October 10 2014

The Supreme Court of Canada rejects civil suits for torture against the Republic of Iran in the name of the state immunity

OTTAWA, October 10th 2014

The Supreme Court of Canada rendered its decision in the case Estate of the Late Zahra (Ziba) Kazemi, et al v Islamic Republic of Iran, et al (Court File Number 35034).

In this case, the family of a Canadian citizen who was arrested, sexually assaulted, tortured and then killed by state officials in Iran, brought an action before the Quebec Courts in order to hold the Iranian State civilly liable for these despicable acts. François Larocque,

François Larocque, lawyer at Power Law, appearing for the Francophone Section of Amnesty International Canada, argued that the civil claim ought to be justiciable and should not be excluded by the State Immunity Act. François Larocque also argued for a contextual interpretation of the State Immunity Act, that is consistent with the Convention Against Torture and the Civil Code of Québec.

Section 14 of the Convention Against Torture requires Canada to guarantee the right of victims of torture to remedies and to eliminate any barriers to such claims, such as immunity. Section 3136 of the Québec Civil Code empowers Québec Courts to act as a forum of necessity in exceptional cases where the parties have no other legal recourse. The intent of the provincial legislature should not be frustrated by a restrictive and anachronistic interpretation of the State Immunity Act.

Unfortunately for the plaintiffs, the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed the constitutionality of the State Immunity Act. Section 3(1), which provides immunity to foreign states does not violate any principles of fundamental justice. Moreover, the Court dismissed the argument based on s. 2(e) of the Canadian Bill of Rights as that provision is not engaged in the present case.

Then the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed that the State Immunity Act does not provide for an exception to foreign state immunity from civil suits alleging acts of torture occurring outside Canada.

As such, the Supreme Court of Canada passes the buck to Parliament to modify the state of the law, which currently leaves the Kazemi family without any legal recourse in Canada, resulting in a complete denial of justice.

For more information on this case, please consult the website of the Supreme Court of Canada: http://www.scc-csc.gc.ca/case-dossier/info/sum-som-eng.aspx?cas=35034 or contact Caroline Etter from Power Law at cetter@powerlaw.ca.