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'We're all at risk': Hassan Diab's lawyer on what's wrong with Canada's extradition system

“Our process for extradition denies Canadians fundamental rights and freedoms. The whole act and process needs to be subject to intensive review.”
Hassan Diab (centre), a former Ottawa University professor, was ordered extradited to France by the Canadian government in 2014. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)

After more than three years in solitary confinement in a French maximum-security prison, Hassan Diab is finally a free man.

The Lebanese-Canadian was arrested by the RCMP in 2008 and extradited to France in 2014. He was charged with first-degree murder in a 1980 Paris synagogue bombing that killed four people.

Diab, a former Ottawa university professor, has long maintained his innocence. His case never went to trial in France.

For his Canadian lawyer, Donald Bayne, Diab's predicament is emblematic of the flaws in Canada's extradition system.

"This case is a graphic illustration of the failings of our extradition act," he tells The Sunday Edition host Michael Enright.

"Our process for extradition denies Canadians fundamental rights and freedoms. The whole act and process needs to be subject to intensive review."
Donald Bayne, Canadian lawyer for Hassan Diab, says this case illustrates the failings of the Canada's extradition process. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

'We left it to a foreign court to prove his innocence'

Hassan Diab's extradition took place, even as the Canadian extradition judge Robert Maranger described the evidence against him as "illogical, very problematic, convoluted, very confusing, with conclusions that are suspect."

The initial charges against Diab were based on handwriting analysis of five words in a Paris hotel register, allegedly by the synagogue bomber. Five handwriting experts later testified that the original analysis was flawed.

"Everyone said that the French handwriting evidence was ludicrously unreliable," Bayne says. "It didn't even compare with Dr. Diab's handwriting. They didn't even have his samples."

One judge also found that on the evening of the attack, Diab was studying in Beirut — something Diab has maintained all along.

Bayne points out additional discrepancies in the evidence against Diab.

"The man who was alleged to have done this was described by a prostitute who spent the night with him as being 40 to 45 years old. Dr. Diab was 26 years old in 1980," he says.

"They have a fingerprint and a palm printout from this suspect, who was actually arrested in a shoplifting incident. It does not match Dr. Diab, but excludes him."

Hassan Diab has long maintained his innocence. Despite spending more than three years in a French maximum-security prison, his case never went to trial in France. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle)
Bayne says the evidence was never strong enough to warrant Diab's extradition.

"You can only extradite when a foreign country has a reliable, credible case ready to go to trial, " he says. "But France never had a case against Dr. Diab ready for trial or reliable enough to take to trial."

"We left it to a foreign court to prove his innocence," Bayne adds.

"People can be found not guilty. Most people don't have to go the extra step to prove their innocence. It would appear to me that's what the Canadian courts at every level failed to do."

Bayne believes it's time for an in-depth re-examination of the Canadian extradition system.

"We're all at risk," he says.

This case is a graphic illustration of the failings of our extradition act.- Donald Bayne

Appeals still possible

Before his release on Friday, Diab was ordered freed by French judges eight times — only to have those decisions challenged and overturned by appeal judges every time.

The latest release order is still subject to an appeal, and Bayne says he's been advised by the French lawyers that "appeals are already in the works."

But, he says, this latest order is of a different magnitude.

"Whereas those [previous] appeals could be taken immediately ... this release order stands until such time as the appeal is argued and a decision is given — and that could take a month or more," he says.

"He's a free man today and my understanding of French law is that he cannot unilaterally be put back in prison," Bayne adds.

His spirit really was never broken through. He always believed that justice would come through.-Donald Bayne

Balancing legal rights and security concerns

Bayne believes this latest decision speaks to the courage of the judges involved.

These two judges, he says, "have withstood terrific political and social pressure in the current climate in France and are very courageous ... because terrorist suspects in France are regarded very skeptically in their protests of innocence."

Bayne believes the Diab case speaks to the larger threats posed to rights and freedoms in the post-9/11 era.

"I think since 9/11, every Western government has had political pressure to revamp the way it deals with terrorism cases and that has strained individual human and legal rights not only in Canada, [but] in the US, in Britain, in France," he says.

"I think the pendulum has swung. And it's got to be kept in balance, where we're balancing rights against the need for public security. We have an extradition system in Canada now that doesn't strike the right balance."
Hassan Diab's Canadian lawyer Don Bayne (right) looks on as Hassan Diab's wife Rania Tfaily speaks during a news conference in Ottawa in April 2017. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

'His spirit was never broken'

After nearly a decade in limbo, some of it in solitary confinement, Hassan Diab still remains in "wonderful spirits," Bayne says.

"His spirit really was never broken through," he adds. "He always believed that justice would come through ... He believed that reason would eventually win out.

"He's a very decent, quiet man. He's never railed or screamed ... And I think that's the approach he'll take when he comes back. He'll quietly go about trying to get his life back in order and try to get work."

Diab has strong family support to return to, Bayne says. He describe Diab's wife, Rania Tfaily, as an "extremely courageous" woman who has "led this fight for a decade."

He also points to the support committee that formed to advocate for Diab's case, and the work done by the media in keeping the case alive.

The legal credit, he says, should go to Diab's French lawyers.

"It's a tough uphill fight in France, and they're the real legal heroes in this."

Click 'listen' above to hear the full interview.