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Canada, allies taking Iran to International Court of Justice over downing of Flight PS752

canada allies taking iran to international court of justice over downing of flight ps752

Canada, Sweden, Ukraine and the United Kingdom say they’ll continue their efforts to hold Iran legally accountable for shooting down Flight PS752 and killing 176 people by referring the matter to the International Court of Justice.

The four countries, which make up the International Coordination and Response Group formed to seek accountability and reparations for the victims’ families, announced the move Thursday after the deadline passed for Iran to submit to arbitration under the Montréal Convention.

The convention requires parties to prohibit, prevent and punish certain offences involving aircraft, including the unlawful and intentional destruction of an aircraft in service. Canada, Sweden, Ukraine, the U.K. and Iran are all parties to the convention, which was signed in Montreal in 1971.

The response group triggered the convention process in December, giving Iran six months to signal its participation in arbitration, which it did not do.

“Accordingly, the Coordination Group intends to pursue our collective effort to ensure Iran is held accountable for the unlawful downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 by referring the dispute to the International Court of Justice as soon as is practicable.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly met with the families of the victims Thursday morning to update them on the response group’s next steps. 

“These families deserve transparency, accountability and justice and we will not relent in our efforts to seek it through international law,” Joly said in a statement. “Impunity is not an option for the Iranian regime.”

Triggering the International Court of Justice process will take a few days because it requires the Iranian Embassy at The Hague to be open, but it remains closed until the end of the week for Eid al-Adha, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. 

Flight downed on Jan. 8, 2020

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) shot down the Ukraine International Airlines flight shortly after takeoff in Tehran on Jan. 8, 2020. Two surface-to-air missiles hit the plane, killing all on board — including 55 Canadian citizens, 30 permanent residents and others with ties to Canada.

The families of the victims of Flight PS752 began their fight for compensation in 2020. Last year, an Ontario court awarded them $107 million, but lawyers warned that actually getting Iran to pay the damages would be very difficult. Iran did not defend itself in court, making it a default judgment.

Lawyers representing the families went to court seeking permission to seize three properties in Ottawa and withdraw money from bank accounts at the Royal Bank of Canada and Scotiabank maintained by Iran.

The lawyers argued that Iran’s rights to diplomatic immunity ended a decade ago when Canada expelled Iranian diplomats from the country.

In January, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled that the victims’ families cannot seize those properties or bank accounts on Canadian soil because the federal government considers those assets the property of the Islamic Republic of Iran and are protected under international law.

Since the fall, Canada has imposed sanctions on 163 individuals and 192 entities in Iran, including the IRGC and members of the regime’s security security intelligence and economic apparatus.

Global Affairs Canada has said that those sanctions effectively freeze any assets Iran may have in Canada.

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