Mourners gathered at more candlelight vigils across Canada on Thursday evening to grieve for the 176 victims — including at least 63 Canadians — of a plane crash on the outskirts of Tehran.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said 138 of the 176 passengers aboard the Kyiv-bound plane that crashed Wednesday morning, local time, had a connecting flight to Canada, and the identities of the dead were slowly coming to light through relatives, friends and employers.
In Toronto, hundreds of people came to Mel Lastman Square to attend a vigil.
Some carried photos of victims. Others wept while lighting candles and placing flowers at a makeshift memorial.
Negar Khalili came to pay tribute to her friend, Mahdieh Ghassemi, who died in the crash along with her son and daughter. They were returning from a visit with family in Iran.
“I cannot believe I’m holding her picture and she’s not here anymore.”
Farnaz Bigeli came to the vigil to mourn her friend Farhad Niknam. The father of two had just passed exams to become a dentist in Ontario weeks before he travelled back to Iran to visit family.
“We were shocked when we saw his name on the passenger list,” she said. “I’m thinking about his wife and kids.”
Bigeli, who came to Canada from Iran, said the revelations that the plane was likely hit by a missile have made her angry at the Iranian government.
“My friend had nothing to do with the politics,” she said.
Despite frigid temperatures, hundreds gathered on Parliament Hill to honour the eight victims confirmed to have had ties to the capital.
One by one, people came forward to lay candles, flowers and other trinkets together with photos of their friends and loved ones who died. One woman swept tears from her eyes as she placed a tray of chocolates in front a photo of one of the victims.
Some openly wept and turned to friends for hugs of consolation. Others stood quietly with sad eyes glowing against the light of the Centennial Flame, seemingly unaffected by the deep cold night.
Amir Hossein was among them. He knew two of the victims — Fareed Arasteh, a PhD student at Carleton University and Mehraban Badiei, a first-year student at the University of Ottawa.
He said the train of events affecting Iranians leading up to this tragedy, including the tensions and attacks traded between Iran and the United States, has made it even tougher for him to bear the sadness of losing friends.
“It’s very hard to handle all these things together,” Hossein said. “And when you have such a thing, such an airplane crash, such a saddening moment, it’s very hard.”
Daniella Santos was a co-worker of Alma Oladi, who was also a PhD student at the University of Ottawa studying mathematics before losing her life in the crash. Santos said she wanted to remember and honour her friend.
“She always, always had a smile. She was always happy. Whenever you would come in, she would say hi. I’ll miss her around.”
Trudeau made a brief and quiet appearance. He laid a bouquet of white roses at the makeshift memorial and then bent his head for a moment of quiet reflection.
The crash is among the deadliest air disasters involving Canadians.
More vigils planed
Starting at 7 p.m. on Friday, a candlelight vigil planned by Iranian Women’s Organization of Ontario and members of the Iranian-Canadian community will be held at 1761 Sheppard Ave. E. in North York.
A memorial service will also be held at 1 p.m. Friday at the University of Windsor, which lost five members of its student and research community in the crash.