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Terror Victims Win Legislative Victory in Canada

By Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, January 4, 2011

In recent weeks the Canadian Senate has passed its version of a bill targeting states that sponsor terror financing. The legislation, known as Government Bill S-7: the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act, was the result of five years of strenuous labor by a grass-roots lobbying group the Canadian Coalition Against Terrorism (C-CAT). The bill now must pass the House of Commons before it can become law. C-CAT is continuing to press to enhance and expand the provisions of S-7. There is an excellent chance, however, that the bill will pass through the House of Commons as it has substantial bi-partisan support.

The bill creates a cause of action for the victims of terrorism, who are injured in or outside of Canada, and allows them to utilize the Canadian courts to bring civil actions against the perpetrators of terrorism and their supporters. The proposed enactment also prevents foreign state, designated by the Canadian government as sponsors of terrorism, from defending against the lawsuits by claiming that as foreign states they maintain sovereign immunity. S-7 emulates American legislation which creates an exception to the US' Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act, allowing civil actions against countries that are designated as terror sponsors by the US State Department. The bill also requires the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs to designate and place states engaged in sponsoring terrorism on a watch list such as the one maintained by the State Department. Obviously, a major issue for Canada, as it is in the US, will be which deserving terror sponsoring states actually will get placed on the list and which ones will get a free pass.

Unfortunately, S-7 does not go far enough. Firstly, the courts are limited to hearing cases in which the "action has a real and substantial connection to Canada." This means the court will be able to decide for itself if Canadian citizens or "Canadian interests" are in any way involved. Moreover, in its current form, the bill allows Canadian courts to refuse to hear a claim against a foreign state that appears on the designated list "if the loss or damage to the plaintiff occurred in the foreign state and the plaintiff has not given the foreign state a reasonable opportunity to submit the dispute to arbitration in accordance with accepted international rules of arbitration." In other words outlaw regimes like Iran or North Korea could dodge a civil action brought by victims under the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act, by simply opting out for some type of international arbitration. In addition, once a terror victim wins a judgment against a foreign state, the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Foreign Affairs is required to assist the plaintiffs in identifying and locating the foreign state's property. However, S-7 provides the Canadian government an out that will allow it to block the collection efforts of the terror victims -- the Minister can refuse to identify the property if he "believes that to do so would be injurious to Canada’s international relations or either Minister believes that to do so would be injurious to Canada’s other interests . . . " Meaning if the government believes that a plaintiff's collection action will harm Canada's financial or foreign relations interest with a foreign state, it can block the abilities of terror victims to collect against the property.

Shurat HaDin played a small role this past summer in the battle to have S-7 enacted by the Senate: C-CAT has acknowledged, in its end of the year update, the written submission provided by Shurat HaDin to the Canadian Senate during the hearings in support of the bill.

Congratulations to all of our Canadian friends on their legislative victory. The struggle for justice for the victims of terror continues on!

FOR A COPY OF Government Bill S-7: the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act:



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Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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