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September 29, 2013 – Hamas suicide bombing victim files first Canadian lawsuit against Iran under new anti-terrorism laws.
A Vancouver dentist injured in a 1997 Hamas suicide bombing has filed a lawsuit against Iran — the first such case to be launched under a new Canadian law that allows victims to collect damages from state sponsors of terrorism.
Dr. Sherri Wise, 43, filed the notice of claim in British Columbia Supreme Court on Friday. It names the Islamic Republic of Iran and the powerful ministry of security as defendants. It does not seek a specific dollar amount in damages.
Dr. Wise was volunteering at a Jerusalem dental clinic for underprivileged kids when she was badly wounded when three bombs packed with nails and glass exploded. She is suing Iran because it has long armed, financed and trained Hamas to conduct terror attacks.
The suit comes more than a year after the federal government enacted the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act, which paved the way for such cases by lifting state immunity from countries that sponsor terrorism. Iran was designated a state sponsor last September, along with Syria.
“This is the first case to be filed in Canada under the new anti-terrorism legislation,” said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, one of the lawyers who has been helping Ms. Wise prepare her case. She is director of the Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center, which pioneered the use of civil courts to fight terrorism.
While the family of an American killed in the same Sept. 4, 1997 attack on Jerusalem’s busy Ben Yahuda Street pedestrian mall has already won a large judgment against Iran in U.S. courts, Dr. Wise had to wait until Canada changed its laws before she could sue, she said.
“We are very hopeful that we can win the same measure of justice and opportunity for compensation for Sherri in Canada,” she said. “It is crucial to sue the terror groups, their state sponsors and the banks that provide them financial services. Civil litigation is a powerful weapon in deterring the terrorists and their criminal patrons.”
Since the terror victims’ law came into effect, two cases have come before the Ontario court — both involving American citizens who won judgments against Iran in U.S. courts and are trying to collect in Canada. But Dr. Wise’s case will be the first real test of the law.
On her final day volunteering at the dental clinic, Dr. Wise met friends at an outdoor café on the popular pedestrian mall locals call the Midrachov. The sun was out and the mall was crowded when she saw a man dressed as a woman approach.
The first bomb threw her off her chair. She looked up in time to see the second bomber pull his detonation cord. All three bombs went off within 30 seconds.
Deafened by the blast, she found the backpack containing her Canadian passport so that if she died, she could be identified. Clutching the passport, she waited amidst the chaos — the screams, blood, limbs, bodies and sirens. Three of the dead were 14-year-old girls.
The nails the terrorists had packed around their bombs had peppered both her legs and a bolt had gone through her foot. Most of her hair was gone and 40% of her body was burned. “It was obvious what had happened, but I just remember thinking that I had to live,” she told the National Post in a 2009 interview. “I did not want them to call my parents and tell them I had died.”
The Palestinian terrorist group Hamas later claimed responsibility. After two weeks in an Israeli hospital, Dr. Wise flew back to Canada. She stayed with her parents in Winnipeg before returning to Vancouver. She resumed work as a dentist in December 1998. A single mother, she still has a dental practice.
Throughout the aftermath of the attack, she said, she received no assistance from the government of Canada. Likewise, her insurance company would not cover her because she had been injured by an act of terrorism. Moreover, she could not sue Iran for its role as a sponsor of Hamas because it was protected by state immunity.
But Iran lost that immunity last September, and victims are now coming forward to go after its assets. The Israel Law Centre has recently set up an office in Toronto to handle the cases. Outside Canada, the group has won over $1-billion in judgments for terror victims, and collected $120-million. Its motto is: Bankrupting terrorism, one lawsuit at a time.
“We believe that the Canadian courts can send a strong message to Iran and other outlaw regimes and terror groups that they will be legally pursued to all the far corners of the world by the terror victims,” Ms. Darshan-Leitner said. “We see Canada as a new and important theatre for financially destroying those who perpetrate terror attacks world-wide.”
Dr. Wise declined to comment on the legal proceedings.
According to a 2002 Canadian Security Intelligence Service report obtained by the National Post, the relationship between Iran and Hamas dates back to 1993, when the Palestinian terror group opened an office in Tehran.
“Iran also offers financial support to Hamas. Various reports estimate the funding at between three and 18 million U.S. dollars per annum. Hamas receives substantial support from other Muslim countries as well. In 1998, [then-Hamas lead Ahmed] Yassin made a four-month tour of Islamic states and is reputed to have secured some US$60-million in donations, much of it from the Gulf States,” it says.
“Financial support is also received from the government of Saudi Arabia, as well as charities in France, Britain, Germany and North America. Hamas has training camps in Iran, Lebanon and Sudan. Hamas camps in Lebanon are said to be under Iranian supervision. Syria also contributes with the provision of safe houses and offices used for recruitment.”