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Many Canadians Blame U.S. For Downing Of Ukrainian Jetliner

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Last night, the billionaire CEO Michael McCain, head of one of Canada's largest food companies, took to Twitter blasting the Trump administration's Iran policy. He referred to the victims in the shootdown of a Ukrainian airliner there last week as, quote, "collateral damage of this irresponsible, dangerous, ill-conceived behavior," end quote. As David McGuffin reports from Ottawa, that accusation by the head of Maple Leaf Foods is part of a growing anti-Trump narrative surrounding this air disaster.

DAVID MCGUFFIN, BYLINE: Canadian questions about who is at fault for the downing of Flight 752 began quickly. Here is CBC News Washington correspondent Katie Simpson reporting the day after the passenger jet was downed.

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KATIE SIMPSON: I think a significant question that Canadians, particularly the families of these victims, are going to have is, are 63 Canadians dead because of the unintended consequences of a decision made by the U.S. president?

MCGUFFIN: The number of Canadians killed has since been lowered from 63 to 57. Specifically, the question for many here is why Trump ordered the killing of Iran's top general when he did, sparking a retaliation that led to Iran downing the Ukrainian passenger jet. Charles Adler is a popular Canadian conservative talk-radio host. Like many here, he isn't letting Iran off the hook, but he's also pointing a finger of blame at the White House.

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CHARLES ADLER: Iran's recklessness comes in response to the United States-ordered killing of Iran's architect of terror, the head of their special Quds Force, General Soleimani. I'll go to my grave believing those innocents who died aboard Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 would not have died had it not been for Trump's decision to kill the general.

MCGUFFIN: That commentary went viral here. So, too, did a Maclean's newsmagazine column written by another conservative commentator, Scott Gilmore, which featured this blunt headline - "Donald Trump Gets Impeached - Canadians Die" (ph). Here's Gilmore talking to the CBC.

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SCOTT GILMORE: I did see a direct line between the impeachment and the president afterwards being outraged at how unfairly treated he saw himself and continually trying to change the topic to the economy or to the strength of the U.S. military.

MCGUFFIN: A change of topic, Gilmore says, that led to the U.S. killing of General Soleimani and then the downing of Flight 752. Gilmore says he has received an overwhelmingly positive response to his article, not too surprising in a country where Donald Trump's approval ratings sit at around 20%. But many in Canada's political and military establishment see the events differently. Retired Major General David Fraser led Canadian combat operations during the war in Afghanistan.

DAVID FRASER: This is a failure of Iranian military planning - planning that, you know, they knew they were going to strike into Iraq, they were going to put their air defense systems on high alert, and they didn't coordinate with the civilian authorities. So that's just a failure of the Iranian command control structure to manage their airspace.

MCGUFFIN: Prime Minister Trudeau has also avoided pinning any blame on Trump when asked directly about it by reporters, as he was over the weekend.

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PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU: The reality is there have been significant tensions in that region for a long time. And what we are calling for now is a de-escalation to ensure that there are no more tragic accidents or loss of civilian life. Our focus right now is primarily on ensuring accountability, answers and closure for the victims, and that is what we are engaged with.

MCGUFFIN: Trudeau says the questions that need to be answered are all to be found in Iran. The Iranian government has now issued 11 visas to Canadian crash investigators and officials. Canada's foreign minister says they should all be on the ground in Iran by today.

For NPR News, I'm David McGuffin in Ottawa.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.