Canadians seek torture exception to Canada’s State Immunity Act

By Haggai Carmon

In June of 2009, legislation was introduced in Canada that would, if passed, create a terrorism exception to the country’s foreign sovereign immunity act. That is – it would allow victims of terrorism to sue in a Canadian civil court countries appearing on a pre-designated ‘state sponsor of terrorism’ list. On November 26, Liberal MP Irwin Cotler introduced a private member’s bill that hones in on allowing victims of torture to bring suit against the countries and officials responsible for violating their human rights.

Canadian victims of torture who have attempted in past to sue their former captors have been unsuccessful, Canadian courts always making reference to the State Immunity Act that currently only offers an exception for commercial wrongdoing, such as the breach of a contract.

The new bill would allow Canadian victims of torture, crimes against humanity and genocidal governments to sue their torturers in Canadian civil courts.

Private bills do not typically pass into law, but this one does have support from both parties in the House of Commons, as well as the support of human rights activists, who believe such an amendment to the State Immunity Act should have been made long ago.

In Canada, criminal charges can be made in the case of torture and crimes against humanity, as per the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act of 2000, but civilly Canadians cannot as yet seek redress against foreign entities in their home country.

Despite June’s terrorism exception bill, the issue of torture needed to be addressed separately, believed Cotler.

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