A lawyer representing families in Canada who lost loved ones in the Flight 752 tragedy said Friday he would seek out Iran’s assets around the world after the Ontario court ruled the downing of the airliner was an act of terrorism.
At a news conference, Mark Arnold said the civil case against Iran, which the court found had intentionally targeted the passenger plane with missiles, would move next to deciding damages owed to families, and then to collecting.
“We are looking for whatever Iranian assets we can find in Canada,” Arnold told reporters.
“I’m not about to disclose the information we have on Canadian assets of Iran, but we know where they are and will get them once we have a final court decision.”
Aside from assets in Canada, Iran also has tankers on the high seas that could be seized and sold to compensate the families, he said, although he added he hoped the Canadian government would instead pressure Tehran to pay up.
Of the 176 killed when Iran launched two surface-to-air missiles at Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 as it was leaving Tehran airport on Jan. 8, 2020, 138 had ties to Canada, including 55 citizens and 30 permanent residents.
Arnold represents four families in Canada who have sued Iran, its Revolutionary Guard and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei for damages.
While Iran has claimed the missile strikes were the result of human error amid tensions after a U.S. airstrike killed the leader of Iran’s Quds Force, the Ontario Superior Court ruled Thursday the attack an intentional “act of terrorism.”
The decision was significant because it not only dismissed Iran’s version of events, it also lifted Iran’s state immunity, allowing the families to seek civil damages. Under Canadian law, states cannot benefit from state immunity over acts of terrorism.
Global Affairs Canada said it was studying the decision and was “deeply concerned about the lack of convincing information and evidence provided by Iran. We will not rest until the families get the justice and accountability they deserve.”
The Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims said the ruling “reaffirms the families’ understanding that the attack was an intentional act of terrorism, and that the Iranian regime must be held accountable.”
“This judgment 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 actions to hold the perpetrators to account.”
Responding through its state-controlled media, Iran’s foreign ministry said the Canadian court lacked jurisdiction on the matter and stuck to its narrative that its air defenses had mistaken the passenger jet for an attacking military aircraft.
But the families argued in court the plane was shot down in retaliation for the U.S. killing of Qassem Soleimani, who headed the Quds Force, the branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps that arms, trains and finances militants in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere.
The court agreed, citing experts and reports, including one by former public safety minister Ralph Goodale, which argued it was inconceivable Iran could mistake a passenger plane departing Tehran for an incoming military aircraft or missile.
After firing one missile at the passenger plane, Iran launched another 30 seconds later.
“If you pick up a gun and aim it at a person’s head and pull the trigger, you might say it’s a mistake, you got the wrong person,” Arnold said.
“But if you do it 30 seconds later, it’s not a mistake. It’s an intentional act.”
Speaking to reporters, Arnold challenged the Iranian regime to argue its case in court. As it has done in the past, Iran has so far declined to participate in the civil action, despite having been served with the statement of claim by Global Affairs Canada.
“From the beginning, Canada has called for the Iranian regime to conduct a comprehensive and transparent investigation in accordance with international standards,” Global Affairs Canada said in a statement.
It said a forensic team was finalizing its analysis and a report would “be made public shortly.”
Arnold was critical of the Canadian government, saying it had been “opaque and unhelpful” with the civil case, and said it had taken five court appearances and eight months before GAC served the court papers on the Iranian regime.
Canada broke off diplomatic relations with Iran in 2012.
That same year, Canada passed the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act, which allows terror victims to use the courts to collect damages from state sponsors of terrorism.
Victims of terrorist groups sponsored by Iran collected millions worth of Iran’s assets in Canada in 2019.