Speaking notes for the Honourable Omar Alghabra, Minister of Transport at the 223rd Session of the ICAO Council


June 18, 2021

Mr. President, Good morning, friends

I would like to acknowledge that I am joining you virtually today the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishnaabeg people.

I would also like to take a moment to acknowledge how difficult the last couple of weeks have been for Canadians. First, the confirmation of the remains of 215 innocent indigenous children at the former residential school site in Kamloops, BC.

Words could never be strong enough to condemn this national tragedy.

It is not just Canada’s history, but it continues to be our present, and it is a stark reminder for all of us to continue the important work towards reconciliation.

Second, the murder of a family in London, Ontario who were out for a walk on Sunday, June 6th. It is beyond comprehension how such a heinous act could happen in a Canadian neighbourhood. It is also a sober reminder for all of us that hate and Islamophobia exist and if not confronted, it could kill.

On behalf of all Canadians, I also wish to offer my most sincere condolences following the passing of the former President, Kenneth Kaunda. His lifelong commitment to the independence and well-being of his citizens has been an inspiration. I wish to take this opportunity also to extend Canada’s deepest sympathies to Dr. Kaunda’s family and loved ones during this difficult time. We join all Zambians in mourning this tremendous loss.

As the first President of Zambia, Dr. Kaunda was a beloved leader who fought for the rights of Zambians and Africans as a whole. As President and then as an advocate to combat HIV/AIDS on the continent, Dr. Kaunda will be remembered as a fierce leader and a supporter of peace and human rights across the continent.

Mr President, today, I wish to thank ICAO’s distinguished Council for the opportunity to participate virtually in this 223rd Council Session.

Thank you also to the Secretary General for the Progress Report on Work Related to Conflict Zones and the Safer Skies Initiative Working Paper.

This initiative follows the Risks to Civil Aviation in Conflict Zones: A Safer Skies Initiative and Next Steps for ICAO working paper that was unanimously endorsed by this Council in March 2020.

I wish to extend my gratitude to you, the Council, for your support and to ICAO for all the work that has been undertaken since March 2020 on Safer Skies.

Allow me once again to remind this Council why Canada began work on Safer Skies. On January 8th, 2020, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps fired on a civilian aircraft, killing 176 innocent people, some of whom were children, including 55 Canadian citizens, 30 permanent residents and many more with ties to Canada, as well as Iranian, Ukrainian, British, Afghan, and Swedish nationals.

Thanks to continued efforts by many in the international community, we have greatly advanced the work of the Safer Skies Initiative to help ensure that such tragedies never happen again.

ICAO’s recent publication of the Manual on Civil-Military Cooperation in Air Traffic Management (Doc 10088) is an important step in providing guidance to states to manage airspace during conflict.

And Canada is very grateful for ICAO’s work on this initiative.

I am also looking forward to the implementation of ICAO’s regional webinars on civil-military cooperation and safety risk assessment obligations.

The work underway on Safer Skies here at ICAO complements related efforts, including the inaugural Safer Skies Forum that was held virtually last December.

Bringing together representatives from 82 states, the civil aviation industry, and many international organizations, the Forum was a key milestone in the coordinated international effort to make our skies safer from the risks associated with conflict zones.

I wish to extend my heartfelt gratitude to ICAO for its support of the event, including the participation of the President of the ICAO Council, Mr. Salvatore Sciacchitano, who was a keynote speaker, and the Secretariat for its participation on various discussion panels, as well as to the members of this Council for their engagement and participation.

I am happy to announce that Canada will host the second Safer Skies Forum in late 2021 or early 2022.

The Forum will be open once again to all 193 ICAO member states.

We strongly encourage the participation of a wide range of members in order to reflect the diversity of the global civil aviation community and incorporate different regional perspectives on managing conflict zone airspace.

I sincerely believe that together, we can safeguard civilian flight operations in and near conflict zones and prevent tragedies like PS752 and MH17 from happening again.

To achieve these ends, it will be important for the international civil aviation community to adopt a stronger, integrated risk management approach to better support effective and efficient decision making in aviation.

It is Canada’s hope that bringing together safety and security risk management perspectives will result in a better strategy for mitigating the risks that conflict zones pose to civil aviation.

In its progress report on work related to conflict zones and the Safer Skies Initiative, the Air Navigation Commission expressed concern that only forty-nine replies were received in response to the State letter SMM1/4-20/110.

Canada believes that conflict zones impact the global aviation community as a whole.

As such, it is essential that all States, including those directly experiencing conflict, are actively involved in the development of strong and adequate measures to mitigate the risks associated with conflict zones.

I cannot overstate the importance of coming together to develop and implement effective risk mitigation strategies to safeguard civil aviation.

The recent actions by Belarus on Ryan Air Flight 4978, which was forced to land under false pretenses in order to arrest a journalist, should serve as a reminder that the international community must remain vigilant to ensure the safety and security of global civil aviation operations.

Canada continues to be gravely concerned about this unusual and excessive act by Belarusian authorities.

Through a framework established under the Safer Skies Initiative, Canada and likeminded allies took swift action both domestically, and at this Council, to protect civil aviation and investigate the situation.

People travelling from one part of the world to another should have confidence that they will not be exposed to safety and security risks that conflicts pose to civilian flight operations.

Today, I wish to reiterate Canada’s long standing position on the shoot-down of Flight PS752 by the Iranian military. I wish to publically condemn the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in the strongest terms, for its actions that led to 176 innocent people being killed and for its handling of the tragedy and its failure to provide answers afterwards.

