An external investigator says prosecutors did not break any rules when they extradited Ottawa academic Hassan Diab to France in 2014.
The report by Murray Segal, the former deputy attorney general of Ontario, was released on Friday by the Department of Justice after being ordered late last year to look into the circumstances of how Diab came to be extradited to France, where he spent three years in prison without trial before allegations accusing him of involvement in a 1980 Paris synagogue bombing collapsed in early 2018.
In his report, Segal wrote that although extradition law was not well understood by officials and there’s room for improvement, no actual rules were broken when Diab was extradited despite concerns raised throughout both his fight against extradition and fight to be freed from prison that the evidence against him was too weak to take to trial.
Segal provided the findings of his report to Justice Minister David Lametti roughly two months ago.
But it has taken until now for the government to release it.
Here’s what prompted the investigation.
Who is Hassan Diab?
RCMP first arrested Diab in 2008 while he was a sociology professor at Ottawa’s Carleton University.
That arrest came at the behest of French authorities, who alleged he had been involved in the firebombing of a Paris synagogue in 1980.
Four people died in that attack and 40 others were injured.
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French police attribute the bombing to an extremist group called the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which was involved in a number of prominent airline hijackings during the 1970s in opposition to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
Since then, it has also been linked to suicide bombings and rocket attacks against Israeli forces, as well as multiple killings of Israeli citizens and rabbis.
Diab vehemently denied the allegations, arguing he was not in Paris but rather in Lebanon at the time of the bombing, but was let go from his teaching position at Carleton in 2009 following an outcry by Canadian Jewish organizations about his continued employment there.
He fought the extradition request for years but lost and in 2014, was sent to France where he was charged with murder and attempted murder, then imprisoned without charge for three years.
Much of that, he has since told media, was spent in solitary confinement.
He was finally released in early 2018 after a French court dismissed the charges against him, citing lack of evidence.
Prosecutors in France appealed the decision to release him and an appeals court last fall ordered a new evaluation of the evidence against him.
As a result, a new investigating judge was appointed but a decision on whether the appeals court will deem the evidence credible enough to lay charges and potentially pursue a second extradition request is expected at some point this year.
Following his return to Canada, Diab began calls for a public inquiry into how his case was handled.
Diab and his lawyer have called the Segal review a “sham,” insisting it is too limited in scope and that the broader mandate of a public inquiry is needed to fully examine whether reforms are needed to the Extradition Act to prevent other Canadians from being put in the same situation.
Why was his extradition so controversial?
The evidence upon which French authorities were basing their allegations has been a key point of contention through his ordeal and formed a large part of the reason why the decision by the former Conservatives to approve the extradition was so widely condemned by human rights groups like Amnesty International.
The judge that ordered his extradition made specific reference to problems with the evidence, calling the case laid out by French prosecutors “illogical, very problematic, convoluted, very confusing with conclusions that are suspect.”
Their case hinged on a handwriting sample — just five words — from a Paris hotel register that prosecutors in France argued linked Diab to the bombing.
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But under Canadian extradition law, Diab wasn’t allowed to present evidence he argued showed he had not been in Paris at the time, and the judge who approved the extradition admitted in his decision that the law gave him no room but to approve the extradition despite the weak case.
That same handwriting sample was specifically cited by the French authorities who dismissed the charges against Diab in 2018.
As well, Diab’s legal team had argued the fact French prosecutors were relying on secret intelligence as part of their case against him proved Diab would not receive a free and fair trial in the country, a key requirement in consideration of extradition proceedings.
Under Canadian law, prosecutors cannot use evidence from intelligence activities in a criminal prosecution.
It’s based on the principle that an accused has the right to see all the evidence against them — and since intelligence, which is secret by its very nature, cannot be disclosed in open court, it cannot be used as part of a criminal prosecution without violating an individual’s right to a free and fair trial.
Determining whether a case meets the Canadian constitutional standard of a free and fair prosecution is a core requirement in approving extradition requests.
If it does not comply with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the minister of justice must refuse to surrender the requested individual.
Diab was extradited anyway and in the ruling ordering his release last year, French authorities admitted that police had not had enough evidence to take Diab to trial when they sought his extradition, calling the evidence presented against him “groundless.”
Donald Bayne, who has been Diab’s legal counsel in Canada, said during a press conference last fall, in which Diab called for a public inquiry, that the lack of evidence showed the case wasn’t properly handled.
“Extradition to a foreign country is only ever to try a Canadian,” Bayne said.
“France was never, ever ready with a case to try Dr. Diab.”
With files from the Canadian Press.
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