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Ontario Judge Approves Extradition of Ottawa Instructor

by Mat Nelson

Ontario Superior Court Justice Robert Maranger approved an extradition order on Jun. 6 for Ottawa-based former university instructor Hassan Diab, a move that may see Diab face murder and attempted murder charges in France.

Maranger called the case against Diab “weak” and “unlikely” to result in a conviction, but ordered the former instructor taken into custody, arguing that Canada’s extradition treaty with France required him to deny the defence’s bid to delay the decision in the case.

The final decision on whether to remove Diab to France is now in the hands of Canadian Minister of Justice Rob Nicholson.

Diab, who is accused of bombing a Paris synagogue in 1980, was arrested at France’s request in November 2008. French authorities and Crown prosecutors claim that Diab was a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine at the time of the incident. He denies the allegation, claiming it is a question of mistaken identity.

Last February, Maranger ruled that handwriting evidence crucial to France’s case against Diab was admissible, despite finding it highly “problematic” and likening it to “pseudoscience.”

Diab’s defence lawyer, Donald Bayne, has called the evidence “manifestly unreliable,” and in December 2009 won the right to call witnesses to challenge the faulty handwriting analyses.

Bayne later introduced three of the world’s top handwriting experts, from Canada, Britain, and the US. They were extremely critical of France’s handwriting analyses, calling it “baseless,” “unreliable,” “confusing,” convoluted,” and “frankly absurd – totally misguided and totally incorrect.”

French authorities withdrew the reports of two handwriting experts in the summer of 2010 because they were erroneously based on the handwriting samples of a different person, not Diab.

In addition to the discredited handwriting analyses, other questionable pieces of evidence include a palm print that the RCMP has established does not belong to Diab, as well as eyewitness descriptions that do not match him.

At a press conference following Maranger’s decision, a statement was read by Diab’s wife Rania Tfaily, a sociology professor at Carleton University in Ottawa. “It is devastating to see an innocent person deprived of his liberty and freedom based on deeply flawed, deeply problematic, and totally absurd handwriting analysis,” said Tfaily.

“This ordeal has caused considerable personal pain and financial burden. I very much support Hassan and his quest to never give up until this injustice is rectified and he clears his name.”

A video statement by Diab was also played at the press conference. “I had nothing to do with what the French authorities allege against me,” he said in the video. “I am not responsible for what they claim. I was not in France on October 2, 1980, when the hateful attack against the synagogue took place. I very strongly condemn that attack.”

“I am against any sort of racially, ethnically, or religiously motivated discrimination and violence. I denounce all such acts. My unwavering moral principle throughout my life has been promoting equality and respect for all. My family, friends, colleagues, and students can easily attest to this.”

Diab went on to criticize what he called the “shoddy handwriting analysis” in the case, the exclusion of the exonerating palm print and fingerprint evidence, as well as Canada’s extradition law, which “gives enormous advantages to foreign countries at the expense of Canadians.”

Dr. Gary Botting, a leading Canadian expert in extradition law, has called it “the most unfair process in Canada,” because it effectively acts as a rubber stamp at the judicial level, even if the judge feels the evidence against the accused is manifestly false or unreliable.

Ultimately, it is the Minister of Justice who makes the final decision as to whether to extradite the individual in question.

Donald Bayne discussed the “unfair” state of extradition law in Canada, and expressed dismay that Diab may not be able to challenge the handwriting evidence in France according to acceptable evidentiary standards.

Under France’s anti-terrorism laws, Diab may face charges based on secret, anonymous “intelligence” that cannot be tested or challenged. It is also impossible to determine whether this information was obtained through the use of torture, explained Bayne. “How unjust is that?”

Donald Pratt, a member of the support committee Justice for Hassan Diab, argued that “Canada’s extradition law allows France to keep swinging and swinging and swinging at the ball until they hit it. And you certainly don’t need to hit the ball out of the park. Just hit it hard enough to convince the umpire – the judge – that you could get to first base.”

Matthew Behrens of Justice for Hassan Diab ended the press conference by suggesting that “this has nothing really in the end to do with the law, and everything to do with politics and with fear.”

“Any Muslim who has been wrongly fingered at an airport, or on the job, or at a traffic stop, or thrown in jail on vague suspicions can no doubt relate to what Dr. Diab is currently going through,” said Behrens.  

“Today’s decision should be a wake-up call for all of us here in Canada, because under Canada’s extradition laws, any of us could be in Dr. Hassan Diab’s shoes right now. And he is in those shoes at the Ottawa Detention Centre, behind bars, deprived of his liberty.”

(Article originally published on the Leveller website, June 7, 2011)

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