March 4, 2014 | Canadian Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs

The Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act

Honourable senators, I am so pleased to be here today to discuss the justice for victims of terrorism act, a legislative initiative that the Canadian Coalition Against Terror has been working on for so many years and which some of the best legal minds in this country have endorsed. I would be happy to address any specific provision within the Bill during Q and A but, for now, in C-CAT's last committee appearance before Bill C-10 is voted on, I would like to offer a big-picture perspective on what you, as Canadian parliamentarians, would be accomplishing by turning the JVTA into law.

Senators, the primary motivation of victims in pursuing this measure has always been the deterrence of terrorism, and the JVTA's potential to accomplish this goal is manifold. Civil suits have the potential to financially impair the terrorist infrastructure through successful court judgments, and even the possibility of being named in a civil suit may deter potential sponsors, who rely on anonymity, from supplying funds. In turn, a terrorist group will have trouble recruiting and training its members, purchasing weapons and launching attacks if it or its sponsors have been forced to spend their money paying out damages awards. The JVTA, demanding the lower civil standard of proof, can hold terror sponsors accountable even when the criminal justice system has failed to do so.

Civil suits can also garner the attention of government regulators to illegal conduct that they had not detected themselves. For example, lawsuits filed in 2004 against the Jordan-based Arab Bank for allegedly distributing compensation money to families of terrorist suicide bombers triggered a probe by U.S. bank regulators and a Justice Department criminal investigation.

Lawsuits can additionally deprive terrorists of a key promotional asset. Jason McCue, a lawyer for the Omagh family members in their civil action against the real IRA in Northern Ireland, has pointed out that conventional state counterterrorism measures can be manipulated into David versus Goliath propaganda victories that advance the terrorists’ agenda. A civil suit, however, deprives the wrongdoers of this opportunity. Terrorists cannot portray themselves as the victims when parents who have lost their children in a terrorist attack take the stand in court.

Perhaps most notably, the JVTA will end the impunity enjoyed by state sponsors of terror. As Dr. Peter Leitner, a noted counterterrorism expert, has pointed out:

There is something fundamentally absurd with the current legal arrangement in Canada that allows lawsuits against Iran for selling you rotten pistachios, but bars legal action against them for sponsoring terrorist attacks which kill Canadian citizens abroad . . .

Lastly, passage of the legislation should help facilitate the execution of suits against local terror sponsors and perpetrators. The JVTA carves out a specific cause of action rather than relying on general tort principles. The bill's retrospectivity and limitation period will also be helpful to existing terrorist victims in filing claims against their local wrongdoers.

I conclude by quoting an excerpted passage from an email written by a Canadian recently convicted of terrorism offences:

We have to come up with a way that we can drain their economy of all its resources, cripple their industries, and bankrupt their systeMs. . . . Imagine if there were 10 September 11’s, wouldn't that accurately bring America down, never to rise again? Yes, I understand that innocent human beings died, but there is absolutely no other way of achieving the same objective with the same effect.

The JVTA turns these malicious ideas on their head by attempting to cut off the terror economy in order to save, rather than wreak havoc on, innocent lives. Moreover, victims take their fight to a court of law without advocating for violence.

Senators, by providing a civil remedy for the contravention of terrorism-related criminal laws, private citizens are poised to strengthen Canada's efforts in confronting terrorism and terror financing.