Canada scapegoated Hassan Diab for a crime he did not commit — don’t extradite him to France for a second time

A little over a week ago, France’s court of appeal ordered Canadian Hassan Diab to return to France to stand trial for a crime he could not have possibly committed.  In fact, Diab was never charged with any crime. After spending three years in solitary confinement in a rough French jail, a court found there was no evidence to charge or continue to hold Diab for the 1980 bombing of a Paris synagogue. The bomb killed four people and injured more than 40.

Diab was neither involved in the bombing, nor even in France at the time.  Instead, there are eyewitness accounts and college records that show that Diab was writing university examinations in Beirut, Lebanon at the time.  In addition, though French prosecutors insisted that handwriting on a Paris hotel registry was Diab’s,  four internationally-recognized handwriting experts swore it was not a match.

Diab’s ordeal began in Ottawa, 13 years ago

This travesty of justice began 13 years ago in 2008, when the RCMP arrested the Ottawa sociology professor and placed him under severe bail restrictions.  Six miserable years later, a Canadian judge admitted the case was “very confusing” and “convoluted” though he allowed Diab’s extradition to France in 2014.  There, Diab – a husband and a father of two young children — was jailed for more than three years in solitary confinement before the case against him crumbled. 

Hassan Diab at home in Ottawa after his release from a French prison in 2018. Top Countercockwise: his wife Rania Tfaily, son Jad aged 3 and daughter Jena, aged 5. Phone credit: Wayne Cuddington/Postmedia

The real question is why? Why is France insisting Diab is the bomber?  For decades, relatives of the dead and injured victims have demanded investigators find and punish the perpetrators of the bombing.  According to Ottawa-based writer Michelle Weinroth,

“The real culprit, who was 40 in 1980 (while Dr. Diab was 26), in all likelihood no longer walks the face of this earth. But the French prosecutors have sought to make him walk again in the guise of a fictitious suspect, so that the victims of the 1980 bombing can feel their grief assuaged by seeing a scapegoat condemned to hell.”

Michelle Weinroth, writing in The Bullet, https://socialistproject.ca/2021/02/trudeau-end-hassan-diabs-ordeal-now/

Now with Diab as the only suspect, the French families, the Jewish community and the government are reluctant to let him go.   But as Aurélie Lefebvre, one of Diab’s criminal lawyers in France, points out, the right “to have the real perpetrators accountable is not a right that could be satisfied in any way with the trial of a man who is innocent and for whom we have so many [sic] evidence that show his innocence.”

“The right to have the real perpetrators accountable is not a right that could be satisfied … with the trial of a man who is innocent…”

French Lawyer Aurélie Lefebvre

Mainstream Canadian Jewish Community continues to push for the prosecution of Diab

Not only are elements in the Jewish community in France driving Diab’s prosecution, but so are some in the establishment Canadian Jewish community.  In 2009, B’nai Brith Canada criticized Carleton University for allowing Diab to continue to teach. B’nai Brith Canada’s then-Executive Vice-President, Frank Dimant, issued a statement which charged that Diab’s employment was endangering the “safety and security of the community as a whole, and of the Carleton University campus.”

Dimant went on to say “…The last place in the world where this man [Diab] belongs is in a university classroom, in front of impressionable students.”  Carleton University fired Diab that very day.

B’nai Brith Canada describes itself as a human rights organization which has “championed the cause of human rights in Canada since 1875.” Its YouTube site displays the motto: “Grassroots human rights advocacy and a lifeline for our community.” B’nai Brith’s League for Human Rights “advocates for the human rights of all Canadians… and advocates for global human rights…” If B’nai Brith and its League for Human Rights advocates for human rights, what about the rights of Hassan Diab? Isn’t a basic tenet of all human rights the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty? Clearly B’nai Brith is selective about its human rights advocacy.  

Two other prominent Canadian Jewish organizations also joined the chorus to condemn Diab–without a trial.  The Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) demanded that Diab immediately be sent to France for trial (which never took place).

