The French trial in absentia of Ottawa academic Hassan Diab is renewing attention to Canada’s extradition law, which critics say is unfair and needs reform amid a parliamentary study of the issue.
The law makes it almost impossible for judges to refuse to send accused abroad to face charges, several witnesses in February told the House standing committee on justice and human rights, which is examining whether the process treats accused fairly.
The committee has been urged to recommend changes to the current process that requires a judge to order an accused extradited except in cases where the judge concludes the evidence in the case put forward by the country seeking extradition is “manifestly unreliable.”
“‘Manifestly unreliable’ has become a bullet proof test so there is no way for a person to demonstrate that whatever’s put in that record of the case doesn’t justify extradition,” lawyer Donald Bayne told The Globe and Mail in an interview.
Mr. Bayne testified in front of the parliamentary committee in February and represents Mr. Diab – the Carleton University instructor who since last week has been on trial in absentia in Paris in connection with a 1980 synagogue bombing.
Canada extradited Mr. Diab in November, 2014, to France, where he spent three years and two months in prison. In January, 2018, two investigative judges ordered his release owing to strong evidence that he was in Lebanon when the bombing occurred. He subsequently returned to Canada.
But an appeal of that decision was upheld, and Mr. Diab is now on trial again, although France has not sought extradition this time around. Mr. Bayne expects France will once again request Mr. Diab’s extradition if he is found guilty.
New Democrat MP Randall Garrison, who sits on the standing committee, pushed last year for the study of Canada’s extradition law.
Mr. Diab is “kind of the poster case for how bad our system is, but it’s not the only case where there are clear problems with the way we treat extradition,” Mr. Garrison said, pointing to Canada’s high extradition rate. “It’s pretty clear why that happens and we need to reform.”
Before someone can be removed from Canada at the request of a country with which it has an extradition treaty, a judge must evaluate a summary of evidence provided by the foreign state seeking the extradition. The judge then decides if the accused’s actions would be considered a criminal offence if it occurred in Canada.
But the judge’s role is not to evaluate the evidence.
Extradition requests are managed by the International Assistance Group, housed in the Department of Justice. Janet Henchey, director general and senior general counsel for the IAG, testified at the February hearings that evaluating evidence threatens the speed of extradition.
“The really important principle of extradition … is that extradition is not a trial,” Ms. Henchey said. “By calling witnesses and cross-examining witnesses and turning the extradition process into a trial, we are actually delaying the person from accessing justice.”
She also said Canada has one of the most rigorous extradition systems in the world, especially compared to some countries that require no evidence.
“It would be wrong to suggest that the Canadian extradition system is some kind of Wild West of extradition and that around the world everyone else has greater rights.”
Most of the evidence presented in Mr. Diab’s 2014 extradition case was rejected as unreliable by Ontario Superior Court Justice Robert Maranger. He described a handwriting analysis allegedly linking Mr. Diab to a local hotel before the bombing as “convoluted, very confusing, with conclusions that are suspect.”
But Justice Maranger said he had no choice but to move forward with the extradition request because he could not describe the evidence as “manifestly unreliable.”
“As a guy who’s been 51 years in the criminal justice system in this country, my perspective is that this is the most unfair process and law that I’ve encountered in that half century,” Mr. Bayne said at the House committee meeting February.
Rania Tfaily, Mr. Diab’s wife, told the committee the process puts the onus of proof that the evidence is faulty on the accused, rather than the state requesting extradition. She called that a “travesty of justice.”
After a judge rules on extradition, the final decision is left up to the federal minister of justice.
The committee also heard calls for Canada’s extradition law to include more consideration of the human-rights records of the countries requesting extradition. Other witnesses complained Canada’s concerns about aggravating its relationship with requesting countries plays too much of a role in the process.
Mr. Garrison anticipates the committee’s report will call for comprehensive reform of Canadian extradition policy. He expects the report to be tabled in the House by the summer.
“I am disappointed how long it’s taking,” he said. “But we are getting things done in this minority Parliament and hopefully getting this report to the government will encourage them to act.”