Only those countries that Ottawa says are supporters of terrorism could be sued in Canada by victims of terrorist acts, according to a bill introduced Tuesday.
"This legislation will amend the State Immunity Act to lift state immunity for those states that are designated by the government of Canada to be sponsors of terrorism," Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan told reporters at a morning news conference.
"The ministers of Finance and Foreign Affairs will have the discretion to identify the property and assets of those states within Canadian jurisdiction so that those assets may be used to seek compensation in the event of terrorist acts."
The legislation unveiled by Mr. Van Loan puts the meat on an announcement made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Sunday. It comes after years of lobbying by victims groups and others.
The Public Safety Minister would not say which states would be designated as sponsors of terrorism and which would not. That will have to wait until the legislation is proclaimed into law, he explained.
When asked if the United States, Israel or India could be put on the list, Mr. Van Loan said the Governor-General, acting on the advice of the federal cabinet, would make the final determination.
In 1996, the United States amended it Congress Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act to allow American victims of terrorism to sue designated foreign states. By 2008, the U.S. courts had awarded more than $19-billion against those states their officials, but only about 2 per cent had been collected.
"Obviously you hope for a higher recovery than that but that's just a reality in any kind of lawsuit," said Mr. Van Loan who denied the suggestion that this was just a stunt to appease certain special interest groups.
Fifteen of the 19 terrorists who participated in the bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York in September of 2001 were from Saudi Arabia. Even though 24 Canadians were killed in the attack, diplomatic considerations make it unlikely the Canadian government would put Saudi Arabia on the list of states that could be sued.
But Mr. Van Loan said it is important to remember that, just because terrorists belong to a particular nationality, does not mean that their country of origin supports terrorism.
"We know that we have watched people here who are potential terrorists. In no way does the government of Canada condone their terrorism," he said.
"What this bill will allow people to do is sue, not just states that are designated as state sponsors, but also individuals who have been involved who have been involved in supporting or undertaking terrorist acts and also organizations that have been involved in undertaking or supporting terrorists acts."
He would not say whether victims of the 1985 Air India bombing would be permitted to sue the perpetrators under the new legislation but pointed out that the bill covers the period beginning in 1985 and said Canadians could make their own inferences.
The news conference was the second in as many days held by the Public Safety Minister to introduce a criminal-justice measure.
Opposition critics have suggested the heavy emphasis this week on law and order may be an effort to distract Canadians from bad news on the economy - including the deficit, which will top $50-billion, and the controversial bail-out of General Motors.
But Mr. Van Loan said he must keep people safe regardless of what is happening in the economy.
"As Minister of Public Safety, I have to do my job to ensure that Canadians are kept safe and secure. I am not going to stop doing my job just because there are other issues in other areas," he said.
"What would the impact be on the Canadian economy if we were victims of a serious terrorist act? It would be a pretty serious impact."Report Typo/Error