Freeland will monitor Justice probe of Canada's role in Diab extradition

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland will closely monitor an internal Department of Justice review of Hassan Diab's extradition on terrorism charges to ensure the Canadian university professor "gets the answers he deserves," a government official with direct knowledge of the file told CBC News.

NDP and Amnesty International calling for a public inquiry

Hassan Diab attends to his daughter Jena, who was turning two when her father was extradited to France to face terrorism charges that later fell apart. Diab has always maintained his innocence. (Lisa Laventure/CBC)

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland will closely monitor an internal Department of Justice review of Hassan Diab's extradition on terrorism charges to ensure the Canadian university professor "gets the answers he deserves," a government official with direct knowledge of the file told CBC News.

"It is pretty clear that what happened to Hassan Diab never should have happened in the first place," the official said.

"We are going to be watching very closely and asking tough questions."

Diab, 64, was extradited to France in 2014 and spent more than three years in prison there in near-solitary confinement conditions while being investigated on terrorism charges that were later dropped.

A confidential memo obtained by CBC News revealed the efforts made behind the scenes by a senior Department of Justice lawyer to ensure Diab's extradition by strengthening the French case when it was on the verge of falling apart.

This week, after the CBC News report came out, a Justice spokesperson defended the Canadian efforts to bolster the French case, and to not disclose them to the court, as normal practice.

When Diab was released and returned to Canada in January, Justice launched an internal review of the case. But Diab and his lawyer say they doubt that anything short of a public inquiry will get the answers they want.

The open letter

"(Freeland) is personally very seized with ensuring that Mr. Diab receives the answers that she feels he deserves from the government about their role in his ordeal," the government official said.

"If, as it seems to appear, Canada was somehow involved in prolonging his ordeal before the French courts, that is something that warrants answers."

In question period in the Commons Thursday, NDP justice critic Murray Rankin also called for a public inquiry.

"Does the prime minister really think we can rely in an internal departmental review which by definition lacks independence?" he asked. "Will he launch a public inquiry to get to the bottom of this grave injustice and find ways to reform our unacceptable extradition laws?"

Freeland's parliamentary secretary, Omar Alghabra, replied that the Trudeau government had "advocated on behalf of Mr. Diab on every level to his return to Canada" but made no commitment to a public inquiry.

"We are very glad he's back to Canada with his family. We have read the reports, the involvement of government officials in his extradition, this obviously happened under the previous government, and I think this matter is worth looking into."

Amnesty International and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association made the call for a public inquiry in an open letter to Freeland and Wilson-Raybould earlier in the week.

"Given the revelations that Canadian government lawyers may be directly implicated in the shortcomings, failures and possible wrongdoing that led to his extradition, it is clearly not appropriate for this to go forward as a largely internal review carried out by the very Department that may be responsible for transgressions which need to be objectively and independently examined, and for which there may need to be eventual accountability," the letter says.

On Thursday, the Canadian Association of University Teachers added their voice to the call for an inquiry. A spokesman for Wilson-Raybould's office told CBC the minister would "review the correspondence from Amnesty International and BCCLA" and "respond in due course."

Calls for compensation and an apology

The letter also calls on the government to consider appropriate forms of redress for Diab and his family — including an official apology and financial compensation for what the two groups call a miscarriage of justice.

The extent of Freeland's efforts to monitor the review could create an interesting internal dynamic for the Trudeau government.

Diab's wife Rania Tfaily and his lawyer Donald Bayne have consistently credited Freeland with trying to secure Diab's release and return to Canada. Freeland has personally raised Diab's case with French officials on several occasions since 2016, when she was serving as International Trade minister.

But Tfaily and Bayne have expressed deep frustration with how the Department of Justice has handled the case, and with their inability to arrange a meeting with Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.

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