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Politics Ottawa professor released from French prison calls for inquiry into extradition

Hassan Diab holds a press conference at Amnesty International Canada in Ottawa on Jan. 17, 2018 following his return to Canada.

LARS HAGBERG/AFP/Getty Images

Hassan Diab, the Ottawa academic released from a French prison last week after judges ordered the dismissal of terrorism charges against him, is calling for a public inquiry into his case and a review of the law that allowed his extradition to France.

However, Mr. Diab says he doesn't want any Canadian taxpayer money as compensation for his nine-year ordeal, which included three years in solitary confinement. If he is awarded any money, he says he wants it to go to his family, friends and supporters who spent their own money working on his case. For instance, his wife, Rania Tfaily, paid for his flight from Paris to Ottawa over the weekend.

"I don't want any penny from the taxpayers in Canada. If there is any money that comes from anywhere – if the law allows anything … the money will go to the people who paid their own money for the case's expenses," Mr. Diab said during a news conference at Amnesty International Canada's office in Ottawa on Wednesday. "I just want to avoid this prospect of having innocent people in this ordeal again."

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Mr. Diab, a father of two young children, arrived home in Ottawa on Monday. During Wednesday's news conference, he credited Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Global Affairs Canada consular officials for their work on his case.

The former sociology professor said he plans to focus his energy on fixing the law that allowed his extradition.

His lawyer, Donald Bayne, said a public inquiry into his client's case should include "a reasoned evaluation" of the deficiencies of the extradition law and how to improve it. He said the threshold for extradition is too low in Canada.

"There's no sworn evidence [required for extradition]. A foreign official need only sign a piece of paper that makes allegations against a Canadian," Mr. Bayne told reporters. "How do you defend against that?"

Speaking to reporters in London, Ont., last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was non-committal when asked about modifications to the extradition process.

"As for drawing lessons [on the extradition laws], we'll have of course some reflections on that in upcoming days and months, as we always do in such situations," Mr. Trudeau said.

Mr. Diab, 64, was born in Lebanon and is now a Canadian citizen. The RCMP arrested him in November, 2008, at the request of French authorities, who accused him of being involved in the 1980 bombing of a Paris synagogue that killed four people and injured more than 40. He has always denied the allegations.

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After his arrest, Mr. Diab was jailed for 4 1/2 months and then released under house arrest. He had a curfew and was required to wear a monitoring device.

In June, 2011, Ontario Superior Court Justice Robert Maranger ordered Mr. Diab's extradition – despite saying the evidence against him was "weak, convoluted and confusing." Mr. Diab was removed from Canada in November, 2014, after the Supreme Court declined to hear his appeal.

He entered pretrial solitary detention in Paris, leaving his cell for just one or two hours a day. French judges ordered his release numerous times, but the prosecutor repeatedly blocked it.

He was finally released without conditions from Fleury-Mérogis Prison, outside Paris, on Friday afternoon after two investigating judges ordered the dismissal of terrorism charges against him. They had deemed the circumstantial case against him was not strong enough to commit him to trial.

The decision came after new evidence showed Mr. Diab was in Lebanon writing university exams at the time of the 1980 bombing. It also confirmed his claim that his passport was stolen and used by someone else at the time.

Although he is back in Canada, his ordeal is not over yet. Mr. Bayne said the state prosecutor and civil parties representing the victims of the bombing have filed appeals. He said Mr. Diab is now in "legal limbo," as it could be months before a judgment on those appeals.

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"I know from talking to the French lawyers [that] this is unprecedented in France, so even they are somewhat loath to offer any assurances on how this will proceed," Mr. Bayne said. "We know that repeatedly the French appeal court has reversed release orders."

In the meantime, Mr. Diab is catching up on lost time with his wife and children – especially his three-year-old son, Jad, who was born while he was in prison.

"The first night home he didn't sleep because he stayed up all night looking at Jad," Ms. Tfaily said. "He spent most of the time observing him, looking at him, how he moves – admiring this little child."

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