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Canadian Court Orders Iranian Assets Handed To Attack Victims

  • RFE/RL

Families of those killed in the Khobar Towers, Saudi Arabia bombing in 1996 are among those awarded Iranian assets by an Ontario court.

Families of those killed in the Khobar Towers, Saudi Arabia bombing in 1996 are among those awarded Iranian assets by an Ontario court.

A Canadian judge has ordered that Iranian assets be handed over to victims of attacks by Hamas and Hizballah, groups sponsored by Tehran.

The judgment on June 10 mirrors a court victory against Tehran won by terrorist attack victims' families in the United States earlier this year, which Tehran has strongly denounced and is fighting in international arenas.

The Canadian judgment awards about $13 million in non-diplomatic assets to families of Americans who died in bombings or hostage-takings in Buenos Aires, Israel, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia from 1983 to 2002. Hundreds died in the attacks.

Like the U.S. courts, Canada's Ontario Superior Court found that Iran was responsible for training Hamas and Hezbollah operatives, and backed the groups financially.

But the U.S. Supreme Court judgment ordering about $2 billion in Iranian assets be handed over to the victims' families has remained largely unpaid as Tehran has vowed to appeal it in international courts.

"Terrorism is one of the world's greatest threats," Ontario Superior Court Justice Glenn Hainey said in his decision.

"The broad issue before the court is whether Iran is entitled to immunity from the jurisdiction of Canadian courts for its support of terrorism."

The Canadian lawsuits were brought under a relatively new law passed in 2012 that allows victims and their families to collect damages from state sponsors of terrorism.

Canada lists Iran as well as Syria as state sponsors of terrorism.

The ruling comes at an awkward time for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose Liberal government has been seeking to re-establish diplomatic ties with Iran and secure the release of a Montreal professor, Homa Hoodfar, who was detained this week in Tehran's notorious Evin prison without charges.

“As Canada seeks to re-engage Iran, it is critical that Iran continue to be held to account in Canadian courts for its terrorism and human rights abuses,” said Danny Eisen of the Canadian Coalition Against Terror, which represented the victims in the lawsuit and lobbied for the law.

Iran’s diplomatic buildings in Ottawa were not affected by the ruling, but several non-diplomatic properties and the contents of a list of bank accounts were awarded to the victims of the Iranian-supported groups.

Tehran did not immediately comment on the court judgment.

Iran initially ignored the case. Only after judgment orders had been issued by U.S. courts seeking enforcement of the U.S. ruling in Canada did it hire a Toronto law firm.

As a defense, Tehran argued that it had not been properly served with the court papers, the case was filed too late, and the dollar amounts sought by the victims were “offensive.”

In his ruling, Hainey suggested Tehran was "gaming the system" by not initially defending itself. He found Iran’s arguments without merit and declined to set aside the U.S. judgments in favor of the victims.

With reporting by AFP and the National Post of Canada