11/27/2012 06:30:00 PM EST
Jean Robert on International Law and State Immunity: Canada Amends Its State Immunity Act to Allow Victims of Terrorism to Sue in Canadian Courts
Last Spring, Canada decided to
follow the US and added an exception to its State Immunity Act, removing
jurisdictional immunity for states that support terrorism. The government
issued a list of foreign states that support terrorism. Iran and Syria were
recently included in the Canadian list. Many U.S. victims of Iran-sponsored
terrorism have flocked to Canada with U.S. court judgments in hand to have them
enforced on Iranian assets in Canada.
Essentially, the acts state
that the courts of those countries have no jurisdiction to handle lawsuits
directed against foreign states. The acts usually provide limited exceptions to
the immunity rule such as when a foreign state causes bodily injury or material
damage in the other country. Then, there is no immunity and the victim can sue
the foreign country in the courts of the country where the injury or damage
occurred. It is easy to understand why in some situations this would be the
best option, as the alternative could sometimes be to go before the subservient
courts, if they even exist, of a foreign dictatorship, for example.
Ten years after the United States of America did it, last spring, Canada
decided to follow and added a new exception to its State Immunity Act, removing
jurisdictional immunity for states that support terrorism. The government sets
out a list of foreign states that have supported or support terrorism. The list
can be revised to add or remove states from the list.
In Canada, Iran and Syria were recently included in the list. This explains why
many U.S. victims of Iran-sponsored terrorist attacks have flocked to Canada
with U.S. court judgments in hand to have them recognized by Canadian courts in
order to enforce them on assets of Iran in Canada.
Unfortunately, adding this exception to the Canadian State Immunity Act was of
no help to the son of a photo-journalist who was suing Iran in a Canadian court
for the death of his mother in Iran, allegedly resulting from a severe beating
and torture by prison guards in Teheran in 2003. The Canadian courts threw out
his lawsuit, on the basis of immunity.
Indeed the new provision of the State Immunity Act -- section 6.1 -- which came
into force on March 13, 2012, does not include beatings or torture by state
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