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'I know it will be difficult': B.C. premier addresses Canada-Iran soccer friendly

Just days after the prime minister and Vancouver’s mayor condemned an upcoming soccer game between Canada and Iran, B.C.’s premier also weighed in, stopping short of condemning the match as the other officials had.

“I will leave it to others to comment on that,” said John Horgan Thursday.

The game, scheduled for June 5 at BC Place, is a friendly match meant to prepare both teams for the 2022 World Cup. The concern, however, is that families of victims from the Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752, which was shot down on Jan. 8, 2020, still don't have answers about what happened.

“I know it will be a difficult time for those families who lost loved ones, and even those who’ve been constantly following these issues, but I’ll leave it to (Canada Soccer) to discuss how and why this came about,” said Horgan.

Meanwhile, some in the local Iranian-Canadian community are trying to convince Canada Soccer to cancel the match. Ram Joubin, a Vancouver-based community organizer and lawyer penned an open letter to all levels of government on Wednesday, explaining the alleged links between Iran’s national soccer team and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The letter has been endorsed by dozens of people across the country.

“(Iran) is not a country where you can detach anything from the IRGC,” Joubin told CTV News. He’s concerned Canadians are not aware of the government overreach in Iran.

“They have a supreme leader that oversees everything. The leader has the military IRGC that infiltrates everything, from what you wear, what sports you play, and how you behave internationally.”

The United States considers the IRGC a terrorist entity. The group has claimed responsibility for using a surface-to-air missile to shoot down the Ukrainian Airlines flight, killing 176 people, 55 of whom were Canadian. The IRGC maintains it was an accident.

Vancouver's mayor spoke out against the upcoming game Wednesday, the day after the prime minister also condemned the match.

Kennedy Stewart released a statement on social media Wednesday saying he stands with families of the victims "and those seeking justice for loved ones impacted by this tragedy."

"The beautiful game should bring us together, but until our Iranian neighbours get answers from IRGC, we should not host the Canada Soccer friendly," his message said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shared similar sentiments.

"This was a choice by Sport Canada, by Soccer Canada," he said. "It wasn't a very good idea to invite the Iranian soccer team here to Canada."

In a statement to CTV News, Canada Soccer said it "believes in the power of sport and its ability to bring people from different backgrounds and political beliefs together" for a common purpose.

Families of the victims are also planning to stage a protest outside BC Place during the match. 

"It's like we have been betrayed by the government and Soccer Canada," said Hamed Esmaeilion, a spokesperson for an advocacy group seeking justice for families of the victims, told CTV News Vancouver earlier this week.

Esmaeilion's wife and daughter were among the people who died in the airliner attack. He said visas for the Iranian team should never have been granted in the first place.

"I think the best thing to do is to cancel it," Esmaeilion said. "Choose another team. This is outrageous for the families, this is very disappointing for the families."

Joubin adds many who fled to Canada from Iran fear the team’s arrival will bring with it Iranian intelligence officials, which could threaten their safety.

“We don’t want to be worried the freedoms we have in Canada are being compromised by the organizations that we fled from and that we disagree with,” Joubin said.

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Kevin Charach Top Stories

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