Hassan Diab’s supporters are calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to reject any further attempts by France to extradite him to stand trial — and to push French prosecutors to drop all terrorism charges against the Ottawa academic.
France’s case against Diab in connection with a bombing outside a Paris synagogue 40 years ago is set to go to trial next year — more than five years after Diab was set free due to a lack of evidence.
French authorities have not yet requested Diab’s extradition to France to stand trial in person. Diab’s lawyers have said he could be tried in absentia.
“It shows that political expediency and the need to find a scapegoat for the bombing is more important than justice. And the silence of our own government makes this worse,” said Jo Wood of the Hassan Diab support network.
“We fear there will be a guilty verdict in France and that the Canadian government will approve an extradition, this time with no return.”
Last year, France’s court of appeal overturned a lower court decision that released Diab and allowed him to return to Canada. France’s top court later rejected Diab’s appeal and ordered him to stand trial. That trial is set to start April 3, 2023.
‘Surreal and disgraceful’
Chantalle Aubertin, spokesperson for Justice Minister David Lametti, said it would be “inappropriate to speculate on any potential requests for extradition for Dr. Diab to France.”
“Canada is a rule of law country where extraditions are guided by the Extradition Act, international treaties and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” she added in a written statement to CBC News.
French prosecutors have persisted in their attempts to bring Diab to trial despite serious problems with physical evidence central to their case and the discovery by French investigators that Diab wasn’t even in Paris on the day of the bombing. Diab was in Lebanon at the time, writing university exams.
Alex Neve, former secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, described France’s dismissal of Diab’s alibi and its weak case as “surreal and disgraceful.”
“The exculpatory evidence, carefully investigated and confirmed by French judges, makes it clear that he was not and could not have been at the scene of this horrific attack,” he said. “Politics is driving this, not justice, not the rule of law.”
France’s advocate general — a senior officer of the law who offers advice in the French legal system — sided with Diab’s defence team during the appeal hearings and argued for his release.
But Diab’s release has been opposed by more than 20 civil society groups in France, including groups representing victims of terrorism and pro-Israel organizations.
Accusation and extradition
The Ottawa university lecturer was accused by authorities of involvement in the 1980 Rue Copernic bombing, which killed four people and injured more than 40.
He was arrested by the RCMP in November 2008 and placed under strict bail conditions until he was extradited to France in 2014. He spent more than three years in prison in France before the case against him collapsed.
He was released in January 2018 after two French judges ruled the evidence against him wasn’t strong enough to take to trial. He was never formally charged.
French prosecutors appealed Diab’s release promptly — pursuing it after the last remaining piece of physical evidence linking Diab to the bombing had been discredited by France’s own experts.
“France has given up any claim to say that there is any good faith whatsoever in this case,” said Rob Currie, a professor at Dalhousie University’s Schulich School of Law.
“I would go so far to say, personally, France is not a good extradition partner for Canada.”
The case moved slowly as prosecutors sought to find new evidence against Diab and as court proceedings were delayed by the pandemic.
The key physical evidence Canada relied on in extraditing Diab to France was handwriting analysis linking Diab’s handwriting to that of the suspected bomber. Canadian government lawyers acting on France’s behalf called it a “smoking gun” in the extradition hearing.
But in 2009, Diab’s legal team produced contrary reports from four international handwriting experts. These experts questioned the methods and conclusions of the French experts. They also proved that some of the handwriting samples used by the French analysts belonged not to Diab but to his ex-wife.
French investigative judges dismissed the handwriting evidence as unreliable when they ordered Diab’s release in January 2018.
While considering the appeal of Diab’s release, another French judge ordered an independent review of the contentious handwriting evidence.
Diab’s lawyers said this latest review delivered “a scathing critique and rebuke” of the original handwriting analysis “that mirror[s] the critique by the defence during the extradition hearing 10 years ago.”
French judges said Diab had an alibi
The French investigative judges who released Diab also found he had an alibi for the day of the Paris bombing. Using university records and interviews with Diab’s classmates, the investigative judges determined he was “probably in Lebanon” writing exams when the bombing outside the synagogue took place.
“It is likely that Hassan Diab was in Lebanon during September and October 1980 … and it is therefore unlikely that he is the man … who then laid the bomb on Rue Copernic on October 3rd, 1980,” they wrote.
In 2018, CBC News confirmed that France was aware of — and had failed to disclose — fingerprint evidence that ended up playing a critical role in Diab’s release.
Since his release, Diab has been living with his wife and two children in Ottawa. He has resumed work as a part-time lecturer.