The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘I am livid’: Canadian CEO blasts ‘narcissist in Washington’ after an employee lost his family in plane crash caused by Iranian missile

A Maple Leaf Foods processing facility stands in Toronto in 2011. (Brent Lewin/Bloomberg/Bloomberg)

Not all observers faulted only Iran after the nation admitted to firing a missile that downed a Ukrainian commercial airliner in Tehran and killed 176 people last week. On Sunday, the chief executive of a Canadian food giant took to the company’s corporate Twitter account to seemingly blame President Trump for the deaths of Canadian citizens aboard the plane, including the wife and child of a Maple Leaf Foods employee, after Trump inflamed Iran to retaliate to the U.S. drone strike that killed Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani earlier this month.

“A [Maple Leaf Foods] colleague of mine lost his wife and family this week to a needless, irresponsible series of events in Iran,” Maple Leaf Foods CEO Michael McCain tweeted. “U.S. government leaders unconstrained by checks/balances, concocted an ill-conceived plan to divert focus from political woes.”

McCain did not name Trump, but blamed the downing of the airplane on “a narcissist in Washington” that had escalated tensions between the United States and Iran to a “feverish pitch” in the days after the president ordered the drone strike in Baghdad. McCain said he was “very angry” after one of his employees lost his wife and 11-year-old son in the crash.

“The collateral damage of this irresponsible, dangerous, ill-conceived behavior?” McCain tweeted. “63 Canadians needlessly lost their lives in the crossfire, including the family of one of my MLF colleagues (his wife + 11 year old son)! We are mourning and I am livid.” (The number of Canadian citizens killed in the crash was revised from 63 to 57 last week.)

The collision killed all 176 people on board, most of them heading to Toronto. After denying responsibility for the crash for days, Iranian officials admitted Saturday that a missile operator had 10 seconds to decide whether to shoot the plane, confusing it for a U.S. military craft in what Iranian officials called a “human error.”

Iran admits to downing airliner amid calls for justice, transparency

McCain declined an interview request late Sunday and Maple Leaf Foods did not provide additional information about the employee who lost his wife and child. A spokeswoman for the company told The Washington Post in an email that the CEO wanted to let the tweets “speak for themselves” and added that McCain “felt the tragedy warranted his response.”

The White House did not respond to a request for comment late Sunday.

The Trump administration has struggled to fully explain the intelligence reports behind the drone strike that killed Soleimani, as Democrats and some Republicans argue that military leaders did not have evidence of an “imminent attack” that would have justified the strike.

Senior administration officials struggle to explain intelligence behind killing of Soleimani

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said Sunday that he “didn’t see” intelligence suggesting that four U.S. embassies had been targeted by militants supported by Soleimani, as Trump claimed last week. Despite that statement, Esper insisted that he shared the “president’s view” regarding the threat of an attack on Americans in the region.

On Jan. 11, Iranian officials said the military brought down UIA 752 and said the investigation into who was responsible for the mistake must continue. (Video: The Washington Post)

McCain is not the only person to blame aggressive tactics by American leaders for the downing of the plane. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif pointed at escalated tensions with the United States.

“Human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to disaster,” he tweeted Friday. “Our profound regrets, apologies and condolences to our people, to the families of all victims, and to other affected nations.”

But many Iranian citizens have blamed the nation’s leaders for the civilian deaths. Anti-government protests erupted in Iran on Saturday. Frustrated with the country’s top officials for not immediately taking responsibility for the crash, Iranian demonstrators called for the resignation of key political figures, including Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Protesters shouted, “Our shame … our stupid Supreme Leader!” in videos of demonstrations shared on social media on Sunday, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani agreed to investigate the error and compensate the families of those killed in the crash, which he called an “unforgivable mistake.” He said Iran must “address the weaknesses of the nation’s defense systems to make sure such a disaster is never repeated.”

The Maple Leaf Foods tweets spread widely in just a few hours, racking up more than 13,000 retweets and nearly 45,000 likes by early Monday.

McCain’s decision to use his position to criticize the top U.S. officials surprised many. One common sentiment repeated by those sharing the CEO’s thread noted how rare it is for senior executives to weigh in on thorny political issues. As noted by business magazine Fast Company, even under pressure from activists American companies weigh in on domestic politics very rarely — usually when it affects their business.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called Iran’s admission an “important step” on Saturday.

“This tragedy should have never occurred, and I want to assure you that you have my full support during this extraordinarily difficult time,” Trudeau said at a vigil for victims on Sunday. “You give us purpose to pursue justice and accountability for you. We will not rest until there are answers.”