The CBC wants a lawsuit claiming it outed a gay Iranian refugee dismissed, saying in its legal response the man took too long to bring his case to court.
Nearly nine years after first airing the documentary Out in Iran: Inside Iran’s Secret Gay World, the broadcaster is fighting claims it outed Farzam Dadashzadeh after the film went viral in Iran. Dadashzadeh alleges his outing led to a violent backlash before he was able to flee the country.
Filed in B.C. Supreme Court last month, the CBC’s response to Dadashzadeh’s lawsuit states the corporation denies allegations of negligence and breach of privacy, stating it “ensured that there was knowledge of the filming” which occurred in a public place where Dadashzadeh “remained and therefore consented to the filming.”
“The area of filming was a public place and those present were informed that filming would occur and given the opportunity to absent themselves during filming,” the document states. “The plaintiff had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the circumstances.”
In addition, it claims the film was “prepared as a result of CBC’s journalistic, artistic and creative endeavours, and is therefore excluded from liability for invasion of privacy” under the Privacy Act, adding the “publication complained of was a matter of public interest.”
Dadashzadeh admits in his lawsuit he knew of the film, Out in Iran: Inside Iran’s Secret Gay World, when it first aired in March 2007. The CBC claims the limitation period has long expired given Dadashzadeh took until August 15, 2016 to file suit.
In an affidavit filed Dec. 5, Dadashzadeh provides insight as to why he took so long to file his lawsuit, in part because he knew nothing of the Canadian legal system and was unable to find a lawyer willing to take the case. The document also details his journey from Iran to Turkey, where he first claimed refugee status, before being sponsored by a Calgary church to come to Canada.
It began with a phone call in March 2007 from a cousin who’d seen the film and recognized him, calling to say he was ashamed and wanted no more contact. That same month, his family found out he was gay and he’s been “alienated” from them ever since, save an aunt who lives outside the Islamic Republic who financially supported him during his limbo before gaining refugee status.
“I was shocked and horrified that my face had been exposed in the documentary,” his affidavit states. “At no time prior to seeing the documentary was I aware that I had been filmed by any person who was making a documentary about gay people in Iran.”
Dadashzadeh claims he was beaten at a restaurant by a person who recognized him from the film only to be arrested himself, spending a week in “filthy conditions” in a Tehran prison cell, where he was beaten and raped by other inmates.
After his release, Dadashzadeh claims he was forced out of university, lost his job as a hair stylist, and rejected from mandatory military service for having a “sexual disorder.” After his military rejection, he claims the Iranian government began harassing him, making his life “unbearable and unsafe.”
Dadashzadeh further claims “other gay people who were filmed in the documentary were forced to leave Iran or suffer possible arrest.”
He fled to Turkey, arriving in Ankara in June 2011. In July that year, he claims he first learned of the CBC’s involvement in producing the film from a friend. He left Turkey for Calgary in February 2014, and according to his affidavit, BBC reporter Bahman Kulbasi contacted him and suggested he speak with a Toronto-based lawyer. That lawyer advised him “any claims against the CBC would be very difficult as they were a large government owned corporation,” according to the affidavit.
He claims he provided the lawyer with further details, but never heard back from him. Lacking a permanent residency card and wary of challenging a government-owned entity, Dadashzadeh claims he felt nothing could be done to help him.
“My past experiences with governments in Iran and Turkey was that they could move swiftly to change a person’s legal status and they could easily act with force without any notice,” the affidavit states. “I had no understanding how the government of Canada would react in my situation if I took any steps against the CBC especially since I had not received my permanent resident card at that time.”
By September 2015, Dadashzadeh had his permanent residency, working in Calgary at a Shoppers Drug Mart, where a customer suggested she could possibly assist him since she worked as a legal assistant, but it turned out her firm counted the CBC as a client.
“I felt that no lawyer or any person in Canada had given me any reason or hope to think I could take any steps against the CBC,” he claims.
After moving to Vancouver in the summer of 2016, he contacted his current lawyer, Ib Petersen based on advice from a friend.
“They were the first lawyers in Canada who were willing to meet with me to discuss the circumstances of my life following the production of the CBC documentary,” he says in the affidavit.
Petersen declined to comment on this story. CBC’s lawyer, Daniel Burnett, also declined comment.
“I don’t think it appropriate for me or my client to speak about the action beyond what is said in the court filings and submissions,” Burnett said in an email to CANADALAND.
The parties have a court hearing scheduled in B.C. Supreme Court on Jan. 6, 2017.
The full documents filed in court by Dadashzadeh and the CBC: