OTTAWA — Canadian Jewish and Iranian organizations have reiterated their demands for the government to list Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist entity following last week’s downing of a Ukrainian jetliner in Iran.
David Matas, the senior lawyer for B’nai Brith Canada, said Monday that while the terror listing would remove a legal obstacle and enable Canadian victims to sue the Iranian government under the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act, other formidable roadblocks remain.
It was not a new request, but it could be one path to compensation for the families of those killed when Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 was shot down by an Iranian missile moments after taking off from Tehran early last Wednesday.
All 176 on board were killed, including 57 Canadians. There were 138 people on the plane who were en route to Canada.
Canada has already designated the al-Quds branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist entity, Matas said, so it should follow through and list the Guards as a whole. The paramilitary Quds Force is largely responsible for the group’s operations outside of Iran’s borders.
“If a terrorist act is committed by the IRGC, but not the Quds Force, a suit is not possible,” Matas said.
Liberal and Conservatives MPs voted in the House of Commons in June 2018 to list the entire Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, but the government has yet to act.
But even if the government were to update the terror listing immediately, at least two major legal obstacles remain, Matas told a Parliament Hill press conference Monday.
First, it’s unclear whether any new legal designation would apply to last week’s crash because the legal concept of retroactivity — that there was no applicable law in place at the time of an incident — can sometimes prove tricky.
“I’ve seen opinions that it would have a retroactive impact. I can’t say that I’ve developed a firm opinion on that,” said Matas.
“It’s something that one would have to look at.”
And then there’s the fundamental question of how Canadian victims would be able to collect a settlement if they ever succeeded in such a lawsuit.
The Canadian government is entitled to seize Iranian assets in Canada, but it isn’t allowed to lay its hands on diplomatic property such as embassy buildings or property.
Matas said the government has seized millions in Iranian assets in the past, including a cultural centre, but added: “It may be that it will be difficult to collect in the future.”
Matas said there is more at stake than simply money.
“To a certain extent what we’re talking about here is not money, but principle. And the principle is a terrorist, is a terrorist, is a terrorist.”
The Council of Iranian Canadians and the Justice 88 Campaign also echoed the request, saying it would show Canada’s symbolic support for Iranian protesters who have since taken to the streets.
Avideh Motmaen-Far, president of the Council of Iranian Canadians, said the downing of the airliner makes it more pressing for Canada to take further action against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
“This terrorist action, intentionally or not, executed by the IRGC, (emphasized and confirmed) once more the terrorist nature of this organization that has no respect for civilian lives,” she said.
“They should have closed the Iranian airspace but they didn’t.”