Mira Sucharov is a professor of political science and University Chair of Teaching Innovation at Carleton University. Bernie Farber is chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network and the former CEO of Canadian Jewish Congress.
The freedom of one Canadian citizen is again being threatened, and with it, the integrity of Canadian democracy. With formal charges having been laid against a Canadian citizen by France, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ability to stand up in the face of injustice – and in the face of a bullying ally – is again being put to the test.
After a harrowing three years in a French prison (much of it in solitary confinement), with no formal charges against him, in January 2018, Hassan Diab, an Ottawa professor, spouse, and father of two young children, seemed to be resuming a normal life. But now, inexplicably, France has brought formal charges against him for the crime they have long accused him of – the 1980 bombing outside a Paris synagogue that killed four and injured 40. Observers expect France to issue another formal extradition request – the first was when Mr. Diab was shipped overseas from Ottawa in 2014 – in the coming months.
Before Mr. Diab’s 2018 release, we penned an op-ed admitting that a decade earlier, we’d been either passive or complicit in encouraging public opinion to turn against him. In that op-ed, we demanded that Mr. Diab’s legal purgatory be ended. For two active Jews to come to the defence of an alleged perpetrator of the worst anti-Semitic attack in postwar Europe may have seemed surprising. But we knew justice was not being served. We argued that forcing Mr. Diab to endure years of imprisonment, with no formal charges and with questionable evidence linking him to the crime, was inhumane, immoral and wrong. Five months after Diab’s release, Prime Minister Trudeau stated, “what happened to him never should have happened.”
In the event that France requests Mr. Diab’s extradition, we call on Mr. Trudeau to stay true to his words and refuse.
Some might argue that a criminal trial is the best place for Mr. Diab to finally prove his innocence. And others might point to the Segal report of 2019, which exonerated Canada for acceding to the 2014 extradition request. Those people might suggest that Mr. Trudeau should grant France’s request for an extradition if and when the time comes. But here’s the thing. Democracies must refuse an extradition request if there are serious concerns about the likelihood of a fair trial. Enough evidence in Mr. Diab’s ordeal – particularly evidence that came to light after the 2014 extradition – persuades us that he very well may not receive a fair trial in France.
Back in 2008 when Mr. Diab’s legal ordeal began, French authorities claimed not to have any useable fingerprints on one of the key pieces of evidence: a hotel card presumed to have been filled in by the bomber. But this was a lie, since a decade later, France revealed that they had, in 2007, lifted a usable print from the card. Forensic analysis showed that the fingerprints did not match those of Mr. Diab. Lying about a key piece of evidence suggests that Mr. Diab, were he to be extradited again, would be caught in a web of injustice.
Looking at the additional evidence, it’s clear that the case appears weak. There’s the “expert” handwriting analysis on the hotel card. But according to the French Court of Appeals Report, the opinion obtained from a French handwriting expert, which was used to extradite Mr. Diab in 2014, has been wholly discredited by the court’s own appointed two experts. And then there are the eyewitnesses placing Mr. Diab in Beirut studying for exams during the period leading up to, and following, the bombing. What really matters, though, is the uncertainty of due process in France, given that they’ve lied before.
It’s difficult to dispute that France has a problem with terrorism. Twenty attacks against civilians since 2015 that have killed 260 and injured nearly 900 have undermined faith in the French system to keep the peace. Finding and convicting the culprit of the heinous 1980 synagogue bombing is important, no doubt in the minds of French officials, not only for justice but for rehabilitating confidence in the system. But pinning the act on the wrong man is simply piling injustice onto tragedy.
We agree with Mr. Trudeau’s words that such a travesty should not happen again. Given the questionable methods of the French prosecution going back over a decade, we call on the Canadian government to protect this Canadian citizen and refuse any request for his extradition.
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