France’s court of appeal has ruled that Hassan Diab, an Ottawa academic, must stand trial in connection to a 1980 bombing outside a synagogue in Paris. The decision comes three years after a lower court dismissed the case, citing a lack of evidence.
Donald Bayne, Professor Diab’s Canadian lawyer, called the decision a continuation of “a long odyssey of injustice” that flies in the face of evidence. Speaking at a virtual news conference, Mr. Bayne said that when Professor Diab’s case was dismissed in 2018, victims were outraged and lobbied aggressively for an appeal, leading to the decision delivered in Paris on Wednesday.
“I respectfully submit that no justice system worthy of its name offers an innocent scapegoat to satisfy a demanding lobby. The prosecution of a demonstrably innocent man damages credibility of France’s justice system,” Mr. Bayne said.
Professor Diab was arrested by the RCMP in 2008 at the request of France, which suspected him of being involved in the bombing that killed four people. Professor Diab has denied the accusation. He was jailed in Canada for more than four months, then held under house arrest. In June, 2011, Ontario Superior Court Justice Robert Maranger ordered his extradition, even though the judge said the evidence against him was “weak, convoluted and confusing.” Professor Diab was extradited to France on Nov. 14, 2014.
He spent three years in pretrial detention, much of it in solitary confinement, before being released in January, 2018, after two judges ordered the dismissal of terrorism charges against him. Professor Diab, who is 67 now, returned to Canada, joining his wife and children.
Mr. Bayne, walking through the details of the case, said the only new evidence – an analysis of handwriting – is not credible.
After Professor Diab returned from France in 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that “what happened to him never should have happened.”
Mr. Bayne pointed to those words and said he is considering writing to Mr. Trudeau about Professor Diab’s case.
Rachel Rappaport, a spokesperson for Justice Minister David Lametti, said the federal government is aware of the French appeal court’s decision as well as the announcement made by Professor Diab’s counsel in France that they plan to appeal the decision to the French Supreme Court.
“Officials will be carefully reviewing today’s decision to determine if there are any implications for Canada at this stage. It would not be appropriate to provide further comment as the domestic proceedings in France remain ongoing,” Ms. Rappaport said in an e-mail.
Rob Currie, a law professor at Dalhousie University, also took part in the press conference with Mr. Bayne. He said if Professor Diab’s appeal is unsuccessful, France could request his extradition again for a new trial. Professor Currie said French criminal law allows for cases to be tried in absentia.
He said that, under international law and diplomatic practice, “it is entirely within Canada’s remit to make diplomatic representations to France, asking that this prosecution be dropped.” Normally such a request would be unusual, Professor Currie said, but this is an unusual case.
Alex Neve, former secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada, said Ottawa has a responsibility to act given that Canada’s decision six years ago to extradite Professor Diab to France enabled the process that led to Wednesday’s ruling.
“Canada is not just an interested bystander but is directly implicated and must seek to defend Hassan’s rights.”
Last year, Professor Diab filed a lawsuit against the federal government, accusing Ottawa of negligent investigation and malicious prosecution. The statement of claim said the government withheld crucial fingerprint evidence prior to his extradition hearing, which Professor Diab said affected the outcome of proceedings.
A government-commissioned investigation released in 2019 cleared federal lawyers of any wrongdoing in the extradition case, but Professor Diab said at the time the probe was a “failure” of transparency.
Amnesty International Canada and other human-rights organizations have called for a public inquiry into the case and a review of Canada’s extradition system.
With reports from The Canadian Press
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