After years in French prison, Diab fighting to fix Canada's 'lousy' extradition laws

After three years languishing in a French prison, Canadian university professor Hassan Diab and his team of supporters are calling for an public inquiry into Canada's extradition system.

French prosecutors had mistakenly linked Diab to 1980 synagogue bombing in Paris that killed 4 people

Hassan Diab stands with his wife Rania Tfaily as he speaks with reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday. French authorities dropped terrorism charges against Diab, who had been accused of taking part in an attack in Paris in 1980, and ordered his release. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

After three years languishing in a French prison, Canadian university professor Hassan Diab and his team of supporters are calling for an public inquiry into Canada's extradition system.

"[It's] mainly to ensure that we don't see more Hassan Diabs in the future, we don't see more victims," Diab told reporters at Amnesty International's offices in Ottawa, a day after returning from France.

"The law is not balanced. There are tons of mistakes."

Diab was extradited from Canada three years ago after a prolonged legal battle against extradition. French prosecutors had linked him to a 1980 synagogue bombing that killed four people.

Diab's first words to reporters

5 years ago
Duration 1:32
Hassan Diab is back in Ottawa after more than three years in a French jail

The Lebanese-Canadian was arrested by RCMP in November 2008 and was under house arrest for three years before he was extradited to France in 2014.

Diab was released from prison in January after authorities in France dropped terrorism charges against him due to lack of evidence

His supporters in Canada have long argued that he should never have been extradited to a foreign country on the basis of evidence that would not have stood up in a Canadian court.

"The justice minister at the time could have done a lot, because he had the ultimate veto," Diab said in an interview airing later on CBC News Network's Power & Politics and The National.

"Even if the judges did what the law, the lousy law I call it, if the judges did it according to the law, he could have said no, wait a minute."

Diab described the decision to extradite him as hypocritical, "because even the extradition law says we send only people for trial, not three years and two months before no trial, no nothing, no charges."

Hassan Diab on extradition

5 years ago
Duration 1:01
Canadian university professor Hassan Diab talks about the decision to extradite him when he had not been found guilty of a crime in Canada.

Diab said he doesn't believe any one department or person singled him out, but he wants to change the system so no one else faces what he did.

"The mistake was an institutional mistake," said Diab. "It's a lousy law." 

22 hours of solitary confinement 

Diab's lawyer Don Bayne, well known for his defence of Sen. Mike Duffy during the Senate expenses scandal, stressed there was no justifiable evidence to put him on trial.

Diab remained imprisoned despite the fact that he did not match a fingerprint left by the perpetrator of the Paris bombing in 1980 and could demonstrate that he was in fact sitting exams in Beirut when it occurred. Both university records, and the stamps in Diab's passport, backed his claims.

"There is no sworn evidence. A foreign official need only sign a piece of paper that makes allegations against a Canadian. How do you defend against that?" said Bayne.

'It's a mountain too high for anyone to climb'

5 years ago
Duration 8:24
Donald Bayne, Hassan Diab's lawyer, weighs in on Canada's extradition law and how it affected his client's case

Alex Neve of Amnesty International says he hopes Hassan's "Kafkaesque" ordeal sparks changes.

"It defies belief that this was possible," he said.

During a period of his detainment, Diab spent 22 hours in a cell alone.

"The worst enemy was not knowing what was going on. That was, by itself, a torture," he said. "The dark ideas would come up again."

Not seeking personal compensation

In France, prisoners freed without trial are entitled to compensation for every day spent in prison. It ranges between 50-80 euros (roughly $80 to $120) per day.

Diab said he will be using any money to reimburse his supporters and put an extra money toward supporting other victims.

"I don't want any penny from the taxpayers in Canada," he said.

While pushing for a better system, Diab thanked his supporters, lawyers and his family.

"Justice has finally prevailed. Miracles can happen," he said.

Hassan Diab on returning to the world

5 years ago
Duration 0:30
Canadian university professor Hassan Diab talks about returning to his family after terrorism charges against him were dropped in France.

While efforts to get the inquiry underway begin, Hassan said he has lots of missed time to make up with his family. His youngest son was born while Diab was behind bars.

He told CBC's Rosemary Barton that he is not sure how long the adjustment back to the real world will take. He said he wakes in the night and wonders where he is, looks down at his children sleeping next to him and wants to cherish every moment. 

"I have these kids and they sleep, one here, one right one left," he said. "The first night I kept watching the little one. For the whole night, I didn't sleep. He was asleep next to me and then I kept looking. Is it possible? I don't want to lose, you know, waste time. I want to watch him."

Watch the full interview in the player below. 

With files from Peter Zimonjic, Rosemary Barton