Passers-by or vandals curious about the seemingly abandoned property at 2 Robinson Avenue in Sandy Hill might assume it has stood empty…

Passers-by or vandals curious about the seemingly abandoned property at 2 Robinson Avenue in Sandy Hill might assume it has stood empty for four years because of an ordinary reason, such as developer delays or trouble selling it.

Instead, the warehouse-like property in Sandy Hill is in legal limbo – the focus of a complex international court case that ties the building to foreign espionage and 1983 bombings in Beirut.

Now the white-brick building stands quiet. From time to time, different-coloured cars occupy the overgrown asphalt driveway, but the lights never seem to be on inside.

A break in the fence behind the building encourages graffiti tagging.
While the building has been quiet, the international legal battle for its control has not.

Since 2012, the state of Iran has been struggling to resist the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act, introduced by the Harper government, in Canadian courts. The act allows victims of violence to seek legal damages from states that fund government-designated terrorist groups.

The majority of the plaintiffs involved in the lawsuit, many of whom have lost family to bombings abroad, were awarded large sums in the U.S. The Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act allows them to continue claiming those sums in Canada.

The large Sandy Hill property is estimated to be worth close to $3 million, and it’s one of the non-diplomatic assets the U.S. victims are seeking.

Other assets involved in the lawsuit include a house in Toronto and money seized from Canadian bank accounts linked to the embassy worth over $2-million.

The Ottawa building was once an Iranian Cultural Centre run by a non-profit Mobin Foundation and funded by the country’s embassy. Inside, teachers offered Farsi lessons and hosted cultural events.

The Mobin Foundation, with offices listed on Carling Avenue, is now listed as “dissolution pending” in corporate records for failure to submit annual filings. The foundation’s director is Seyed Adeli, a former Iranian ambassador to Canada.

Before the Iranian embassy was shut down in 2012, the centre attracted criticism after Iranian academics living in Ottawa made accusations of propaganda and spying.

Court documents have pointed towards activities linked to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the state’s admitted goal to recruit supporters in Canada to “occupy high-level key positions.”

The case has been ongoing for four years, complicated by the lack of diplomatic ties between Iran and Canada. In the latest decision made this past summer, Justice Glenn Hainey ruled in favour of the victims of Hamas and Hezbollah.

“Terrorism is one of the world’s greatest threats,” wrote Hainey in his decision. “The broad issue before the court is whether Iran is entitled to immunity from the jurisdiction of Canadian courts for its support of terrorism.”

Iran has argued that its diplomatic immunity should protect its Canadian bank accounts and properties. Hainey disagreed, ordering the properties to be given to the victims.

Colin Stevenson, one of the Toronto lawyers representing Iran, said the country would appeal the decision. He said a date is expected next April.