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

VIA Rail lays off 1,000 unionized workers across the country

Northern B.C. route Jasper to Prince George to Prince Rupert is not affected by VIA Rail layoffs

Sunflower Highway, art initiative to connect Fraser Valley, Thompson-Nicola and Okanagan

Sunflowers made out of reclaimed materials will be installed on public art trails

Residents warned to stay away from flooded Cache Creek park

Water might look shallow, but is several feet deep in places

Ashcroft receives grants to get new hot tub and lift station

‘The hot tub is a major benefit for many residents’

Cache Creek gets funding for improvements on Old Cariboo Road

Work will help to mitigate damage from water and debris flows during flooding

B.C. sees 25 new COVID-19 cases, community exposure tracked

One death, outbreaks remain in two long-term care facilities

VIDEO: Vancouver Island cat missing 18 months reunited with family

Blue the cat found at Victoria museum 17 kilometres from home

COVID-19 cases identified in Kelowna, after public gatherings

Those who were downtown or at the waterfront from June 25 to July 6 maybe have been exposed to COVID-19.

VIDEO: Alberta man rescues baby eagle believed to be drowning in East Kootenay lake

Brett Bacon was boating on a lake in Windermere when he spotted the baby eagle struggling in the water

Conservationists raise concerns over state of care for grizzly cubs transferred to B.C. zoo

‘Let them be assessed now before their fate is sealed,’ urges B.C. conservationist Barb Murray

B.C.’s COVID-19 job recovery led by tourism, finance minister says

Okanagan a bright spot for in-province visitor economy

National Kitten Day aka the ‘purrfect’ day to foster a new friend

July 10 marks National Kitten Day, a special day to celebrate all things kittens

Lower Mainland YouTubers claim to be Kelowna display toilet ‘poopers’

RCMP can not speak to legitimacy of video, will be investigating

Haida matriarchs occupy ancient villages as fishing lodges reopen to visitors

‘Daughters of the rivers’ say occupation follows two fishing lodges reopening without Haida consent

Most Read