Canadians Should Be Allowed to Sue Chinese Officials for Torture
For immediate release
29 March 2010
(Ottawa) - Foreign officials accused of involvement in torture should not be immune from lawsuits in Canada, a Toronto court will hear in a session starting today.
Several Canadian residents are suing five Chinese officials—including former President Jiang Zemin—for torture they suffered in China beginning in the late 1990s. The plaintiffs are practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual movement targeted for severe repression by the Chinese government.
The Canadian Centre for International Justice (CCIJ) and Amnesty International Canada (AI Canada) are intervening in the case to ask the court to refuse immunity to the defendants and allow the case to proceed.
“For too long because of immunity, Canadians tortured overseas have had nowhere to turn in seeking justice,” says Alex Neve, the Secretary General of AI Canada. “This case can help solve this problem and finally give survivors the ability to assert their rights in Canada.”
Monday’s hearing comes on the heels of a Montreal lawsuit by the son of slain Canadian citizen Zahra Kazemi, who was tortured to death in Iran in 2003. The government of Iran has argued that it is entitled to immunity in Canada even for acts of torture. The CCIJ and AI Canada’s Francophone branch also intervened in that case, and are awaiting a decision.
Canada’s State Immunity Act generally protects foreign governments against lawsuits in Canadian courts but does not specifically address cases involving serious human rights violations. In November 2009, MP Irwin Cotler introduced a bill in Parliament to amend the State Immunity Act and explicitly remove immunity for torture, genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Bill C-483, known as the Redress for Victims of International Crimes Act, would eliminate the need for courts to hear the types of arguments now being asserted on behalf of Iran’s government and the Chinese officials.
“This case, like the Zahra Kazemi case, provides a critical opportunity for Canadians tortured abroad to obtain redress,” explains Jayne Stoyles, Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for International Justice. “The passage of Bill C-483 would further clarify that our courts are open to Canadians and that the perpetrators of abuses can be held accountable.”
For more background information, please visit the CCIJ’s website at www.ccij.ca and AI Canada’s website at www.amnesty.ca.
For interviews with the plaintiffs, contact the plaintiffs’ counsel at Olthuis Kleer Townshend:
Kate Kempton, office (416) 981-9374
Matt McPherson, office (416) 981-9343
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Canadian Centre for International Justice
Matt Eisenbrandt, Legal Coordinator
(613) 744-7667 x266
Amnesty International Canada
John Tackaberry, Media Relations
(613) 744-7667 x236