Canada must not extradite Diab regardless of coming French court decision: lawyer

·5 min read

OTTAWA — The Canadian government should not be part of any further wrongful extradition of Hassan Diab regardless of the outcome of a looming French Supreme Court ruling, his lawyer said Wednesday.

Donald Bayne told a virtual news conference the government should assure the Ottawa sociology professor and Canadians that the country will not be involved in any further injustice.

A Jan. 27 decision by the French appeal court ordering Diab stand trial has been appealed by his French lawyers and Bayne said the French Supreme Court will decide on this appeal next Wednesday.

"There was a wrongful extradition of a Canadian citizen, Dr. Diab, by Canada in 2014 — not for trial as legally required, but for further investigation," Bayne said.

French authorities suspected Diab was involved in the 1980 bombing of a Paris synagogue that killed four people and injured dozens of others, an accusation he has consistently denied.

After lengthy proceedings that went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, Diab was extradited to France, where he spent three years behind bars, including time in solitary confinement.

In January 2018, French judges dismissed the allegations against him for lack of evidence and ordered his immediate release. After that court ruling, Diab, 67, came back to Ottawa to live with his wife and young children.

"While he was in solitary confinement in France, two experienced French investigative judges, experts in terrorism cases, investigated for over three years and produced a body of reliable confirmed, even scientific, evidence of innocence," Diab's lawyer said.

The French Supreme Court held a hearing on Wednesday.

Bayne said even if the court returns to the "sanity" of the investigative judges and rules in favour of Diab, the case will still be returned to the French appeal court, according to the rules of the country’s legal system.

He said there are influential groups in France lobbying for Diab to stand trial and accused authorities in the country of pursuing him for political purposes.

David Taylor, a spokesman for Justice Minister David Lametti, said the government is aware of the hearing that took place Wednesday, but it would not be appropriate to provide further comment as the domestic proceedings in France remain ongoing.

Ihsaan Gardee, director of programs and communication at Amnesty International Canada, said his organization was deeply disappointed that French authorities pursued an appeal of the court decision dismissing the case against Diab.

"It was particularly troubling that the appeal process took three years, once again, leaving Hassan and his family in a state of agonizing concern," he said.

He said the process that Diab faced has been marked by violations of important international human rights obligations with respect to arbitrary arrest and detention, fair trials and holding him in solitary confinement.

"The appeal ruling essentially opens the door now to more of the same," he said.

The national co-ordinator of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, an Ottawa-based coalition of 45 groups, called on the Canadian government to commit to not extraditing Diab.

"We don't know what the outcome of the legal process in France will be. What we do have control over, though, is what happens in Canada," Tim McSorley said.

"We're calling on Prime Minister Trudeau today to state in the strongest possible terms to his French counterparts that the pursuit of Hassan Diab must end."

Trudeau signalled in March that Canada will "stand up" for Diab, but his words left Diab's supporters wishing Trudeau had been more forceful in pledging assistance.

He said Ottawa has been communicating with officials in France about the case and will continue to do so.

"It has been a priority for us to make sure that we're standing up for our citizens all around the world, with countries that are challenging, but also with our allies," he said.

"And those conversations will continue."

McSorley said there's also a need to fix the flawed Canadian laws that sent Diab down this path in the first place.

"What happened to Hassan (Diab) has laid bare the fundamental flaws in Canada's extradition system," he said.

He said leading experts on extradition law have been calling for change for years and the federal government must now listen.

"These same experts have also presented concrete proposals on how these problems can be addressed," he said.

"We're asking Prime Minister Trudeau, along with Justice Minister Lametti, to commit to making these changes to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again."

Taylor of the Justice Department said that an independent review of Diab's extradition case conducted by Murray Segal, former chief legal adviser to the Ontario government, raised a number of important and complex issues around the extradition process, and offered recommendations that the department has already begun to implement.

"These recommendations touch on operational policies and ways to increase the transparency, fairness and efficiency of the extradition process," he said in a statement.

"The 124-page report also highlighted concerns that extradition is not well-understood by the public. The Department of Justice has taken steps to improve the information it provides to the public on how extradition works and what Canada does throughout the extradition process."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 12, 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press