverse European sanctions against Iran. This movement led the president of Iran to hand out threats aimed at European soldiers in the Middle East.
This report from the Canadian Press was first published on January 16, 2020.
Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press