“The freeing of Diab can only encourage Jihadists to further terrorism in France, believing that they can truly get away with murder. We urge French Justice to return Diab to custody before he can flee the country as a hero to every Islamist.”

https://www.wiesenthal.com/about/news/wiesenthal-centre-to-french-16.html

Mincing no words, and showing no proof, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, SWC’s associate dean, called Diab “an accused terrorist mass murderer.”

SWC’s then-CEO Avi Benlolo said, Carleton University was treating “an accused terrorist mass murderer as if he was charged with drunk driving.” Even when Diab was released and returned to Canada in 2018, the SWC urged that “the public trial of Diab go forward with or without his presence in court.”

In 2014, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) applauded the decision to uphold the extradition order against Diab: “The fact that the main suspect in this hateful terrorist attack will indeed face the justice system gives hope to the survivors…”  That is the last statement CIJA made – they still don’t defend the rights of an innocent person — who happens to be Muslim.

In 2008, Bernie Farber, former CEO of the now-defunct Canadian Jewish Congress (an umbrella group which, for more than 80 years, represented the broader Jewish community) supported Diab’s arrest. Farber said he was “very pleased” that law enforcement authorities were “never giving up in the fight against terrorism.” But then he recanted. He wrote “… it was all too easy to unquestioningly accept the decision to leave it in hands of France… But a decade later, justice has not been served.”

Benjamin Shinewald a lawyer for the then-Canadian Jewish Congress, also admitted to “piling on” against Diab. Ten years later, he apologized and expressed “deepest regret to Mr. Diab for my actions. I also commit to supporting his principled and honourable campaign for a public inquiry.” He also calls on the Centre for Israel Jewish Affairs (CIJA), the successor to the Canadian Jewish Congress, to support Diab’s rights. Something CIJA refuses to do.

At no time did any of these mainstream Jewish organizations, including CIJA, B’nai Brith or the Simon Wiesenthal Center try to make common cause with more than 20 well-respected social justice and advocacy groups such as Amnesty International, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the BC Civil Liberties Association, the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, and the Canadian Labour Congress.  They all demanded justice for Diab. 

IJVCanada supports Diab

Two Jewish organizations did support Diab — the United Jewish People’s Order and Independent Jewish Voices Canada.   IJV Canada has supported Diab from the start and demanded he be freed.  IJV Canada joined with other Canadian advocacy groups to expose discredited evidence and the Canadian government’s complicity in allowing Diab’s extradition. The way the Canadian government handled the Diab case is eerily reminiscent of its bungling of cases involving other Arab-Canadians including Maher Arar, Omar Khadr, Muayyed Nureddin, Abdullah Almalki and Ahmad Elmaati. All were tortured in foreign countries as a result of faulty Canadian intelligence and the refusal by our governments of the day to intervene. All have since been issued apologies and compensation.  However, the case of Mohammed Harkat has dragged on for 18 years.  Harkat, an Algerian, came to Canada in 1995. Since just after 9/11 he was arrested as a terrorist, though the government’s evidence against him remains  secret—both to his lawyer and to the public.  Prime Minister Trudeau’s brother, Alexandre Trudeau, filed a letter of support on Harkat’s behalf — which said that Harkat

“poses no danger whatsoever to the public or to public safety in Canada. ”

Alexandre Trudeau, filmmaker

Still, Harkat now faces an extradition order issued under Canada’s security certificate regime, which allows the federal government to hold foreign-born terror suspects indefinitely.   So we see Islamophobia is very much at play in all these cases, including Hassan Diab’s.

In 2021 the Canadian government must refuse to extradite Diab to France. As IJVCanada notes, Trudeau has to act on his statement of June 20, 2018, that what happened to Dr. Diab should never happen again. Trudeau and his government must commit to not extraditing Diab to France a second time. The government must also reform Canada’s extradition laws so that no other person is made to suffer through this endless ordeal that Diab has faced.

Featured Image: Hubert Robert’s Self-portrait as an inmate of Saint-Lazare prison (1794). Photo credit: The Drawing Centre, New York.

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