The downing of Flight 752 by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards was a deliberate act of terrorism, the Ontario Superior Court has ruled in a decision released on Thursday.
Justice Edward Belobaba found “on a balance of probabilities that the missile attacks on Flight 752 were intentional.”
“The plaintiffs have established that the shooting down of Flight 752 by the defendants was an act of terrorism and constitutes ‘terrorist activity,’” the judge added.
In the ruling, the Ontario court judge relied on two experts, one of whom concluded that the Revolutionary Guards “knew Flight PS 752 was a civilian airplane and purposefully shot it down with the intent to destroy it.”
The judge issued the default judgment against Iran in a civil suit brought by four families of those killed aboard the Ukraine International Airlines flight on Jan. 8, 2020.
Iran was served with the court papers through Global Affairs Canada, but did not defend itself in the proceedings.
The case names Iran, the Revolutionary Guards, the Iranian Armed Forces and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, among others, as defendants.
The decision effectively allows the families in Canada to seek damages from Iran.
While the State Immunity Act would normally shield Iran from Canada’s courts, under the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act, that immunity does not apply for acts of terrorism.
All 176 passengers and crew, including 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents, were killed when the Revolutionary Guards fired two TOR M-1 surface-to-air missiles at the plane shortly after it left Tehran airport.
The plane crashed four minutes later.
Tensions were high in the region at the time after a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad killed Qassem Soleimani, leader of the Quds Force, the foreign operations branch of the Revolutionary Guards.
Iran initially denied shooting down the plane, but after video evidence surfaced, the regime admitted to it and said it was an accident.
But the court ruled it was deliberate.
“I find on a balance of probabilities that the missile attacks on Flight 752 were intentional and directly caused the deaths of all onboard,” the judge wrote.
“I further find on a balance of probabilities that, at the time in question, there was no armed conflict in the region.”
The civil case was brought by Merzhad Zarei, who lost his 18-year-old son, Arad, on Flight 752. Shahin Moghaddam, who lost his wife, Shakiba, and their son, Rossitin, is also a plaintiff, as well as Ali Gorji, who lost his niece, Poureh, and husband, Arash.
A fourth plaintiff, identified only as Jane Doe, asked for anonymity because she feared reprisals.
The Ontario judge noted that former public safety minister Ralph Goodale’s report on the tragedy had rejected Iran’s claim that the missile launches were the result of human error by members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC.
Since the incident, Canada has called for a thorough probe of what happened, but Iran has dragged its heels on co-operating with international investigators.
The crash site was disrupted and contaminated, Goodale wrote in his report to the prime minister, and there were “instances of harassment and intimidation directed toward some of the victims’ families — including interventions at funerals, the withholding of personal effects, disturbing communications, stalking, detentions and interrogations.”
An audio recording of a phone call also “suggested Iran’s airspace remained open throughout the relevant period to avoid disrupting scheduled traffic or tipping off the Americans about Iranian military activity.”
The Conservative opposition said the ruling showed why the government should place the IRGC on Canada’s list of terrorist groups.
Currently, only the IRGC’s Quds Force is listed, due to its role in training, arming and financing Hamas, Hezbollah and other armed groups.