An article from the Montreal Gazette on the historic lawsuit brought by the Palestinian village of Bil’in against Quebec-based companies Green Park International Inc. and Green Mount International Inc. which just wrapped up after three days in a Montreal courtroom.

June 25, 2009, by Sue Montgomery

MONTREAL — Two Canadian companies that are building condominiums for Israeli settlers in the West Bank are committing a war crime, a lawyer representing a tiny Palestinian farming village that is trying to sue the firms by using Canada’s War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity Act argued Thursday.

After three days of hearings in Quebec Superior Court on motions filed by lawyers of Green Park International Inc. and Green Mount International Inc. to have the suit thrown out, lawyer Mark Arnold argued the case should go to trial.

Justice Louis-Paul Cullen is unlikely to render a decision before September.

Outside the courtroom, Arnold said if the case is allowed to go ahead and if the village of Bil’in wins, it will be a precedent-setting victory for those fighting for corporate responsibility around the world.

“There are all kinds of examples of Canadian companies doing very bad things, for example, in the Congo, in El Salvador, all around the world,” he said. “This will have the effect of stopping that and making lives better for those people.

“We’re trying to protect the lives of people in the world who are subject to human rights abuses.”

Ronald Levy, the lawyer representing the two firms, argued that an Israeli court had already determined that the plaintiff in the suit was not the owner of the land. He also argued that the Quebec court didn’t have jurisdiction to hear the case.

But Arnold said that because the two companies are registered in Canada, allegedly to avoid liability abroad, the court can and should hear it.

Annette Laroche, an employee at a Montreal law firm, is named as the sole director of the companies, but Arnold said the defendants provided no further information about Green Park or Green Mount.

An affidavit from the firms’ project manager said Laroche didn’t know anything about the construction and Levy pointed out that the building projects began in 2003 — five years before Laroche was named director.

Arnold argued in court that since Laroche was the only “warm body” they could connect to the companies, she should have provided an affidavit.

“It would be easy for her to absolve herself by telling us what her involvement is,” he said, adding that the companies didn’t want her testifying because they don’t want the public to know what they’re up to.

Canada’s War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity Act of 2000 recognizes as a war crime an occupying power transferring parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies. The West Bank has been under Israeli military occupation since 1967.

This suit is the first attempt at applying the law in a civil case.

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