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Photographs of the victims of the Ukraine International Airline crash are placed by a makeshift memorial at Mel Lastman Square on Jan. 9, 2020.

Fred Lum/the Globe and Mail

Canadian lawyers, who previously successfully sued Iran, are seeking class action status in a lawsuit on behalf of victims aboard a Ukrainian plane shot down over Tehran last month, looking for at least C$1.5 billion ($1.1 billion) in compensation.

The suit names Iran, its supreme leader, the elite Revolutionary Guards and others as defendants.

Iran admitted its missiles downed the Ukrainian airliner by mistake on Jan. 8, killing all 176 people aboard, including 57 Canadians.

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The lead plaintiff in the case is anonymous, preliminarily identified as John Doe, and described as immediate family to a victim identified as Jack Doe.

The filing says John Doe’s identity must be protected because of the risk that “his Iranian family would be put at risk of harm or death by the Iranian regime.”

The suit alleges that the downing of the plane was “an intentional and deliberate act of terrorism.”

Iranian authorities did not immediately comment on Friday, when government offices are closed.

Jonah Arnold is co-lead counsel with his father Mark Arnold, who has represented clients in several suits against Iran, including a 2017 appeal decision that led to seizure of some Iranian assets in Canada.

The 2017 ruling was in a case brought by U.S. victims of bombings, killings and kidnappings that U.S. courts ruled Iran was responsible for. But the plaintiffs could not claim the $1.7 billion in judgments in the United States.

It was not clear whether Iran has any assets remaining in Canada. Arnold said the case would likely unfold over years, and any judgment could be renewed and enforced in the future.

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“Providing a voice for the families and seeking compensation for them in the courts is the primary objective,” Jonah Arnold said. “When we get there, and we need to look for those assets, that’s what we’ll do.”

Besides Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, others named in the lawsuit are top commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, including the head of the unit responsible for shooting down the plane, Amirali Hajizadeh.

Foreign states are not typically within the jurisdiction of Canadian courts. A 2012 Canadian law limited that immunity for countries Ottawa lists as “foreign state supporters of terrorism,” currently Iran and Syria.

The suit was filed Jan. 24 in Toronto, but it is not clear whether it has been served on defendants in Iran.

Arnold said the Canadian government is required to ensure that happens, and that he has received confirmation that the suit is “en route.”

Global Affairs Canada did not immediately comment.

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The case is Doe v Islamic Republic of Iran et al, Ontario Superior Court of Justice, No. CV-20-635078.

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