Hassan Diab in French court

From the Desk of Jo Wood, Raging Granny, Ottawa

Diab extradition case begins new chapter in France

Ottawa sociology professor extradited on flimsy evidence

Image: Photo of protesters holding sign in support of Hassan Diab. Via The Hassan Diab Documentary Project.
Nick Aplin of Ottawa joined the supporters of Hassan Diab at the Supreme Court
By Matthew Behrens
True North Perspective special

The long-running extradition saga of Ottawa sociology professor Dr. Hassan Diab — sought by French authorities for a 1980 crime he did not commit — took a dramatic turn a year ago when the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear his final appeal to stay in Canada.

Although Canada had 45 days to forcibly remove him to France, Dr. Diab was hustled out of the Ottawa Detention Centre and whisked away less than 48 hours later, denied a previously scheduled opportunity to bid goodbye to his pregnant wife, Rania, and baby daughter, Jena.

He has been in detention in a prison near Paris, France since then. He has repeatedly been denied bail despite more than five years of meticulous adherence to his bail conditions in Canada and even though his French lawyer requested extremely strict bail conditions which included house arrest and electronic monitoring.    

Diab’s lawyer, Donald Bayne, a 43-year veteran of Canadian courts, appeared stunned at a Parliament Hill press conference the day of the Court decision, concluding:  “We now have in my view a classic recipe for the wrongful conviction of a Canadian.”

Originally arrested in 2008, Diab had spent the following six years under house arrest, forced to pay $2,000 a month for the electronic monitoring device strapped to his leg, denied an opportunity to teach, and frustrated by an endless round of extradition hearings where, despite the very low judicial standards, the severe weakness of the alleged case against him was nonetheless clearly exposed. During that time, it was revealed that the physical description, palm and thumb prints, and handwriting of the 1980 rue Copernic bombing suspect did not match Dr. Diab’s.

In 2011, Ontario Court judge Robert Maranger committed Dr. Diab for extradition despite his conclusion that the evidence against Diab was “very problematic,” “suspect,” and “very confusing,” concluding “the case presented by the Republic of France against Mr. Diab is a weak case; the prospects of conviction in the context of a fair trial, seem unlikely.” Casual observers may wonder how Diab’s life in Canada, where he has been a citizen since 1993, could be so violently uprooted, but under Canada’s extradition law, the rights of Canadian citizens, permanent residents, and refugees are trumped by foreign policy considerations.

In a page from the Pink Panther’s Inspector Clouseau, the “smoking gun” evidence against Dr. Diab is a handwriting analysis report based on five words written in block letters from a Paris hotel register. France initially offered two supposed handwriting “experts” who compared these five printed words with the writings from Diab’s PhD admissions documents at Syracuse University. The French “experts” concluded that the writer of the 1980 block letters was the same man who wrote the Syracuse documents and claimed that Dr. Diab tried to change his handwriting. This is despite the fact that the notion that a person can be identified based on mere five words in block letters is absurd. Not only this, but it also turned out that many of the Syracuse writings that were “matched” to the suspect’s were not even written by Hassan, but rather by his then-wife, Nawal. Embarrassed French officials were allowed to withdraw their “expert” reports and replace it with another one. Five internationally renowned handwriting experts testified that the “new” French report was fatally flawed and wholly unreliable and that an objective handwriting analysis would exclude Dr. Diab as the suspect.

Justice Maranger had numerous misgivings about the French handwriting analysis report calling it “illogical” and “very problematic”. However, he still committed Dr. Diab for extradition based almost entirely on this discredited “evidence” noting that his hands are tied by the extradition treaty between Canada and France.

When his case went to the Ontario Court of Appeal, Dr. Diab’s factum reflected the Alice-in-Wonderland quality of the case, noting the allegations are “based largely on intelligence reports from unnamed foreign entities, who in turn obtained information from unknown sources in unknown circumstances.” Given the impossibility of verifying the reliability of such information, it was difficult to determine how any court could proceed with the case.

The Appeal judges, in a similarly weak decision, upheld the extradition, even though it was by then a matter of record that Dr. Diab could become the first person ever extradited to another country without being charged with a crime. They also dismissed concerns that torture-gleaned “intelligence” would be used against Dr. Diab even though, as his legal team pointed out, “France had a special intelligence sharing relationship with Syria [which was] shown to have regularly kidnapped Lebanese individuals and tortured them to extract information on national security and 00terrorism matters” and that there exists “no genuine ability to challenge intelligence in French terror trials.”

In France, Dr. Diab is being subjected to an unfair process. The unsourced intelligence and the two discredited handwriting analysis reports that France withdrew from the Canadian proceedings are still in Dr. Diab’s case file and they have been used to deny him bail. It is mind-boggling that French officials continue to use the handwriting analysis reports against Dr. Diab even though they know that they were based on documents that were not even written by Dr. Diab and that numerous leading handwriting experts condemned these reports are false. Having to resort to these discredited reports shows how French officials lack any credible evidence against Dr. Diab, yet he is still locked up in a tiny jail cell thousands of miles away from his family, friends and home. He can expect to remain detained for few years until the examining magistrate determines whether a trial will be held.     

Throughout this ordeal, Dr. Diab has denied the allegations, condemned the 1980 bombing, offered to be questioned by the French in Ottawa, and even accepted an offer from the RCMP (later withdrawn) to take a polygraph test. Longtime friends and colleagues attest to his humanistic and kind nature and his opposition to discrimination and violence.

The pain of separation for Dr. Diab and his young family — which grew with the birth of a second child in January — is beyond words. An extensive network of Canadian supporters is now working on building French support and a series of activities, from writing letters to fundraising to help defray significant costs of everything from new lawyers to long-distance calls from the jail. They have a website and are also working on producing a documentary to publicize his case nationally and internationally The Hassan Diab Documentary Project.