By Jonny Wakefield
Source: The Edmonton Journal
Families of people killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks will be able to go after Iranian government assets in Alberta after a multibillion-dollar judgment was registered in this province.
According to court records, an Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench master registered a US$7.01 billion judgment against Iran and a dozen of its agencies and state-owned companies on March 13 in Edmonton.
With the decision, Alberta became the latest Canadian jurisdiction to recognize the massive judgment, originally handed down in a New York court in 2012.
“Registering a judgment in Alberta means if there are Iranian assets in Alberta and you’re able to find them, that you can seize those assets and use those to compensate victims of terrorism,” said Doug Lennox, the Canadian lawyer for the U.S. plaintiffs.
He said millions of dollars in Iranian assets have already been recovered for another group of plaintiffs after a similar case was registered in Ontario.
“Countries that support terrorism, they don’t have the right to do business with democracies and not expect this type of pushback,” Lennox said.
He added that Iran sent no representatives to defend itself in the Alberta case.
The originating application, filed last July, lists the government of Iran and a dozen other entities as respondents, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the National Iranian Oil Corporation, Iran Airlines and the Iranian central bank.
The list of applicants — the majority of them representing the estates of people killed in the 9/11 attacks — stretches three single-spaced pages. They include Fiona Havlish, whose late husband Donald Havlish was on the 101st floor of the World Trade Center’s north tower when the planes hit.
The original default judgment was handed down in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in October 2012 — the culmination of a legal battle that began 10 years prior.
The victims’ group later brought an application in B.C. Supreme Court under the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act, which the court reciprocally enforced in 2017.
Passed in 2012, the act allows foreign victims of terrorism to bring actions in Canadian courts, which can recognize and enforce foreign judgments against terrorist organizations and their state sponsors.
The Alberta application sought to have the B.C. judgment enforced in this province.
The applicants cited the New York judge, who found they had sufficiently established “that the Islamic Republic of Iran provided material support and resources to al-Qaida for acts of terrorism” carried out on 9/11, including planning, funding and facilitation of the hijackers’ travel and training.
The 9/11 Commission report, on the other hand, found “no evidence that Iran or Hezbollah was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 attack.”
Lennox said the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act also functions as a kind of trade sanction.
“If Iran wants to do business with Canadian companies — if Iran wants to purchase expertise in Alberta with regards to the oil industry, for example … they need to make some provisions to resolve these types of claims,” he said.
Thomas Juneau, a professor of international affairs at the University of Ottawa, said Canada-Iran relations are rocky.
The two countries haven’t had embassies in each others countries since 2012, when the Conservatives severed ties with the country. The Liberals pledged to reestablish diplomatic relations with Iran after coming to power in 2015 but have so far been unsuccessful.
One issue was the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act — which went into effect shortly before Canada severed ties with Iran.
“That was a huge obstacle, because the Iranians were saying, ‘Well we want to reopen embassies but you have to abandon that law,’” he said. “On the Canadian side, the government was saying, ‘We can’t do that’ because … abandoning a law that labels Iran a state-sponsor of terrorism is, politically, basically not feasible.”
As for what impact the Alberta decision might have on Canada-Iran relations? “Technically none,” Juneau said, “in the sense that it only adds to a background that’s already there. It’s an obstacle to the reopening of embassies that was already there.”
Juneau added there are about a dozen cases that have been brought against Iran in Canadian courts — most of them by Americans.
Lennox said he couldn’t comment on whether he knows of any Iranian government assets in Alberta. Public Safety Canada maintains a list of known Iranian state-owned property in Canada on its website, but the link to the list was broken on Wednesday.
If there are such assets in Alberta, “now we can look for them,” Lennox said.