I would like to once again take this opportunity to recognize the lives lost as a result of this preventable tragedy, and I wish to express Canada’s continued commitment towards obtaining transparency, accountability and justice for the victims of Flight PS752 and their families.

I have personally met with many of the families of the victims of the horrific event. I believe it is important for this council to hear them too. Every day since this January 8th 2020, they have had to look at empty chairs at the dinner table, and to pass bedrooms that are no longer being used. They look to us to provide them answers, and to ensure that no other family has to do the same in the future.

Iran was responsible for ensuring the safety of civil aviation within its territory. Despite lessons learned and recommendations from recent tragedies such as MH17, Iran failed to recognize the danger of their ongoing military operations. They did not take all practical measures to prevent this tragedy. Iranian civilian and military authorities, through their decisions and actions, are directly responsible for the death of 176 innocent people.

Iran’s final investigation report failed to demonstrate effective measures by the Iranian civil and military authorities on January 8, 2020, and failed to demonstrate an understanding of the steps required to ensure that airspace was safe for civil aviation operations amid heightened military tensions. Iran continues to avoid providing full and transparent answers. Canada’s resolve remains strong to get to the bottom of what happened and to ensure those responsible for the shoot-down are held accountable.

After the downing of Flight PS752, Iran, as the State of Occurrence, undertook to investigate the downing of PS752 caused by their own missile attack.

The lack of transparency and independence in Iran’s approach to the investigation, and its handling of the crash site and the black boxes led many, including Canada, to believe that these flaws were the result of a clear conflict of interest between the state, its military and their so-called independent agency, the Aircraft Accident Investigation Board.

The lack of credibility and transparency was made evident by the fact that the investigation did not look fully into the military’s involvement in the downing.

Canada believes Iran’s official account of events remains incomplete.

Canada acknowledges the extraordinary value of ICAO’s existing international accident investigation system, and recognizes how well the system works under most circumstances.

However, as demonstrated by Iran’s handling of the PS752 investigation, Annex 13 is not currently well suited to guide the conduct of a trustworthy and credible investigation in situations where the State of Occurrence has participated in or caused the downing of a civilian aircraft.

Under these circumstances, if there are conflicts of interest that jeopardize the integrity of our system, or at least call it into question, there must be recourse for other affected states to intervene so that there can be a transparent and comprehensive safety investigation.

In the case of PS752, there were clear conflicts of interest, which manifested in multiple ways and affected the credibility of Iran’s investigation and report.

Canada is shocked by Iran’s failures to adequately protect the crash site from unauthorized access, which resulted in the abhorrent pilfering of victims’ personal items.

The site was also cleaned up hastily, in some cases with the use of bulldozers, preventing full examination.

Canada also denounces the failure of the Iranian authorities to process the readout of the flight recorders “without delay”, despite repeated and forceful requests from Canada and ICAO Council member states.

Once Iran’s final investigation report into the downing of Flight PS752 was released, it was clear to Canada that it fell short of fully explaining the events that led to the shoot-down, and that it irresponsibly tried to shift the blame onto Ukraine International Airlines.

The families and loved ones of the victims deserve to know how and why Flight PS752 was shot down near Tehran.

And Iran still owes them and the world these answers.

The international civil aviation community also needs these answers, if it is to believe that the root causes have been identified and remedied.

Without such answers, how can we ever be confident that Iran’s airspace is safe for international civil aviation and that we are doing all we can to prevent another tragedy?

Canada continues to mourn the lives lost on Flight PS752. And while we cannot bring back the lives lost, we can do our utmost to address any gaps that made this tragedy possible.

I am confident that through the good will and firm commitment of the international community, and through collaborations and organizations like ICAO, similar tragedies can be avoided in the future.

We owe the victims and their families nothing less.

We have a duty to learn from past events. We must and we will take action, to properly commemorate tragedies, and the victims of those tragedies.

Despite the frustration and sadness provoked by Iran’s investigation, Canada believes it can also serve as an impetus for change -- an opportunity, if we choose to take it.

By highlighting areas in which Annex 13 comes up short, we can make the requisite changes to improve our aircraft accident investigation system.

As I mentioned to you this past March, Canada believes the current investigation regime can be strengthened by enhancing Annex 13.

Improvements to Annex 13 could be made to ensure that safety investigations conducted under similar circumstances better address conflict of interest concerns, and increase transparency into the proceedings of an investigation in a manner that breeds confidence in the investigation and its findings.

Such changes should, in turn, lead to better quality investigations and more uptake of their recommendations.

We expect this to lead to better accident prevention, which is the fundamental objective of Annex 13.

Canada strongly believes that if the international civil aviation community seizes this opportunity to reform the current accident investigation regime, we can improve the rigor of future safety investigations.

We can also see positive action coming out of this unspeakable tragedy.

With this in mind, Canada intends to present a Working Paper at ICAO’s upcoming High-Level Conference on COVID-19, proposing changes to enhance the conduct of future investigations.

Canada is committed to working with ICAO partners and invites Council members to join in this work to improve future Annex 13 investigations.

In closing, I would like to thank the President once again for the opportunity to speak to the ICAO Council on this important issue.

And I thank all ICAO Council Members, States and Industry Representatives, Commissioners, and Panel Members for your continued support.

I also thank the ICAO Secretariat for its active role in advancing the Safer Skies Initiative.

There is much work to be done in this regard, and I am very much looking forward to working with you all in this pursuit.

Thank you, Mr. President

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