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Canada Appoints Prominent Lawyer As Advisor On Ukraine Plane Disaster

Ottawa on Friday named Iranian human-rights advocate Payam Akhavan as its senior advisor on Iran’s shooting down of Ukrainian flight PS-752 in Tehran on January 8, 2020, a disaster that killed all 176 onboard including dozens of Canadian citizens.

In a statement on Friday, Ottawa said Akhavan would help Canada's legal team in negotiations with the Iranian government over compensating families of the 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents who died in the tragic incident. Both Canada and Ukraine have rejected Tehran’s offer of $150,000 per person killed.

"His wealth of knowledge and expertise will bolster the department's ongoing efforts to hold Iran accountable for the downing of Flight PS-752 and to pursue justice and transparency for the families," said Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau.

It remains unclear what legal route Canada intends to take. On Thursday a court in Ontario ruled that the Iranian government was liable in Canadian law under a 2012 act that asserts  extraterritorial jurisdiction for countries Ottawa deems “foreign state supporters of terrorism,” namely Iran and Syria.

Payam Akhavan, prominent human rights lawyer. FILE photo

Justice Edward Belobaba found that "on a balance of probabilities" the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), who deployed the missile-defense battery that shot down the airliner as a United States attack was expected, “knowingly chose to target the plane” bound for Kyiv. He ruled that downing the plane was “an act of intentional and deliberate terrorism,” and that that the Iranian government was liable under Canadian law to pay damages.

Iran’s Foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh on Friday insisted the Canadian court lacked jurisdiction. "We urge the government of Canada to show the behavior of a mature government instead of pretending to be active in the case of this tragic incident and act according to recognized international laws and with respect for principles,” he said.

Akhavan, who is a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, has served as an adviser in high-profile international cases, and in tribunals such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the United Nations Authority in East Timor, and the Khmer Rouge Tribunal Task Force of the Royal Government of Cambodia.

Hamed Esmaeilion, spokesman of an association representing the families of the victims, said in an Instagram post on Friday that Akhavan had been appointed by the "after months of efforts [by the association] and discussion with the Canadian government.

Family members of the victims of the tragedy filed a class action lawsuit in Canada on January 24, 2020, against Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), who operated the missile battery, as well as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as commander-in-chief of the Iranian armed forces. Iran attributed the targeting of the plane to errors in aligning the mobile surface-to-air missile battery. A Canadian government report in December 2020 said that the matter had been complicated by Ottawa’s designation of Iran as a ‘state sponsor of terrorism.’

A British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National and journalist at Iran International
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