The threat of terror is a global travesty that seems to respect no geographic boundaries. It is incumbent on Canada and other countries to work together to deter the sponsorship of terrorism and to obtain civil justice against those entities that support and enable its proliferation.
What is the Justice For Victims of Terrorism Act?
On March 13, 2012, the Canadian Government enacted the Justice For Victims of Terrorism Act (JFVT Act). This law takes aim at perpetrators of terrorism and their supporters, which includes the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Syrian Arab Republic, who have been listed by the Government of Canada as terror supporting states.
The preamble of the JFVT Act sets out various reasons as to why such a law would be needed. For example, the fact that terror is dependent on financial and material support, and the fact that hundreds of Canadians have been injured or killed in acts of terror provides support for this law. The fact that states that support terror should not benefit from state immunity with regard to their assets provides a further rationale for this law.
What does the Justice For Victims of Terrorism Act permit?
The JFVT Act allows victims of terror to sue the perpetrators of terrorism and those that support it in a Canadian court. Victims can seek redress for terrorist acts committed anywhere globally from January 1, 1985 onwards.
In addition, the JFVT Act permits the suspension of limitation periods so that victims are not penalized if they cannot initiate a lawsuit within the normally required limitation period due to physical, mental or psychological conditions or if they cannot ascertain the identity of the perpetrator or their supporters.
Cases in Point
In Ontario, courts have already begun to recognize and permit the enforcement of foreign judgments under the JFVT Act. This is further supported by a significant 2014 court decision in which more than $7 million dollars worth of Canadian assets belonging to Iran were ordered seized by Justice Brown of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. This decision will allow terror victims to share in these assets.
The decision responds to the cruel treatment that Mr. Edward Tracy received after being kidnapped and held in captivity for more than two years: being confined to a car trunk, being chained up, and being threatened with death and beatings. He obtained an $18.5 million judgment against Iran in a 2003 trial in the United States, but could not collect. This judgment was then recognized in the Ontario court system, which directed enforcement against several Ontario properties owned by Iran as well as Iranian bank accounts.
Before the JFVT Act came into force, victims of terrorism had no means of obtaining legal redress in Canada from those listed entities under the JFVT Act due to international immunity laws. The JFVT Act essentially sets aside these immunity laws for listed terror supporting states allowing victims to obtain and enforce civil judgments against non-diplomatic assets in Canada. It also creates more exposure for listed entities by holding them accountable on a global scale if foreign judgments can be enforced in Canada (in addition to other countries).
Although much more work needs to be done to combat terrorism, this is a step in the right direction to deter funding and to compensate those who have been harmed by such atrocities.