Canada’s universities and colleges reeling over loss of dozens of students in Iran plane crash

Source: The Star

A woman weeps during a service at Western University in London, Ont., Wednesday, to mourn the deaths of four of the school’s graduate students who were killed in a plane crash in Iran. Many university students from across the country died in the crash.GEOFF ROBINS / AFP via GETTY IMAGES
A woman weeps during a service at Western University in London, Ont., Wednesday, to mourn the deaths of four of the school’s graduate students who were killed in a plane crash in Iran. Many university students from across the country died in the crash.GEOFF ROBINS / AFP via GETTY IMAGES

Canada’s academic community is reeling from the devastating loss of students and faculty who were among those killed in a plane crash in Iran.

Dozens of students and staff from Canadian schools coast to coast were among the victims when a Ukrainian airliner crashed early Wednesday near Tehran, killing all 176 passengers and crew, including 63 Canadians. Universities and colleges expressed their condolences and offered to provide support.

While 63 Canadians were aboard the plane, the number who called Canada home is higher — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said 138 passengers were set to take a connecting flight to Toronto. Citing privacy concerns, Global Affairs Canada and the immigration department would not disclose how many victims were international students, migrant workers or visitor-visa holders who would not have been travelling on Canadian passports or been counted as Canadians.

In a statement, David Lindsay, president and CEO of the Council of Ontario Universities said they are “deeply saddened by the deaths.”

“Ontario universities are enriched by students who come from around the world and share their unique perspectives, insights and help build a multicultural student body that prepares students for today’s globalized world,” he said. “This tragic loss is felt by all members of our university communities.”

The University of Toronto said six of its students were aboard Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752: Mojtaba Abbasnezhad, Mohammad Asadi Lari, Zeynab Asadi Lari, Mohammad Amin Beiruti, Mohammad Amin Jebelli and Mohammad Saleheh.

“I want to say how deeply saddened we are, and how concerned we are for the families and friends of those who lost their lives,” said U of T President Meric Gertler, adding flags at the university’s three campuses will be flown at half-mast.

York University confirmed one student had died — and friends identified the victim as Sadaf Hajiaghavand, a second-year human resources student.

“I can’t believe that she’s not here. I just spoke with her two days ago,” Naz Moayed told the Star, adding Hajiaghavand had gone to Iran to visit family.

In Toronto, Centennial College was mourning the loss of Dr. Razgar Rahimi, who taught in the School of Engineering Technology and Applied Science. He died along with his wife, Farideh Gholami, and their 3-year-old son Jiwan.

George Brown College also lost a student in the crash.

At the University of Guelph, two PhD students — Ghanimat Azhdari of the Department of Geography, Environment and Geomatics; and Milad Ghasemi Ariani of the Department of Marketing and Consumer Studies — were passengers.

“The students and I are in so much pain,” associate professor Faisal Moola, who said he taught Azhdari, wrote in a tweet.

At McMaster University, two PhD students in engineering — Iman Aghabali and Mehdi Eshaghian — were among the dead. The University of Windsor was mourning at least five members of its student and research community.

“At this very difficult time we will support each other as a university family and will provide counselling and additional support services,” said University of Windsor president Robert Gordon.

At Western University — which lost three graduate students and one incoming graduate student — a vigil was held Wednesday, attracting dozens, including London Mayor Ed Holder.

In Ottawa, Carleton University is mourning Fareed Arasteh, a PhD student in biology, and the University of Ottawa is grappling with the loss of three students.

University of Waterloo’s Marzieh Foroutan, a PhD student in the geography department, and Mansour Esnaashary Esfahani, who studied civil engineering, were among the dead.

A friend of Foroutan, Jacqueline Eenkooren, described her as a “powerful woman who put everyone else before herself,” in a message to the Star. Foroutan was incredibly “sincere, gracious, and generous” and “ridiculously humble” despite her many academic achievements, Eenkooren said.

Canada has become a popular destination for international education among Iranian students with the yearly number of student permits tripling in the last five years from 2,960 in 2015 to 8,460 in 2019. Canada became an attractive option because of tense relationships between Iran and the United States, particularly under President Donald Trump. Many of those students are in post-graduate studies in Canadian universities.

University of Ottawa physics professor Ebrahim Karimi, who’s originally from Iran, said the close-knit Iranian academic community in Canada is shocked and saddened by the loss.

“For many young educated Iranians, there is no future in Iran and they all know that very well,” said Karimi, the Canada Research Chair in Structured Light, adding many Iranian students hope to settle in Canada.

Also among the dead were two doctoral students from Quebec’s École de Technologie Supérieure, an international student at Vancouver’s Langara College, and “members” of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. At the University of Alberta, at least 10 from its community were on the flight.

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