Canadian Court’s Anti-Iran Ruling Contravenes Int’l Law

Iran would hold the Ottawa government accountable for any “material or spiritual” damage to its assets in Canada
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram QasemiForeign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qasemi

Iran's Foreign Ministry denounced a Canadian court's decision on Monday to uphold a $1.7-billion judgment issued in the US in favor of American victims of terrorist acts blamed on Iran.

"Issuing verdicts in absentia against a foreign state violates the principle of the equality of governments and is a breach of their immunity under international law," the ministry's spokesperson, Bahram Qasemi, was quoted as saying by IRNA on Tuesday.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran reserves the right to protest and follow up on the ruling."

Qasemi added that Iran would hold the Ottawa government accountable for any "material or spiritual" damage to its assets in Canada, which the court ruled could be seized to satisfy the judgment.

The plaintiffs had sought compensation in the court under Canada's Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act, National Post reported.

The JVTA, enacted in 2012, allows victims of terrorism to sue foreign states for damages.

With few Iranian government assets remaining in the United States, the victims turned to Canada where Tehran maintained property and bank accounts.

The act allows US claimants to seek Iran's money in Canada.

Justice C. William Hourigan, on behalf of a panel of concurring judges, wrote, "There is nothing offensive about using peaceful legislative means to combat terrorism."

In February, Canada's Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled that Iran had to pay $300,000 in legal costs to the so-called victims of terrorism.

Iran initially declined to act against the original lawsuits but after facing a series of judgments followed by enforcement orders last year, it launched a defense against each of the findings in Canada. After losing, Iran appealed, arguing the judge erred on every legal issue before him.

Iran argued it was immune from prosecution in Canada, that the damage awards from the US far exceeded what is allowable in Canada and the judgments violate international law.

***Another Blow to Rapprochement

In another anti-Iran move, the Canadian government opted on Friday to continue listing Iran as a state supporter of terrorism, which will continue to keep relations frozen between Ottawa and Tehran. That list is reviewed every two years.

Iran and Canada have not had diplomatic contacts since September 2012, when former Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, cut bilateral relations, citing among other pretexts, what he described as "continued threats from Iran to Israel".

The Friday announcement came despite incumbent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's electoral promise to reopen Canada's Embassy in Tehran and move to "reengage".

Last February, his government dropped a slew of sanctions to bring Canada in line with the six major powers that reached a nuclear deal with Iran in 2015.

Those included on the list of terrorism support—currently just Iran and Syria—would be stripped of their immunity.

Normally, under international law, the courts of one state cannot allow legal action against another country.

The Monday decision was similar to US Supreme Court's ruling in April 2016 to hand over $2 billion in Iran's frozen assets to American families of those killed in the 1983 bombing of US Marine Corps barracks in Beirut and other attacks blamed on Iran.

Also, a US court verdict last Wednesday allowed the US government to seize an office tower in New York City owned largely by an Iranian charity organization, the Alavi Foundation.

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