A general view of the International Court of Justice April 12, 2006 in The Hague, the Netherlands ... [+] (Photo: Michel Porro/Getty Images)

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The Iranian government has filed a lawsuit against Canada at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Netherlands, seeking compensation from Ottawa for breaching the principle of state immunity by allowing civil cases against Iran in Canadian courts.

Iran has not specified now much compensation it is seeking. Iranian state-owned media said the case has been brought by the Center for International Legal Affairs, part of the office of Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi.

The ICJ, the main court of the United Nations, issued a statement on June 28, saying the application to start proceedings had been filed a day earlier. It said Iran had claimed that Canada had adopted “a series of legislative, executive, and judicial measures against Iran” since 2012 which were “in breach of its international obligations”.

In its application, the Iranian government said it had repeatedly complained to Canada about the alleged violations “but to no avail”. As a result, it said, “Iran has no alternative but to avail itself of its right to institute proceedings before this court.”

In particular, Iran has objected to Canada’s decision in March 2012 to amend its State Immunity Act to allow immunity to be removed from countries deemed by Canada to be supporters of terrorism. At the same time, Canada passed the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act, which allows individuals to sue alleged perpetrators of terrorism and their supporters.

Later in 2012, Canada cut diplomatic relations with Iran, closed its embassy in Tehran and expelled Iranian diplomats from Canada. It also named both Iran and Syria as state supporters of terrorism.

Since then, Iran said, a series of claims and enforcement proceedings have been launched in Canada against Iran. In addition, Canadian courts have on several occasions recognized U.S. court rulings against Iran. In all these instances, the Canadian courts have rejected Iran’s efforts to claim sovereign immunity. In one case the courts ordered Iran to surrender properties in Ottawa and Toronto worth a combined C$30 million ($22.6 million) as well as funds held in two bank accounts belonging to the Iranian embassy in Canada.

The downing of Flight PS752

Canadian courts have also asserted jurisdiction over cases against Iran in relation to the shooting down of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 in Iran in January 2020. The plane was hit by surface-to-air missiles fired by a unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp shortly after taking off from Tehran, killing all 176 people on board. Among those killed were 55 Canadian citizens and 30 others with permanent residency in Canada.

In late December 2021, Ontario's Superior Court of Justice awarded C$107 million ($84 million) plus interest to the families of six people who died when the plane was brought down.

The Canadian government has yet to issue a formal response to Iran’s case at the ICJ.

Earlier in the month, Canada’s foreign affairs minister Mélanie Joly announced further sanctions against Iran, linked to the brutal repression of public protests that broke out across Iran following the death in custody in Tehran of Mahsa Amini in September 2022. It was the 12th package of sanctions imposed by Canada against Iran since October.

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