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Canada Processes The Airplane Crash That Killed Many Iranian Canadians


In Canada, people are mourning the death of teachers, doctors, parents and children who were on board the Ukraine International Airlines jet that went down in Tehran Wednesday night. About a third of the 176 people on board were Canadian nationals. American and Canadian officials believe that an Iranian surface-to-air missile brought down the jet. Canadian journalist Muhammad Lila has been telling the stories of some of the people who were on board, and he joins us now.


MUHAMMAD LILA: Ari, thank you for having me on your show.

SHAPIRO: Let me begin by offering my condolences because I understand you had personal connections with some of the people on board. Can you tell us about some of them?

LILA: I did, yeah. And, you know, I do have to say it was one of the most surreal days of my life. In the morning, when we found out about the plane crash, I quickly learned that a family friend was on board the plane. He's somebody who's known my family, specifically my parents, for decades. And when I found out what had happened, I messaged my mother first thing. And I said, oh, my goodness, did you hear that he had passed away? And she said, yes, we've been up since 9 a.m. watching the news nonstop.

SHAPIRO: And he wasn't the only one you knew on board that plane.

LILA: No. In fact - so my son went to school at 9 a.m. that morning. And when he walked into school, they were making an announcement saying that an 18-year-old student at his school was on board the plane as well. The school immediately made counselors available, and there were a lot of tears, and the flags were flying at half-mast almost immediately. Later that afternoon, my wife got a text message that a former colleague of hers had lost her sister and her daughter, and the daughter was only 8 years old. And I have daughters that are around the same age.


LILA: And they were shocked because they had gone to a birthday party where they had met that little girl, and they had played with that little girl.

SHAPIRO: Can you explain why the number of people on this plane had connections with so many people in Canada, such that the whole country is in mourning this week?

LILA: Yeah, it's super interesting. And it's super tragic. This was a flight that was going from Tehran to Kyiv in Ukraine and then connecting from Ukraine to Toronto. The geographic distribution of this is what makes this so tragic. There are dozens and dozens of communities - I'm talking about small towns, along with major cities - where these people lived. They were doctors. They were engineers. They were students. They were children. They were opticians. They were integrated into their communities at a very deep level. That's how far-reaching this tragedy is here in Canada.

SHAPIRO: You wrote a Twitter thread yesterday that many people shared. And in it, you said nearly everyone killed was an immigrant, but nobody's talking about that. What do you mean by that?

LILA: Well, I think this actually speaks to part of what makes Canada so unique, not only among Western countries but perhaps in the entire world. It's a fact that nearly everybody on board that plane that died was an immigrant. But if you look at the mainstream coverage, if you look at the way Canadian journalists are approaching this, nobody is saying, oh, this was a tragedy to hit the Iranian community in Canada. Nobody is saying, oh, these were people who had recently arrived. Nearly every headline that you'll read refers to them only as Canadians.

And I think that's a very unique thing in Canada because multiculturalism isn't just part of who we are. It's actually been an official state policy here for decades. And as a result, I think - you know, Canada is a nation of immigrants. But when we look at others, we don't say, oh, for example, they're from India first or they're from China first or they're from Hong Kong or wherever it is. We just look at each other as Canadians.

And this is, perhaps, the silver lining in this story here in Canada - is that Canadians are rallying together. Nobody is saying, oh, this happened to them. Everybody is saying, this happened to us - period.

SHAPIRO: Muhammad Lila is an independent Canadian journalist speaking with us from Toronto.

Thank you.

LILA: Thank you, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.