Ottawa doesn’t seem to care about Canadian languishing in French jail


Independent Jewish Voices of Canada is urging Canadians to phone the office of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and insist politely but firmly that the prime minister intervene with the French government and ask for Hassan Diab’s immediate release and return to his home in Canada.

The Diab case has been in the news for years. Canadian authorities know his case by heart. Still the government has adopted what looks like a do-nothing approach.

Dr. Diab is a Canadian academic. France wanted to question him because a synagogue was attacked in Paris in October 1980 killing four people and injuring 46. Authorities sought his extradition for questioning saying that Diab’s handwriting resembles five words written by the suspect on a hotel register in 1980.

Diab maintains that he was not in France at that time and that his passport had been stolen during the Lebanese civil war when he was a student. Moreover, five handwriting experts from Canada, the US and Europe asserted that the French handwriting analysis is totally flawed and does not follow recognized methodology. They said that the evidence backs Diab’s assertions of his innocence.

Noting that on August 9 Diab spent 1,000 days in prison in France “despite documented and compelling evidence of his innocence,” the IJV plea stated: “A French investigating judge found consistent evidence supporting Hassan’s innocence, and concluded that Hassan was not in France in October 1980. Hassan was ordered released on bail SIX times by various French judges. However, the French prosecutor appealed each time, and the Court of Appeal overturned every release order due to the political climate in France. To this day, Hassan remains locked up in a French prison cell, 20 hours a day, deprived of his freedom and torn from his family and home in Canada.”

Justice Robert Maranger of the Ontario Superior Court in his ruling termed the French handwriting analysis report as “very problematic,” “convoluted,” “very confusing” and “suspect.” But he stated that Ontario’s interpretation of the extradition law forced him to order Diab’s extradition. He also stated that if Diab received a fair trial in France it is “unlikely” that he would be convicted. France has not started Diab’s trial. It just keeps him locked up.

Strangely, in Canada it is the province where a person resides that interprets the federal extradition law. It is possible that if Diab had been a resident of some other province, the province might not have permitted his extradition to France for questioning. In 2011, Diab was committed to extradition. Moreover, France does not extradite its citizens to foreign countries. Canada does.

Diab was deported on the basis of a flawed handwriting analysis while forensic evidence that supported Diab was not allowed to be considered. Justice Maranger ruled – “whether I like it or not” - that the extradition law prevents Diab from introducing evidence produced by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police showing that his palm and fingerprints do not match those of the suspect. This is ridiculous.

Amnesty International, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association intervened on behalf of Diab at the Ontario Court of Appeal while numerous organizations protested the unjust treatment of Diab.

Diab is a victim of a discredited and flawed extradition law and perhaps of Islamophobia.

For example, provinces interpret the federal extradition law in different ways contrary to the principles that all Canadians should be treated equally before the law.

In extradition cases, Canadian standards of evidence are not applied and the rights of the person sought are strictly curtailed. Evidence submitted by foreign countries is accepted even if such flawed evidence is not acceptable in Canadian courts. Canada, moreover, extradites its citizens to countries that allow secret intelligence, including that obtained through torture, to be used as evidence. In Diab’s case, France only produced flawed handwriting (that actually supported Diab) and a stolen passport found with a Palestinian militant long after the crime.

The French judge dealing with the Diab case ruled that there is “consistent evidence” that the Ottawa academic is telling the truth and was not in Paris in October 1980. Judge Jean-Marc Herbaut’s statements were filed in a release order that would have freed Diab on bail. He has been held since 2014 and the French have not questioned him, keeping him languishing in jail. However, he has been refused bail because a French court of appeal judge considers him a “flight risk” and a “threat to public order.”

Herbaut ordered Diab’s release three times. Another judge who reviews the cases of prisoners held in pre-trial custody issued a similar order in 2016. Herbaut said “questions remain” over how Diab’s passport was found on a Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine militant a year after the bombing. The investigation is continuing.

Diab’s Canadian lawyer Don Bayne told the Ottawa Citizen: “When will the Canadian government help this Canadian? Would they be helping a non-Muslim by now?”

Good question.

Apparently the prime minister’s statement that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian does not apply to all Canadians.

Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan is a retired Canadian journalist, civil servant and refugee judge.