Canada's high extradition rate spurs calls for reform

Canada extradites the overwhelming majority of the people it arrests on behalf of foreign states — a figure so high that critics say it points to problems with Canada’s extradition laws.

Extradited Ottawa professor Hassan Diab to call for public inquiry

Hassan Diab with his daughter Jena in the family's Ottawa home. (Lisa Laventure/CBC)

Canada extradites the overwhelming majority of the people it arrests on behalf of foreign states — a figure so high that critics say it points to problems with Canada's extradition laws.

Ninety per cent of the individuals arrested for extradition in the last decade eventually were surrendered from Canada, according to information provided to CBC News by the Department of Justice following a CBC News report on the efforts made by a senior department lawyer to ensure the extradition of Ottawa sociology professor Hassan Diab in 2014.

At a press conference today, Diab and his lawyer, Donald Bayne — alongside human rights groups Amnesty International and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) — are expected to call for a public inquiry into the role played by the Crown in Diab's extradition.

Legal experts say a public inquiry is urgently needed to shed light on the inner workings of Canada's extradition system.

From the 2007/08 to 2017/18 fiscal years, Canada arrested 755 individuals for extradition, and ultimately extradited 681 of them.

"Once you are sought for extradition, your goose is pretty much cooked," said Robert Currie, a professor of law at Dalhousie University.

The Canadian government received 1,210 requests for extradition over that ten year period; only 755 led to arrests.

Currie said the number of requests made, compared to the number of arrests, points to efforts by the specialized division of the Department of Justice responsible for extradition — known as the International Assistance Group (IAG) — to discourage extradition requests from treaty partners that aren't likely to succeed. Such requests often involve alleged crimes that aren't criminal acts in Canada, or crimes with mandatory death penalties attached.

But Currie said the arrest-to-extradition ratio reflects the ferocity with which the Crown pursues extradition requests from treaty partners. He argues that the Extradition Act is heavily stacked against those being sought for extradition.

'Canadians would be very troubled'

"Sometimes it results in dangerous people facing extradition," he said.

"But other times there are cases where I think Canadians would be very troubled to learn that the government put so many resources, and the time of so many expensive lawyers, into extradition cases that should have never gone forward in the first place."

​This month, CBC News revealed the efforts the IAG made to ensure the extradition of Diab, the Ottawa university professor who spent more than three years in near-solitary confinement in a French prison while being investigated for terrorism charges that were later dropped.

Confidential documents showed the "smoking gun" evidence used to secure Diab's extradition to France in 2014 was obtained at the direction of a senior IAG lawyer.

Evidence that Diab was in Lebanon at the time of the 1980 Rue Copernic bombing he was accused of committing, and fingerprint comparisons to those found at the scene of the crime that could have helped clear him, were never shared with the Canadian judge that ordered him extradited to France.

Under Canada's extradition laws, the prosecution is not required to present evidence that supports a suspect's innocence.

Diab was returned to Canada in January 2018 after judges in France ordered the case dropped due to lack of evidence. The French government is appealing his release. Canada's Department of Justice is conducting an internal review of the case to assess any "lessons learned."

A 'broken' system

The role the Crown played in bolstering the French case against Diab is "standard practice" and part of a larger culture of extradite-at-all-costs within the Department of Justice in need of urgent review, said Gary Botting, a lawyer who has argued hundreds of extradition cases in Canada.

"Nothing surprised me about the Diab case. It is slimy, the lowest low in terms of qualitative judicial practice," said Botting.

Diab's case clearly demonstrates that the Canadian extradition system is "broken" and in need of review, said Currie.

"The Crown obviously felt compelled not only to press forward ferociously with this extradition, but to try to help the French shore up what was obviously a shoddy case."

More transparency is needed on how the Canadian government provides assistance to foreign states seeking to prosecute Canadian citizens, said Currie.

"The IAG tends to be very secretive about their work, and while some of that is necessary because we're dealing with diplomatic relations, they are arguably overboard with it," he said. "A public inquiry would shine light on what these government officials are doing and let us make decisions as to whether we actually want the system to work the way it does."

Calls for a public inquiry mount

The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) and the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG) have joined Amnesty International and the BCCLA in calling for a public inquiry into Diab's extradition.

The coalition is demanding a thorough, independent examination of Canada's Extradition Act with a view to substantial reform. Questions also must be asked about the degree to which racial and religious profiling played a role in the application of Canadian extradition law in Diab's case, said a press release issued by the coalition on Tuesday.

"We don't have confidence that an internal review will answer those questions," said Tim McSorley, ICLMG's national coordinator.

It remains unclear whether the strategies used by Crown lawyers to ensure Diab's extradition are being used in current extradition cases, said McSorley.

"So if we have a situation where an internal review is being carried out by the same people who agreed with those policies in the first place, that raises serious concerns about independence," he said. "And so, we think what's really needed is a public and independent inquiry."

'I used to dream of that day'

6 years ago
Duration 11:57
Hassan Diab sits down with Rosemary Barton to discuss his release from a French prison and what it feels like to be home.