In 2004, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that the State Immunity Act prevented torture survivor Houshang Bouzari from pursuing a case against Iran. Following the ruling, the United Nations Committee Against Torture, the body tasked with overseeing the implementation of the Convention Against Torture, signaled that Canada has incorrectly interpreted its legal obligations under the treaty. In 2006, Canada told the Committee it was only obligated to provide legal remedies to people tortured in Canada. The Committee rejected this interpretation and instead told Canada it must provide remedies to all torture survivors.
In April 2012, CCIJ submitted a report to the Committee against Torture. CCIJ’s report focused on Canada’s application of immunity and its ongoing violation of obligations under the Convention to provide civil redress to survivors of torture.
The Committee examined Canada on May 21 and 22, 2012. The Canadian Press reported that Canadian officials expected to be “grilled” about several subjects relating to torture. Talking points for Canada’s delegation on the issue of civil redress for survivors of torture that occurred outside Canada show that the Canadian government continues to cling to the claim – already thoroughly rejected by the Committee – that the Torture Convention does not obligate Canada to provide survivors access to Canadian courts. The talking points then assert that providing access to the courts would contravene principles of state immunity. However, the talking points go on to discuss the passage of Bill C-10 and its elimination of immunity in cases of terrorism without addressing why that particular contravention of the principles of state immunity is permissible.
In its concluding observations, the Committee made several favourable comments concerning the issues CCIJ addressed. In particular:
“The Committee remains concerned at the lack of effective measures to provide redress, including compensation, through civil jurisdiction to all victims of torture, mainly due to the restrictions under provisions of the State Immunity Act (art. 14). The State party should ensure that all victims of torture are able to access remedy and obtain redress, wherever acts of torture occurred and regardless of the nationality of the perpetrator or victim. In this regard, it should consider amending the State Immunity Act to remove obstacles to redress for all victims of torture.”