Families want to sue those responsible for the Beirut explosions in Canada

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Rania Massoud (access the author's page)

Several families of Canadian victims of the devastating explosions that occurred on August 4 in Lebanon want to sue Lebanese officials in court in Canada.

To do so, they must overcome the legal hurdle imposed by the federal State Immunity Act, which prevents any Canadian citizen from suing a foreign country on Canadian soil for a crime committed outside the borders. .

Michel El-Meouchy, a Canadian lawyer of Lebanese origin who was himself and several members of his family affected by the explosions in Beirut, is one of the initiators of this legal process.

With four other lawyers scattered in several countries, he seeks to judge those responsible for the explosions in the port of Beirut which left more than 200 dead, 6,000 injured and 300,000 homeless before foreign courts, notably in France, Switzerland and in Canada.

People are walking in the streets with banners and slogans accusing the (Lebanese) government of "He Knew" for ammonium nitrate.

Demonstrations in Beirut. After the explosion of August 4, the Lebanese accuse the political class of crimes against the people.

Photo: Nada Raphaël

Mr. El-Meouchy, who studied at school and university in Montreal, says that the French and Swiss tracks are more favorable than that of Canada, in particular because of the State Immunity Act, which he considers absurd.

Today a Canadian citizen can be tortured by any country in the world and there is no recourse in Canada. Personally, as a Canadian, I find this absurd.

Michel El-Meouchy

This is a sentiment also shared by Paul Naggear, father of Alexandra, a 3-year-old Lebanese-Canadian woman killed in the explosions in Beirut. She is one of the youngest victims of the tragedy.

Qualifying this law handicapped, he says he is disappointed by the obstacle it imposes.

We do not have confidence in the independence of the judiciary in Lebanon (…) This is why we must absolutely try to find another avenue, especially in Canada, even if it seems quite complex.

Paul naggear
A man wearing a mask holding a large photo of a little girl in his arms.

A Lebanese protester holding up the portrait of Alexandra Naggear who succumbed to her injuries following the explosions in Beirut.

Photo: Getty Images / PATRICK BAZ

Exceptions to the law

It was on the basis of the State Immunity Act that the Supreme Court of Canada rejected, in October 2014, the request of the son of journalist Zahra Kazemi, who asked for the right to prosecute the Iranian authorities. in Canadian court for the death of his mother, tortured and murdered in a Tehran prison.

This law also prevents any prosecution against state officials, unless they have acted in a personal capacity or in a context unrelated to their role as agents of the State.

However, there are exceptions to this law. A state can be tried in Canada if it does not respect a trade agreement with a Canadian or if it is accused of being linked to terrorism.

This last point could be used in the event of a possible prosecution linked to the explosions in Beirut, if the latter targets Hezbollah, classified as a terrorist entity in Canada and suspected of being the source of the cargo of more than 2,700 tons of nitrate d. 'ammonium which caused the drama.

A Lebanese anti-government protester holds a caricature depicting (left to right) the President of Lebanon, Michel Aoun, the Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, and the leader of the Shiite Hezbollah movement, Hassan Nasrallah, all seated on a draped person of the Lebanese national flag, which shouts “I cannot breathe”.

A Lebanese anti-government protester holds a caricature depicting (left to right) the President of Lebanon, Michel Aoun, the Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, and the leader of the Shiite Hezbollah movement, Hassan Nasrallah, all seated on a draped person of the Lebanese national flag, which shouts “I cannot breathe”.

Photo: afp via getty images / ANWAR AMRO

According to a survey by the German magazine Der Spiegel, the owner of the ship carrying the cargo of ammonium nitrate is a Cypriot businessman with ties to Hezbollah.

A week ago, US Counterterrorism Coordinator Nathan Sales accused Hezbollah of stockpiling this highly explosive substance in several European countries, including the UK, Greece, France and Italy, at terrorist purposes.

Moreover, last Monday, the Bulgarian justice sentenced to life imprisonment two men suspected of links with Hezbollah, including a Lebanese-Canadian, for having carried out a bomb attack on a bus carrying Israeli tourists in the seaside town of Bourgas. , in 2012. The bomb contained ammonium nitrate, according to Bulgarian prosecutor Evgeniya Shtarkelova.

Supporters have installed a portrait of the leader of the Shiite party, Hassan Nasrallah, on the roof of a car.

Hezbollah supporters parading the streets of Kfar Kila, a village in southern Lebanon.

Photo: Reuters / Aziz Taher

According to Mr. El-Meouchy, the decision to prosecute Hezbollah would be heavy with consequences for the families of the victims, evoking the risks of violence and threats.

On the one hand, it is dangerous, and on the other hand, Hezbollah is not solely responsible for the explosions (…) So for many victims, that would be incomplete justice. However, some will want to proceed if that is the only possible avenue.

Michel El-Meouchy

Paul Naggear agrees. He says his family would not like to take yet more risk (…) because we know we are dealing with criminals.

He also calls on Ottawa to require independent investigation in Lebanon and to participate actively in the investigation. There are already investigators from the FBI and France on the ground, why is Canada absent? he asks.

The remains of a burning ship at the port of Beirut

The port of Beirut, destroyed.

Photo: Getty Images / –

It will be the results of this investigation that will open the door to Canadian justice to the families of victims in Lebanon, as explained by Canadian lawyer Kurt Johnson, who represented Stephan Hashemi, the journalist's son. Canadian-Iranian Zahra Kazemi, before the Supreme Court, six years ago.

It is premature to close all hope in Canada (…) I do not want to close this door as long as independent investigations have not yet identified the responsible parties (…) The problem, at present, is that there are a lot of theories and not enough evidence.

Kurt johnson

Calls to change Canadian law

Human rights organization Amnesty International, which intervened in the Kazemi case, continues to challenge the State Immunity Act as it is applied in Canada.

A Canadian cannot sue a state for torture, but they can do so for trade matters, which makes (this law) even more atrocious, says France-Isabelle Langlois, Executive Director of Amnesty International Canada Francophone.

The current Canadian government has a human rights discourse, so if it wants to be in line with what it preaches, logic would dictate that it change that law.

France-Isabelle Langlois

The families of the victims, for their part, are under no illusions and know that the road to justice will be long. But for Mr. El-Meouchy, it is essential to change this law, even if it will not necessarily have retroactive effect.

It opened our eyes to a legal situation that no longer has its place in 2020 (…) We want that to change for all Canadians, everywhere in the world, he assures.

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