Mourners place candles and photographs during a vigil for those who were among the 176 people who were killed when Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 crashed after takeoff near Tehran, Iran, outside the Alberta Legislature Building in Edmonton on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Codie McLachlan

Iranian-Canadians killed in plane crash part of growing diaspora community

63 Canadians are believed to have been killed in the plane crash

If there’s a sign of how Canada’s Iranian diaspora has grown just over the last decade in Canada, consider the story of a festival held in Toronto to mark the Persian New Year, known as Nowruz.

Toronto has long had among the country’s larger Iranian communities and in 2006, when a group of Iranian students decided to throw a Nowruz party, about 20,000 people showed up, said Nima Ahmadi, one of the organizers.

Of course they weren’t all Iranian — the 2006 census put the Iranian population of the city at about 56,930 — but still, it was a pretty big turnout.

So big, in fact, that it spawned a secondary cultural festival, known as Tirgan.

The most recent one, in 2019, attracted upwards of 150,000 people, in a city whose Iranian population, as counted in the 2016 census, sits at 97,110.

Ahmadi and his friends had originally decided to focus on that festival, but demand was so high that in 2017 they brought back a Nowruz party too. Planning for this year’s event, scheduled for mid-March, is now well underway.

But the work took on a sombre tone Wednesday.

Two of Tirgan’s volunteers — Parinaz and Iman Ghaderpanah — are believed to be among the Canadians killed outside Tehran when their flight to Kyiv crashed shortly after takeoff on Wednesday.

A part of the upcoming festival will be dedicated to them, Ahmadi said.

“We are going to celebrate the lives of these two beautiful people.”

READ MORE: At least 10 people from B.C. among victims in fatal Iran plane crash

The Iranian-Canadians killed in Wednesday’s crash came from business, health care, education, and many other fields. Many were also students, a growing segment of the Iranian diaspora in Canada.

The number of student visa applications from Iranians approved by the Canadian government has increased significantly in recent years, from 2,437 in 2006 to 11,754 in the first 10 months of 2019.

Ahmadi himself came to Canada in 2002 as a student, his life not that different from those of many killed in Wednesday’s crash.

Ahmadi said he has watched the Iranian-Canadian community grow ever since, with young people bringing over their parents, parents bringing over their children, and all seeking to make new lives for themselves here.

The Tirgan festival, he said, has two goals for that reason: it serves both newly arrived Iranians and those who have been here for decades.

“For the people who are new, you want to show them how beautiful is this country that they allow you to celebrate Iranian culture here,” he said.

“For the people who are here for a longer period, you want to polish and highlight the beauty of our culture.”

The 2016 census suggests there are about 210,405 Iranians in Canada now, with 169,485 identifying themselves as having been born outside Canada. The largest group of immigrants arrived between 2001 to 2010, most as economic immigrants.

READ MORE: Foreign affairs minister asks Iran to let Canada in to investigate plane crash

Over the years, the government has targeted Iranians with particular immigration programs, including one begun in 2009 by the previous Conservative government focusing on LGBTQ Iranians in Turkey. Some 9,000 Iranians have also been part of privately sponsored refugee programs since the early 1980s.

There do remain ongoing tensions, however, about how long it takes for many Iranians to get their applications for permanent residency in Canada approved.

For the last few years, many have complained that their applications have been held up for seemingly no reason, when applications from citizens of other countries seem to move much faster.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

General exposure to public low after inmate tests positive for COVID-19: Interior Health

The Okanagan Correctional Centre inmate is receiving appropriate care

Emergency services respond to numerous incidents in Revelstoke

Today there were multiple semi truck crashes on Highway 1 and a collision by the hospital

Revelstoke Vintage Car Club to hold mini-parade for COVID-19

They club would like others to follow suit

StokeFM raises over $10,000 to keep broadcasting

‘Radio ain’t cheap, and times are strange’

VIDEO: ‘Used gloves and masks go in the garbage,’ says irked B.C. mayor

Health officials have said single-use gloves won’t do much to curb the spread of COVID-19

KGH Foundation establishes COVID-19 response fund to support frontline workers

Doctors, nurses and staff have been challenged to pivot operations to prepare for the COVID-19 pandemic

Sex workers face new risks during COVID-19 pandemic

‘Desperation has kicked in’ for vulnerable, undocumented workers unable to access help

Unclear if Cowichan couple refusing to self-isolate will face penalty

No fines or charges have been laid to date, including Cowichan couple who won’t self isolate

Food support continues for Okanagan students despite school closures

Kids aren’t going hungry thanks to Kal Rotary and Starfish Backpack program

Large item collection events cancelled in Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen

Concerns about spread of COVID-19 led to decision to cancel collection events

COVID-19: Postponed surgeries will be done, B.C. health minister says

Contract with private surgical clinic to help clear backlog

Black Press Media ad sparks discussion about value of community newspapers

White Rock resident hopes front-page note shines light on revenue loss during COVID-19 crisis

COVID-19: Central Okanagan fire departments only responding to serious medical calls

The new directive from Dr. Bonnie Henry does not change the public safety response of firefighters

Most Read