The Windsor Star
By Sheryl Saperia
Sheryl Saperia is a legal adviser for the Canadian Coalition Against Terror (C-CAT) and specializes in government relations at the High Park Group
Recently, Prof. Lloyd Brown-John took the government to task in this space for introducing Bill C-35, the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act, which would allow victims of terror to launch civil lawsuits against their wrongdoers. Respectfully, Prof. Brown-John should do his homework before issuing a blistering attack on an important legislative project initiated by Canadian terror victims.
First, while the bill does indeed allow victims to pursue the terrorists themselves in court, this is not the primary objective. Accordingly, the professor’s statement that Osama bin Laden is unlikely to be shaking in his cave is disingenuous. Rather, the bill is intended to allow terror victims to launch civil suits against the financial sponsors of terrorism (not just state sponsors, as the professor claims, but local individuals and organizations as well). Unlike terrorists, these terror sponsors are not hiding in caves. Some are at the helm of powerful nation states and others are living in Canada and other countries in comfort. And, as one terror financing expert has pointed out, the bankers of terror “are the weak link in the chain of violence” because “they have too much to lose by transparency.” They care about their reputation, wealth and freedom. Civil suits against them, with the attendant negative publicity and exposure, threaten these very privileges and can therefore deter sponsorship of terror.
Without the sponsorship, there can be no terror. Simply put, cutting off the money supply will prevent terror attacks. And since the criminal justice system has had so little success in successfully prosecuting terror financing, it is important to harness the additional tool of civil lawsuits. The more flexible standard of proof in civil trials means that evidence establishing a defendant’s status as a supporter of terror, which may not be sufficient for conviction in a criminal proceeding, can be enough to establish liability in a civil proceeding.
Not only does the professor misunderstand the primary objective of the bill and the nature of terror sponsorship, he has also misread the bill’s provisions. His article is misinformed and replete with factual errors.
For instance, the professor confuses Bill C-35 with two other pieces of legislation on the order paper in the Senate and the House of Commons. Quoting erroneously and interchangeably from both, he presents a skewed image of the basic mechanics of the bill and its potential efficacy as a tool in the fight against terrorism.
Prof. Brown-John also states that the legislation would allow “any Canadians who allege themselves ‘victims of terrorism'” to launch a civil suit. This is simply untrue. On the contrary, the legislation sets out clear terms for who may sue: a person who has suffered loss or damage as a result of a breach of the terrorism laws within the Criminal Code. Victimhood is not a matter of individual interpretation that can be claimed without grounds.
Furthermore, the professor contends that the legislation allows the ministers of Finance and Justice to assist terror victims in locating the assets of a terror-sponsoring foreign state in other parts of the world. Once again, the legislation explicitly states otherwise, permitting the ministers of Finance and Foreign Affairs (not the minister of Justice, professor) to provide such assistance only when the property is situated in Canada and within Canadian jurisdiction. The broad principles upon which Bill C-35 is based are sound and worthy of consideration. For those interested in learning more, I would encourage them to contact the Canadian Coalition Against Terror. C-CAT is a non-partisan advocacy group comprised of Canadian terror victims, counterterrorism professionals, lawyers and other individuals committed to enhancing Canada’s counterterrorism policies and assisting terror victims in rebuilding their lives. We always do our homework.