POLITICS

Hassan Diab Case: Top Court Won't Hear Case Of Ottawa Man Wanted By France

11/13/2014 04:00 EST | Updated 01/12/2015 05:59 EST
CP
OTTAWA - An Ottawa sociology professor says he will keep fighting for his freedom now that he faces certain extradition to France in a decades-old terrorism case.

The Supreme Court of Canada said Thursday it would not hear the appeal of Hassan Diab, wanted for questioning by French authorities in connection with the October 1980 bombing of a Paris synagogue.

Some time in the next six weeks, Diab — now locked in an Ottawa jail — will be whisked to France where a judge will quiz him about the unsolved crime.

French authorities suspect Diab, 60, was involved in the anti-Semitic bombing 34 years ago that killed four people and injured dozens of others — an accusation he denies.

In a statement, Diab described life since his arrest six years ago as a Kafkaesque nightmare. He expressed disappointment in the high court decision — calling the outcome shocking — and promised to never stop battling "the false allegations" levelled against him.

"This is a very sad day for me, my family and supporters, and the state of extradition law in Canada. I had hoped for justice from the Canadian legal system," he said.

"I vow to never give up, and I will always remain hopeful that I will eventually return to my home in Canada and be reunited with my wife and children."

In keeping with standard practice, the Supreme Court gave no reason for its decision.

In submissions to the court, Diab's lawyer Donald Bayne said it was time to settle key legal questions about the use of unproven intelligence in a criminal prosecution. Bayne argued that France's reliance on secret information raises basic issues of constitutionality and procedural fairness.

Another key element of the case is the reliability of evidence that has been revealed to date — particularly handwriting on a hotel registration card allegedly penned by Diab.

At a news conference Thursday, Bayne said flawed evidence and inadequate legal safeguards place his client at grave risk. "We now have, in my view, a classic recipe for the wrongful conviction of a Canadian."

The Canadian government had argued Diab's request for a Supreme Court hearing raised no issue of public importance and should be dismissed.

Diab is now subject to "immediate removal," said Clarissa Lamb, a spokeswoman for Justice Minister Peter MacKay. Under the Extradition Act, Canada has 45 days to send Diab to France, she noted.

Pursuant to the Canada-France extradition treaty, France is responsible for organizing and executing the surrender of someone once their extradition from Canada has been ordered and confirmed by the courts.

The Justice Department's international assistance group is in discussions with the French to ensure Diab's removal takes place within the deadline, Lamb added.

At this point, Diab is presumed to be innocent, the French Embassy in Ottawa said in a statement. In France, he will be heard by an investigating judge in an open judicial inquiry regarding the attack, an embassy spokesman said.

Bayne stressed that Diab does not face formal charges, but nevertheless could be imprisoned for many months.

"He's being extradited so that they can keep him in jail and have about two years, I am advised by French lawyers, of investigation," he said. "Canadians are not supposed to languish in foreign jails while investigations are going on."

Diab and wife Rania have a young daughter, and another child is expected in the new year.

Friends are trying to come up with ways to help, said Diab colleague Jacqueline Kennelly, a Carleton University sociology professor. "Soon Rania is going to be on her own with two very young children," Kennelly said. "She's devastated."

Diab's supporters say a Supreme Court hearing would have been his last real chance for justice in Canada.

This country has a responsibility to ensure Charter of Rights guarantees are protected, no matter who has suspicions of wrongdoing, said Emily McMurtry, one of Diab's former Carleton students.

"It's a larger, fundamental issue of justice for Canadians as a whole," McMurtry said Thursday outside the Supreme Court building, where she endured chilly winds to lend moral support to Diab's cause.

"I think it's something that every last Canadian should be concerned about."

Diab has garnered the backing of a number of prominent people, including former federal solicitor general Warren Allmand, linguistics professor and activist Noam Chomsky, and Sharry Aiken, associate dean of law at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont.

The RCMP arrested Diab, a Canadian of Lebanese descent, in November 2008 in response to a request by France.

In June 2011, Ontario Superior Court Justice Robert Maranger committed Diab for extradition despite acknowledging the case against him was weak.

The following April, then-justice minister Rob Nicholson signed an extradition order surrendering Diab to France.

The Ontario Court of Appeal upheld the decisions of the lower court and the minister, prompting Diab's counsel to ask the Supreme Court to hear the case.

Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter