Toronto lawyer, Aga Khan call truce

A Toronto lawyer who settled a copyright dispute with the Aga Khan says he has no regrets about how the high-profile case played out.

Alnaz Jiwa had previously refused to believe the Aga Khan was the man behind the action requesting he halt distribution of unauthorized copies of the imam’s teachings but at a face-to-face meeting in Toronto on Oct. 15, he got the message straight from the source.

“If he doesn’t want us to do something, there is no way I am going to do it,” Jiwa tells Law Times.

According to Jiwa, the parties agreed that he and his co-defendant Nagib Tajdin, a Canadian businessman based in Kenya, would stop selling their book of collected Farmans, a type of religious teaching delivered by the Aga Khan to his Ismaili followers.

Jiwa says the defendants won’t be forced to recall the 5,000 books they had already sold and that further meetings would flesh out the terms of the settlement.

“It was a positive outcome that we’re all satisfied with, and I think we’ll all be able to move forward quite well.”

The meeting came after a court ordered the Aga Khan to appear for a 15-minute examination for discovery during a brief stop in the city to deliver the keynote address at the Institute for Canadian Citizenship’s annual LaFontaine-Baldwin Symposium.

Although Jiwa had earlier waived his right to examine his leader, Tajdin persisted. Eventually, Federal Court prothonotary Mireille Tabib ordered the Aga Khan to appear on Sept. 24.

Brian Gray, the senior partner at Ogilvy Renault LLP who represented the Aga Khan in the case, says he’s unable to comment on the meeting.

He had fought the appearance right down to the wire. Two days before his client’s arrival in Toronto, Federal Court Justice Richard Boivin dismissed his motion to set aside Tabib’s order. A day later, Gray said the meeting shouldn’t proceed because Jiwa had yet to file an affidavit of documents in the case.

In a letter submitted to the Federal Court, Tajdin asked for Gray to be found in contempt of court if the discovery didn’t happen. He also wanted Gray to foot the bill for his flight from Nairobi.

“We’re not going to have the Aga Khan show up unless the court orders him to do so,” Gray told the Ottawa Citizen.

That’s exactly what Tabib did by reaffirming her original decision and noting Jiwa’s failure to file was “not material” to her order given the waiver of his own rights of discovery.

Despite all of the fuss, Jiwa says the Aga Khan seemed happy to be there and describes the tone of the 25-minute meeting as “cordial and respectful.”

“When he came here, there was nothing in his facial expression or any comments he made that indicated he was at all reluctant,” Jiwa says.

“I think Mr. Gray either did not want to impose on him to come or thought we may be able to settle it ourselves, but this was an issue where the imam’s input was absolutely essential.”

Jiwa is also confident the Aga Khan holds no grudges, despite the defendants’ assertions that other senior Ismailis were actually leading the action and that letters purporting to come from the imam were forgeries.

In Tajdin’s statement of defence, he railed against the “usurper plaintiff” and claimed the Aga Khan had given his blessing to publishing the materials during a ceremony in Montreal in 1992.

At the meeting in Toronto, Tajdin veered from the typical format of examinations for discovery by simply asking for the Aga Khan’s guidance.

“We would never fight the imam,” Jiwa says. “It’s just not possible. You cannot be a believer and then fight your own spiritual leader. I firmly believe in the imam and I would lay my life for him any time.”

He adds that their assertions came from a desire to protect the Aga Khan. “It’s not unheard of that imams in the past have been misled, and there have been splits in the community.

My understanding was that the imam appreciated that. He could have voiced his displeasure, but I did not read that at all. He left a very positive sense.”

But in the Ismaili community, Jiwa and Tajdin may still have some convincing to do. In the wake of the lawsuit, some people have turned against the pair.
“There are some people who looked at me with an evil eye,” Jiwa says.

“Some people in the community did not understand what we have been saying. They work on the assumption that we were fighting the imam or the community when in fact we are completely not.”

In Jiwa’s opinion, distribution of the Farmans would be good for the entire community because followers have been unable to get copies of the Aga Khan’s teachings in recent years.

But a recent announcement to the worldwide Ismaili congregation, he says, has indicated that officials in the Aga Khan’s office are considering a proposal to compile their own authorized collection of Farmans.

“That was our whole intent - that the Farmans should be available to the followers. That’s exactly why we were doing it, so if it happens, I think the whole community will benefit.”

Despite the upheaval the case has brought him, Jiwa has no regrets about the way it has panned out. “I would have preferred we had the meeting without the court order,” he says.

“It would have been better if it had come earlier without conditions, but things, I guess, had to happen as they did and we are all satisfied.”

For more on this story, see "Lawyer sued by Aga Khan keeping the faith," "Lawyer sued by Aga Khan fights back," and "Aga Khan insists: 'I am the plaintiff.'"

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