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

‘Fed bears are dead bears’ North Okanagan residents warned

Several bears spotted near Okanagan Rail Trail, and getting into garbage

Morning Start: Night Owls Tend to Be Smarter Than Early Birds

Your morning start for Monday, Sept. 21, 2020

Ear-to-ear smiles for Kelowna woman’s 75th birthday surprise

Helen Bellinger’s early 75th birthday celebrations involved a cluster of bright yellow smiley-face balloons

Cops For Kids ride wraps in Okanagan

No pomp, no circumstance for end of milestone 20th anniversary fundraising bicycle trip

Quirky Canadian comedy ‘Schitt’s Creek’ takes Emmys by storm with comedy sweep

Toronto-raised Daniel Levy and Ottawa-born Annie Murphy both got supporting actor nods

Film that explores themes of missing Indigenous women to screen in Kelowna

Rustic Oracle is the story of a missing teenage Indigenous girl, told through the eyes of her seven-year-old sister

B.C.’s Chase Claypool catches first NFL touchdown pass

Abbotsford grad establishes new record for longest scrimmage TD by a Canadian

B.C. has highest number of active COVID-19 cases per capita, federal data shows

B.C. currently has 1,803 active cases after weeks of COVID-19 spikes in the province

181 days gone: Family continues to look for man last seen in RCMP custody 6 months ago

Brandon Sakebow’s last known location was leaving Mission RCMP cell, police say; family has doubts

B.C. unveils new cannabis sales programs to help small, Indigenous growers

Government did not say how it will define small producers, but says nurseries will be included in the policy

B.C. transportation minister will not seek re-election

Claire Trevena has held the position since 2017

Squabble over mask policy at LUSH in Kelowna mall

The woman filmed the encounter at LUSH Cosmetics, where wearing a mask in-store is company policy

Most Read