OTTAWA -- A Canadian court on Thursday (May 20) ruled that the shooting down of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 over Tehran was deliberate and an "act of terrorism", paving the way for possible compensation for victims' families.
The Superior Court of Justice of Ontario found that "on a balance of probabilities", two missile strikes on the jetliner shortly after takeoff from Iran's capital Tehran on January 8, 2020 "were intentional".
"The plaintiffs have established that the shooting down of Flight 752 by the defendants was an act of terrorism," Justice Edward Belobaba also ruled.
Lawyers Mark and Jonah Arnold called the decision "unprecedented in Canadian law".
"It is significant for the impact it will have on immediate surviving family members seeking justice," they said in a statement.
The legal action seeking $1.5 billion CAD ($1.25 billion US) was brought by four people who lost family members in the disaster that killed all 176 aboard, including 85 Canadian citizens and permanent residents.
They claimed the strikes were "Iran's retaliation" for the US killing of Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force, near Baghdad Airport in Iraq days earlier.
Obfuscating the truth
In a final report in March, the Iranian Civil Aviation Organisation (CAO) pointed to the missile strikes and the "alertness" of its troops on the ground amid heightened tensions between Iran and the United States at the time.
The long-awaited report devoted only two paragraphs to causes and attempted to absolve the armed forces.
A single individual, the air defence operator, erred, causing the tragedy, concluded the report.
Ukraine, which lost 11 citizens in the disaster, said the report was "a cynical attempt to hide (the) true causes" of the tragedy, while Canada said it contained "no hard facts or evidence" and pledged to release the results of its own investigation.
Iran did not defend itself in court, but the Islamic Republic admitted three days after the disaster that the IRGC shot down the Kyiv-bound plane.
The delay in admission came despite video and circumstantial evidence pointing to a surface-to-air missile hitting the airliner.
That admission -- and the appearance of an attempted cover-up -- sparked days of anti-government protests in Iran last year.
The amount of compensation to be awarded to the victims is to be determined at a later hearing.
Foreign states are normally immune to Canadian civil claims, but a 2012 law made an exception for those listed as sponsors of "terrorist activity", such as Iran. Canada broke off diplomatic ties with Iran that same year.