A judge ordered extradition of the University of Ottawa professor although he said the case is weak. Is he a terrorist or victim of mistaken identity? Canada’s extradition law is under scrutiny. Could this turn into another Maher Arar affair?
Hassan Diab, a professor of sociology at the University of Ottawa and Carleton University lost the first round of his fight last June after an Ontario judge decided that he should be extradited to France to stand trial on terrorism charges. Diab, a Lebanese Canadian, was arrested in 2008 after the RCMP tailed him for 18 months, according to a two-page report published September 24 by the Vancouver Sun. The Sun article raises questions about Canada's extradition practices and hints at the prospect that this could turn into another Maher Arar affair.
France made the extradition request after allegedly uncovering evidence that Diab was behind the 1980 bombing of a synagogue in Paris that killed four people. Charges against him are based on a 31-year-old hotel registration card and the opinion of a witness that allegedly believes Diab was a member of the notorious PFLP, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. A French graphologist’s testimony was refuted by three handwriting experts produced by Diab’s defence lawyer Don Bayne.
The U.S.-educated Diab says he was not in France when the incident took place, and his passport proves it. He says Hassan and Diab are some of the most common Lebanese names, and the accusation against him is a case of mistaken identity. He says that if he were guilty he could have fled after a French journalist warned him in 2007 that he was under investigation in France. Diab is a dual citizen of Canada and Lebanon. French authorities believe that he slipped into France from Spain under the false identity of a Greek Cypriot to carry out the attack, but they will not reveal what evidence the French Secret Service has on him to substantiate this allegation.
Mr. Justice Maranger of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice said the case against Diab is circumstantial and weak. He said handwriting analysis is a pseudo science and Diab wouldn’t be convicted if tried in Ontario. He decided, however, that he's duty-bound to order Diab's extradition under the Extradition Act. Extradition treaty between Canada and France is non-binding on either state, and leaves the final decision in this case to Justice Minister Rob Nicholson.
Gary Botting, Vancouver extradition lawyer, says France never extradites its own citizens under its treaty obligations (see featured video). He says Diab will never receive a fair trial in France since French courts can admit secret, unchallenged evidence under the country’s terrorism laws. Another reason is, says Botting, France’s Napoleonic civil law that is similar to the Spanish Inquisition, which presumes guilt and places the burden of proof of innocence on the accused. In contrast to Canada French judicial system considers state evidence reliable and defence evidence biased. Proof of guilt beyond any reasonable doubt is a judicial standard that is unique to Common Law countries such as Canada, United Kingdom and the United States.
Should Canada extradite its citizens to countries where the rules of evidence and burden of proof are below this country’s judicial standards?
Diab has lost his job as lecturer of sociology and is under house arrest with a GPS tracking system for which he’s required to pay $2000 per month to the government. Experts agree that the case will end up at the Supreme Court of Canada in any event since the government will appeal even if Diab is successful at the Ontario Court of Appeal. Final decision may be a political one made by the federal government. So far Justice Canada has represented French Government in court against Diab, and Canada's Conservative government has acceded to all extradition requests made by foreign treaty countries.
BC Civil Liberties Association is lobbying with the Minister on Diab's behalf.