A Canadian court has ruled the downing of Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 last January was a deliberate act of terror.
In a judgement published on Thursday, May 20, the Superior Court of Justice in Ontario ruled that “on the balance of probabilities” the Revolutionary Guards deliberately shot the passenger plane out of the skies over Tehran, killing all 176 people onboard.
The case was brought against Iran by private plaintiffs from four victims’ families in Canada: Shahin Moghaddam, Mehrzad Zarei, Ali Gorji and a fourth person who was kept anonymous in the court documents for fear of reprisal.
On Thursday Justice Edward Belobaba determined that despite ongoing tensions with the United States at the time due to the killing of Ghasem Soleimani, there was no armed conflict going on in the region.
As such, he said: “The plaintiffs have established that the shooting down of Flight 752 by the defendants was an act of terrorism and constitutes 'terrorist activity'.”
The regime concluded its final investigation earlier this year, determining that a technical fault in military hardware had been the cause of the crash. Based on the evidence presented, Judge Belobaba said, this was not a convincing claim.
The ruling comes months after a UN report found multiple human rights violations in both the IRGC’s downing of a civilian plane, and the Islamic Republic’s attempted cover-up of the tragedy in the aftermath.
Official court papers were served to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who confirmed receipt of them, and other regime officials. But the Islamic Republic did not send a representative to answer the Ontario court case.
This civil judgement must now be used by the Canadian government in its future dealings with the Iranian regime over the disaster, including any attempt to take it to the International Criminal Court.
In a statement, the Association of Families of Flight 752 Victims said: “This judgement is an important step towards truth and justice, and it underscores the importance of all governments that represent the interest of victims’ families taking concrete action to hold the perpetrators to account.”
A First Step on the Road to Justice
In a press conference on Friday, the plaintiffs’ lawyers revealed it had taken eight months – and five separate court attendances last summer – for the Canadian government to serve the Islamic Republic with the claims.
The court awarded full indemnity costs. As such the next step will be a hearing in front of a judge to decide what appropriate compensation would look like.
After this the co-counsel, father and son Mark and Jonah Arnold, are looking into the possibility that Iranian assets in Canada or those abroad, such as oil tankers, could be seized for compensation.
Between now and then, any other victims’ families with a strong connection to Canada – not necessarily citizenship – can add their names to the claim, or use the judgement in their own claims.
Many chose not to take part in the first instance, the lawyers said, either because they were waiting for Canadian or Ukrainian governments to act or due to fear of the regime.
Mark Arnold said: “This [decision] is almost unprecedented in world jurisprudence. It strengthens international law and human rights, and recognizes that states that commit and support terrorism should not benefit from immunity.
“Some of the families were concerned there was not a decision like this before. We really encourage them to join us and be a part of this now.”
“A Fight for All Iranian Victims”
Family members present also spoke of the seismic impact the judgement had on them. Mehrzad Zarei, whose son Arad was killed in the crash, said that when he heard of the outcome: “I couldn’t even stand on my feet. I was so happy to receive this after 16 months of fighting with the government of Iran.”
He added: “This victory belongs to all people who are victims, who have been killed and tortured in Iran, and are silent. We are their voice. This is a fight for them and we won’t let them be forgotten.”
Shahin Moghaddam lost his wife and daughter in the downing of Flight 752. He was active in building the case, meeting with the person who installed the Guards’ control unit who told them it would be impossible for it to make an error of the type the Iranian regime had described.
Moghaddam told IranWire that he and others were still fighting to have the Canadian government designate the IRGC as a terrorist entity.
“Furthermore,” he said, “I want to see Canada and Ukraine file a real [criminal] claim with the ICC. This is the main goal. We want to push them to do that. Until now we had empty hands, but as of yesterday, we are armed.”
Last night, he said, was the first in which he had slept soundly since the tragedy. "I'm so happy," he said, "that I see the justice system in this country is totally independent."