OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada on Tuesday dismissed as "nonsense" Tehran's insistence that only a few Canadians died last week when Iran shot down an airliner and demanded full accountability for what it called a horrible crime.
The remarks by Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne were some of the toughest from a Canadian official since the disaster in which 176 people died, 57 of them Canadian.
Iran, which does not recognise the concept of dual nationality, said last week that only a handful of victims were Canadian, according to officials in Ottawa.
"What I would say is it's nonsense ... we will not accept that position," Champagne told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., saying he had raised the matter with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif earlier in the day.
"We have already pushed back and been very, very clear to the Iranian regime that this is not going to hold. I think the world is watching and under the circumstances I would expect, and I demand, that Iran would obviously respect what Canada wants when it comes to its own citizens."
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Saturday that Iran's admission it shot down the plane was an important step. Iran has granted visas for a Canadian team of investigators and consular officials.
Iran said on Tuesday it had arrested people accused of a role in shooting down the Ukrainian airliner and promised a thorough investigation.
"We are going to pursue full justice and we are going to make sure first we understand ... who committed this horrible crime and that these people are prosecuted in accordance with the highest standards of the law," said Champagne, who did not give details.
Champagne will preside over a meeting of his counterparts from Ukraine, Britain, Afghanistan and Sweden in London on Thursday to discuss their response. Canada has not had diplomatic relations with Iran since 2012.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)