State Immunity Act, not applicable on acts of torture committed by a foreign State outside Canada

Supreme Court of Canada: In a recent case relating to sovereign immunity where Civil proceedings were initiated against Iran, its head of State and two State officials in relation to the alleged torture and death of a Canadian citizen in Iran, a question arose whether they are entitled to immunity by operation of State Immunity Act, R.S.C., 1985, (SIA). The Court held that a foreign State and its functionaries cannot be sued in Canadian courts for acts of torture committed abroad. SIA, in its existing form, does not provide for an exception to foreign State immunity from civil suits alleging acts of torture occurring outside Canada.

In the instant case the allegation was that a Canadian citizen who visited Iran as a journalist in 2003, was arrested, detained, sexually assaulted and tortured by Iranian officials. She died due to a brain injury sustained while in the custody of those officials. In 2006, her son filed Civil proceedings, seeking damages on behalf of himself and his mother’s estate against the Iranian Head of State and State officials. The Iranian defendants brought a motion in Quebec Superior Court on the basis of State immunity. In response, the appellant invoked the exception against State Immunity under Section 6(a) of SIA and challenged the constitutionality of Section 3(1); of SIA in view of Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (hereinafter, “the Charter”) .

Rejecting the appellant’s claim, the Court while examining the words of S. 6(a) of SIA, held that the exception under Section 6(a) applies only where the tort causing the personal injury or death has occurred in Canada and not outside. State immunity is not solely a rule of international law but it also reflects domestic choices made for policy reasons, particularly in matters of international relations. Also, the challenge brought by the appellants under Section 7 of the Charter fails as it prevents victims of torture or their kin from finding closure by seeking civil redress. Moreover, it is not necessary to decide whether Section 3(1); of SIA engages the security of the persons interest under Section 7 of the Charter because the said provision of SIA does not violate principles of fundamental justice. Kazemi Estate v. Islamic Republic of Iran2014 SCC OnLine Can SC 12, decided on 10-10-2014

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