Looking for a scapegoat: the terrifying case of Hassan Diab

For a second time in a decade — France is seeking to extradite Dr Hassan Diab for a crime that he did not commit, and could not have committed. Last month a French court convicted him of the 1980 murder of four people, and injuries to 40 others in a bombing outside a Paris synagogue.  Now France wants Diab extradited to serve a life sentence in a French prison.  

View from a cell in Fleury-Merogis Prison, Paris, France. Diab was imprisoned here 2014-2018, mainly in solitary confinement. (credit: Ludovic Marin 2019 AFP)

This is not the first time Diab, a Canadian citizen, faces extradition to France. Canada allowed his extradition to a French prison in 2014, while awaiting charges and a trial.  There was little evidence to charge him, yet in spite of Ontario Superior Court Justice Robert Maranger’s misgivings, Diab was extradited to France. Some legal scholars have criticized Canada’s extradition system as neither efficient nor fair.  

Diab was jailed in 2014 while two French judges carried out a three-year investigation.  In 2018, the judges determined that there was no evidence to justify even laying charges against Diab, let alone proceeding with a trial.

In 2018, Diab returned to Canada after more than three years in prison, mainly in solitary confinement.  After his liberty, his livelihood and his family had been taken from him for years in a shocking miscarriage of justice, Prime Minister Trudeau said, “what happened to him never should have happened.”

Photo taken in Ottawa, 21 April 2023– the day Hassan Diab was convicted by a French court (credit: Radio-Canada.ca)

Let’s hope Trudeau stands behind his words today and refuses to allow Diab’s extradition for a second time.  In April he was convicted by a French court and ordered he serve a life sentence. 

“What they don’t deserve is a scapegoat or a miscarriage of justice… What’s at stake here is the wrongful conviction of a Canadian citizen.”

Donald Bayne, Ottawa lawyer for Hassan Diab

Diab, 69 years of age and a married father of two young children, works as a part-time sociology professor in Ottawa.

The facts in the case reveal how Diab has been wrongly targeted: 

  • The bombing took place 43 years ago.  There were no eyewitnesses who identified Diab
  • There was a scrawled signature on a hotel registry card – but the handwriting from court appointed experts ruled out Diab
  • The thumbprint the French police lifted from the card did not match Diab’s prints
  • At the time of the bombing, Diab was a student writing his university exams in Beirut, Lebanon. Several of his fellow students in 1980 gave credible evidence that they were writing exams with him in Beirut at the time.

…the evidence against Diab was “convoluted, very confusing, with conclusions that are suspect”.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Robert Maranger, quoted in CAUT Bulletin, March 2021

In 2014, Justice Maranger allowed Diab to be extradited to France on the evidence of one French handwriting expert.  But that evidence has since been discredited.  The French court appointed two other handwriting experts insist the signature on the hotel card was not written by Diab. 

If Diab’s case had come before a Canadian criminal court, he never would have been convicted.  There were no witnesses, and there is no circumstantial evidence.  Yet the French court is under pressure from victims’ relatives.  Diab’s Canadian lawyer Donald Bayne notes that while the victims and their families deserve justice, “What they don’t deserve is a scapegoat or a miscarriage of justice… What’s at stake here is the wrongful conviction of a Canadian citizen.”

It’s time to end Diab’s nightmare.  Canadians are calling for justice for him, and that he not be extradited to France again.

For more information, listen to the excellent recent interview with human rights expert and professor Alex Neve on the Redeye Podcast on Vancouver’s Co-op Radio here.

Sign this petition to demand Diab not be extradited to France, for a crime he did not commit.

Featured Cartoon Above: Justice for Hassan Diab: A Webcomic by Anne Dagenais, read more here.

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