This is a difficult piece to write, and the little editor/censor that sits on my shoulder and occasionally whispers in my ear to shut up, is practically shouting at me. Possibly I should listen, but here goes anyway:
I am offended by Prime Minister Trudeau’s gesture to make a $25,000 gift to each of the 57 families who lost loved ones when flight 752 was shot down on take-off from Tehran.
Like all Canadians, I am shocked and angered by the inexcusable loss of innocent lives that occurred as a result of Iran’s stupidity, negligence or worse. The loss to Canada was especially egregious, given the remarkable accomplishments of the victims. We lost doctors, scholars, promising students, entrepreneurs, the very best of what we hope our immigration policies will attract.
Indeed the families of the victims deserve our support and respect. I applaud the government for taking a stern line with Iran, demanding answers, and compensation, and for the consular support they are providing to the families.
That said, it is, I believe, wrong on principle for the government to provide compensation in such circumstances, where they are not to blame for the loss that occurred, and where to do so sets an unhealthy precedent.
Compensation should flow from fault, or responsibility for the loss, not from a politician’s desire to be seen as virtuous.
Consider that aircraft crashes in Canada last year claimed at least as many lives as we lost on flight 752. Eighteen Canadians were lost in the equally unforgivable Ethiopian Airways Boeing 737 Max 8 crash, without the government feeling the need to start writing cheques, and there were 22 aircraft fatalities in Canada in July alone last year, all resulting from small aircraft crashes, and none resulted in the government rushing forward to pay the victims’ families.
Please understand this is a difficult matter of principle, and not intended to be hurtful to the families involved, who deserve, and in the fullness of time will doubtless receive, much more fulsome compensation from the proper source, the government of Iran. It is a reflection on what is, and is not, the proper role of government.
The government will easily spend more than the $25,000 now being paid to each family, in order to send investigators and consular officials to Iran. Indeed they have already spent far more than that in order to convene and host a meeting of foreign ministers from affected nations, in order to forge a united plan of action. That money is appropriately spent. The $25,000 gift payments are not.
The families of the Ethiopian Airlines disaster have suffered every bit as much as the Flight 752 families, and in addition to the anguish of sudden, and unnecessary bereavement, have faced the same expenses of repatriating bodies, and conducting funerals, and many have felt compelled to make the expensive journey to Ethiopia to visit the crash site.
When authorizing the expenditure of taxpayers dollars governments need to look beyond the political value of the headline the expenditure creates, and be guided by policy – hopefully by policy not formulated in the midst of an emotional maelstrom – and a policy which is applied consistently.
Is it now government policy that the family of every Canadian who loses their life in a plane crash anywhere in the world is to be given a payment? I certainly hope not. If so, it marks a complete about face from Canada’s long-standing policy against providing gratuitous assistance to Canadian travelling abroad. Consider the Canadians presently trapped inside Kashmir who have been denied financial assistance to leave, or the 300,000 Canadians nervously living in Hong Kong who are hoping in vain that the Canadian Government might ride to their rescue if things get worse.
There is a limit to what any government can do, and we deserve to know what criteria the government is using, when they spend our money. Buying a photo op is not an appropriate one.
To the families I say, we all share your grief, and we understand that you did not want to be thrust into this awful spotlight, and you did not come to government with your hand out, expecting anything. I truly wish we didn’t have to make any comment at all.