Four members of the Western University community were among the 176 passengers killed on Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 on Jan. 8, 2020. Two years later, an unprecedented court decision awarded $107 million to families of six of the victims and various levels of government created and renewed scholarships in memory of those lost.
Western mourns the loss of Ghazal Nourian, 26, PhD candidate in mechanical and materials engineering; Milad Nahavandi, 34, doctoral studies in chemical and biochemical engineering; Hadis Hayatdavoudi, 27, PhD candidate in chemistry; and Sajedeh Saraeian, an incoming 26-year-old masters student in chemical and biochemical engineering.
On Jan. 3 this year, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice awarded $107 million, plus interest, to the families of six victims in a civil lawsuit against Iran and other officials believed to be responsible for the tragedy. The Iranian military admitted the event was an “unforgivable mistake” on Jan.10, 2020 after it shot down the plane shortly after takeoff. The lawsuit does not appear to have involved the families of the Western students lost.
The decision comes after Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice ruled in May that the crash of flight PS752 was an intentional act of terrorism.
“This is a day where we believe some of the first steps to justice have been made by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice,” said Jonah Arnold, co-counsel for the families of the six victims. “[The] decision to award the families, our clients, with a sum of money which will never replace their families but will go some distance to recognizing the harm done by the terrorist defendants.”
The court awarded the family members compensation for lost spouses, siblings, children, nieces and nephews aboard flight PS752.The case was filed by Shahin Moghaddam, Mehrzad Zarei, Ali Gorji and several other plaintiffs who withheld their names in fear of reprisals from Iran.
Victims’ families expressed their gratitude to their attorney, the media and supporters. “Thank you [to] all the support all around the world,” said Moghaddam, who lost his 10-year-old son Rosstin and his wife Shakiba Feghahati in the crash.
The decision was also unprecedented in Canadian law. It is the first decision in Canada to award damages for acts of terrorism. It signifies the impact acts of terrorism have on immediate surviving family members seeking justice. The decision is also believed to be one of the largest awards of punitive damages in Canadian history.
“This award of punitive damages sends a very strong message to Iran [from] the defendants [in] Canada … that this conduct will not be tolerated. This terrorist conduct specifically will not be tolerated,” said Jonah Arnold.
Mark Arnold, co-counsel for the families, said his team would look to seize Iranian assets in Canada and abroad in order to collect damages for their clients.
“We're going to get our assets and we're going to distribute that among the family members, recognizing that this is not a money case. This is a justice case,” he said. “We had to grapple as we were corresponding with the judge of what does justice mean? And how does one value the life of a human being?”
The federal government also announced a new scholarship program on the second anniversary of the crash to honour the victims. The scholarship is valued at an average of $25,000 for 176 students — the same number of people aboard flight PS752. The scholarship will be open to both Canadian and international students, with applications opening in the fall of 2023.
Western announced scholarships on the first anniversary to commemorate the Western students lost in the crash. One scholarship is in Hayatdavoudi’s name, one in memory of all four Western victims and four funded by the Ontario government.
The Hadis Hayatdavoudi Graduate Scholarship in Chemistry, worth $3,000, is given to a full-time graduate student in chemistry each year. The Flight 752 Memorial Graduate Scholarship in Engineering and Science was awarded to a science student in 2021 and will be awarded to an engineering student this year.
The four scholarships funded by the Ontario government are part of a larger scholarship fund, which pledged 57 scholarships — one in memory of every Canadian victim — valued at $10,000 each. The scholarship has since been renewed.
Thirty-four of the 57 Canadian victims were students attending Ontario universities. Fifteen post-secondary institutions in the province lost students or faculty in the tragedy. These schools were given one scholarship to distribute for every community member they lost, while the remaining scholarships were distributed to other post-secondary institutions.
“Nearly two years have passed since this terrible tragedy, but I can still remember how incredibly shocked and saddened I was when I first received the news about Flight 752 — and I’m sure the families and loved ones of the victims still feel that devastating moment deeply,” said Ontario Premier Doug Ford in a press release on the anniversary. He hoped the scholarships would provide some comfort for the victim’s families.