A judge has ruled that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is a “terrorist entity” under Canadian law, adding fuel to the debate over how to deal with the branch of Tehran’s armed forces.
The Ontario Superior Court found the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was “a listed entity” because one of its branches, the Qods Force, was already designated as such by Canada.
The ruling was handed down in a case that weighed whether the estate of a late Canadian lawyer was required to pay almost $1 million to an Iranian aviation company alleged to be a front for the IRGC.
The judge dismissed the case because the owner of the Iranian company, Babak Zanjani, was an alleged IRGC financier. The court said paying the debt would have violated Canada’s anti-terrorism laws.
But the judge went further, ruling that not only did the IRGC meet the definition of a terrorist group, it was also a “listed entity by association” because of its relationship to the Qods Force.
Being a listed terrorist entity carries severe consequences. It is illegal to contribute to any activity of a listed group, and its property can be seized and forfeited.
The Liberal government has long faced calls to place the IRGC on Canada’s terrist list, particularly after the Iranian militia shot down a passenger plane carrying 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents.
More recently, the IRGC has allegedly helped Russia conduct drone strikes in Ukraine and participated in the suppression of human rights protesters in Iran.
However, only the Qods Force branch of the IRGC is listed. The Qods Force trains, bankrolls and arms terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, which celebrated last week’s Jerusalem bus stop bombing that killed a Canadian teen.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs urged the government to “accept the court’s ruling.” The organization is among those that have urged Ottawa to take further action against the IRGC.
“It’s been our long held position that the government of Canada needs to list the IRGC in its entirety as a terrorist entity,” said CIJA’s president and CEO Shimon Koffler Fogel.
But Alexander Cohen, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, said terrorist designations were approved by cabinet based on reports from national security and law enforcement agencies.
“While we are aware of the court ruling, the process for adding an entity to Canada’s terrorist listing is well established,” he said.
National security law expert Prof. Michael Nesbitt said the decision appeared to repeat an error made in an earlier Ontario court ruling that failed to consider that the IRGC is part of Iran’s military.
Terrorist activity does include the actions of a state military force exercising its official duties, said Nesbitt, a law professor at the University of Calgary. “In this case, the IRGC is not listed, so a court must find the existence of a terrorist group.”
“To do this, they are bound to consider mandatory exceptions, including whether the group is the military force of a state acting in the exercise of their official duties. Without such an analysis, it is impossible to say whether a group is ‘terrorist’ or not.”
A 2018 House of Commons motion called for the IRGC to be listed as a terrorist entity under the Criminal Code. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has not yet followed through.
“The IRGC leadership are terrorists. The IRGC is a terrorist organization. Today, Canada is formally recognizing that and acting accordingly,” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said at the time.
But the judge’s decision may raise new questions about listing the IRGC.
“I agree with the applicants that the IRGC cannot be seen to be other than a terrorist organization,” Madam Justice Cory Gilmore wrote in her ruling. “I also agree with the applicants that even if one argues that the Qods Force is the only listed entity, then the IRGC becomes a listed entity by association.”
“The judge is correct in her findings regarding the terrorist credentials of the IRGC in its entirety,” said Danny Eisen, a spokesperson for the Canadian Coalition Against Terror.
The coalition, which represents Canadian victims of terrorism, has been asking the government to list the IRGC as a terrorist organization, arguing it and the Quds Force were not separate organizations.
“Canada has rightly listed terror groups like Hezbollah and Hamas in their entirety,” Eisen said. “The IRGC is no different in this respect. This entity in its entirety is committed to establishing Iran as a regional and global power through subversion and terrorism.”
The Ontario judge’s decision came after a court in the United Arab Emirates ruled that a Dubai law firm owed money to Sorinet, an Iranian company owned by Zanjani.
The law firm was owned partly by the late Donald Harry Bunker, a Canadian. The executors of his will, who live in Ontario and Quebec, were told to pay Sorinet US$618,000, but they argued they could not because Zanjani had “used Sorinet to raise funds for the IRGC.”
Moreover, they argued, Zanjani had been arrested for embezzlement, and it was possible the money they paid to resolve the debt would end up in the IRGC’s hands, in contravention of Canadian terrorism financing laws.
Obeying the Dubai court order would mean paying money to a terrorist group, they argued. They also argued the IRGC was a listed entity in Canada because of its association with the Quds Force.
In an Oct. 28 ruling, the judge agreed, citing the Zarei case, in which the Ontario court found that the IRGC’s missile attack on Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 was an act of terrorism.
The judge said the “mere risk” the funds could be used for terrorism was enough. “It is the historical connection between Zanjani/Sorinet and their fundraising activities for the IRGC that is important.”