By Rick Telfer
Hassan Diab, a Canadian who was extradited to France in Nov. 2014 in connection with terrorism allegations, was released from detention on Jan. 12. He returned to Canada on Jan. 15 and was reunited with his family following more than three years of maximum security imprisonment and solitary confinement in France.
Formal charges were never laid against Diab.
On Jan. 12, the Ottawa-based Justice for Hassan Diab Support Committee issued a press release explaining that the decision to release Diab, issued by French investigative judges Jean-Marc Herbaut and Richard Foltzer, “underlines the numerous contradictions and misstatements contained in the intelligence, which casts serious doubts about their reliability.”
Diab, a sociology professor who previously taught at Carleton University and the University of Ottawa, was accused of involvement in a bombing outside a Paris synagogue in 1980. The press release quoted Diab as saying, “I am innocent of the accusations against me. I have never engaged in terrorism. I have never participated in any terrorist attacks. I am not an anti-Semite.”
According to the press release, an “overwhelming body of evidence shows Dr. Diab cannot have been in France in 1980 when the attack was perpetrated” and that, as the judges noted, “Dr. Diab’s handwriting, fingerprints, palm prints, physical description and age do not match those of the suspect identified in 1980.”
Diab’s lawyers in France — William Bourdon, Apolline Cagnat and Amélie Lefebvre — were quoted as saying that the judges’ “decision is founded on the demonstration of the impossibility to attribute to Hassan Diab any responsibility in the attack.”
At a press conference on Jan. 17, held at the Amnesty International Canada headquarters in Ottawa, Diab declared, “Justice has finally prevailed.” He said that he was looking forward to spending time with his wife and children as he re-integrates into his life, and to making up for what he has missed “all these years.”
Now at age 64, Diab added that he had no specific plans for the future but that his “main mission for the time being is to help get rid of the existing lousy extradition law and, as much as possible, to help victims of miscarriage[s] of justice as much as other people have helped” him.
Diab also thanked his legal team and his supporters for believing in his innocence during “the darkest and most difficult period” of his life. From the beginning, friends and colleagues of Diab were steadfast in their belief that he was wrongfully accused.
Roger Clark, a spokesperson for the Justice for Hassan Diab Support Committee, told the Leveller on Jan. 20 that he believes two factors contributed to France’s 2008 request to have Diab arrested and extradited for involvement in the 1980 bombing.
First, the name “Hassan Diab” had arisen in foreign “secret intelligence,” which became a key piece of the French investigation. Second, Jean Chichizola, a journalist with the French newspaper Le Figaro and author of a “scurrilous” book about the case published in 2009, “discovered a Hassan Diab teaching at Carleton University.” Chichizola flew to Canada in late 2007 to confront Diab directly with the accusation.
Despite Diab being adamant that it was a case of mistaken identity, the RCMP arrested him in November 2008. While Diab was on bail and awaiting an extradition hearing, Carleton University terminated his teaching contract.
Subsequently, the Canadian Association of University Teachers issued a statement calling the university’s actions “a blatant disregard of the principles of natural justice and due process, the legal right of an accused to the presumption of innocence and the responsibility of a university to protect its autonomy from inappropriate outside pressure.”
Diab was fired from Carleton University the day after a statement was issued by B’nai Brith Canada in which the organization condemned the university for employing Diab. B’nai Brith describes itself on its website “as a vital voice in promoting Jewish unity and continuity, a staunch defender of the State of Israel and global Jewry, a tireless advocate on behalf of senior citizens and a leader in combating antisemitism and racism.”
Prior to being extradited, Diab was placed under “virtual house arrest,” according to the Support Committee’s website. He had to wear a GPS ankle bracelet for which he had to pay $2, 000 per month and he could only leave home if accompanied by one of the five sureties who had posted more than $250, 000 in bail.
As Diab stated at the Jan. 17 press conference, he and his supporters will be seeking reform of Canada’s Extradition Act. According to a statement distributed by the Support Committee, they are calling for “a thorough, public, Parliamentary review” of the Act because “under current extradition law, anyone, including citizens, who lives in this country could wake up tomorrow and find themselves in Mr. Diab’s shoes.”
Additionally, the Support Committee is seeking a “full, public inquiry into the role of the Canadian government.” This includes “the part played by the officials in the Justice Department in recklessly pursuing this case on behalf of another government when it was abundantly clear from the beginning that there was no substance to the allegations.”
To date, according to Clark, the Liberal government has been “wishy-washy,” appearing to be only “semi-committed” to reviewing and reforming the Act.
In the coming weeks, the Support Committee will be meeting with its coalition partners to develop a strategy for winning reform of the Act and a public inquiry.
Don Bayne, Diab’s lawyer in Canada, said in a statement that “we must ensure the system is corrected so that no other Canadian experiences what Dr. Diab has.” Bayne also noted at the press conference that Gary Botting, the leading textbook writer on extradition in Canada, describes the Act as “the least fair law in Canada.”
Bayne’s assessment echoes the judgment of Robert Maranger, the Ontario Superior Court Justice who, in 2011, ordered Diab’s extradition to France. Maranger opined that the evidence against Diab was “illogical, very problematic, convoluted and with conclusions that are suspect.”
The problem, Clark told the Leveller, is the very low threshold of evidence required under Canada’s extradition law. The Support Committee further charges, on its website, that “Canada cooperates with extradition requests from countries that allow secret intelligence — including intelligence obtained from torture — to be used as evidence.”
Maranger therefore felt compelled to extradite Diab. “It is presupposed, based on our treaty with France, that they will conduct a fair trial and that justice will be done,” he wrote.
The ultimate decision fell on Rob Nicholson who, at the time, was the Minister of Justice in the Harper Conservative government. Nicholson wasted no time. Diab was extradited immediately.
Clark believes that the wider historical and political context has greatly influenced the course of Diab’s case — namely, the rise of Islamophobia, right-wing nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiment in Western societies.
The Support Committee likewise suggested, in its statement, that “if only officials at the Department of Justice took the time to see the human behind the racist profile and look at the facts, then perhaps such a cruel, heartless injustice would not be so easily committed.”
The Support Committee’s assessment of recent legal decisions in France was similar. In its press release, it stated that “four French judges have ordered Dr. Diab’s conditional release eight times in the last 20 months, most recently in November 2017. However, each time the Paris prosecutor appealed and the French Court of Appeal overturned the release orders due to the political climate in France.”
The investigative judges who ordered Diab’s release seemingly agree. They noted in their judgment that the case “has undeniable political and geostrategic aspects that can lead to manipulation.”
Astonishingly, Diab’s legal ordeal has not officially ended.
In France, appeals have already been submitted challenging the latest decision to release him. It may take months before any new information becomes available.
At the press conference, Bayne said that he had been in touch with Diab’s lawyers in France and that “this is such an unprecedented situation in France that even they are not certain about the roadmap.”
“I would hope that the parties appealing want justice and not simple revenge or a scapegoat,” Bayne concluded.
This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 10, No. 4 (Jan/Feb 2018).