Canada’s State Immunity Act generally gives foreign governments immunity in Canadian courts, making it very difficult for survivors to seek compensation for torture and other atrocities committed by those governments. In 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada in the Kazemi case ruled that immunity must be applied even in civil lawsuits involving the torture of Canadians. The court pointed to Parliament’s responsibility for creating new exceptions to state immunity, including for torture.

Several years ago, an amendment to the State Immunity Act was proposed by several Canadian organizations and individual lawyers but was not pursued again after the federal elections of 2006. Beginning with the conclusions reached at an important workshop of experts, CCIJ has been leading efforts to seek other means for amending the State Immunity Act.

On March 3, 2010, MP Irwin Cotler re-introduced a bill in Parliament to deny immunity to countries and officials alleged to be responsible for atrocities. The bill would have created a human rights exception to the State Immunity Act’s general rule that foreign governments cannot be sued in Canadian courts. The exception would have removed the key barrier to lawsuits involving torture, genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Leading up to the introduction of the bill, CCIJ testified before the House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights as part of the Subcommittee’s series of hearings on human rights in Iran. CCIJ expressed to the committee the need to amend the State Immunity Act to allow survivors of torture to seek redress and compensation against governments and officials responsible for their torture.

The Subcommittee released its report in December 2010 and recommended that the Government of Canada remove immunity in cases of gross violations of human rights law.

CCIJ again appeared before the International Human Rights Subcommittee March 2011 to advocate for the passage of the bill.

In November 2010, the Senate of Canada passed legislation to amend the State Immunity Act and allow suits against countries that support terrorism. CCIJ called on the government to also remove immunity in cases of torture, genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Although the bill did not pass the House of Commons before the 2011 election, the provisions removing immunity in cases of terrorism were included in the Omnibus Crime Bill (C-10) that was passed into law in 2012.