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Dozens of lawyers call for suspension of extradition with France over Diab case


OTTAWA — More than 100 legal professionals are asking Canada to suspend its extradition treaty with France over concerns "an innocent man" could face trial there in a terrorism case.

In a new letter to Justice Minister David Lametti, many prominent lawyers say there is no evidence to support sending Ottawa sociology professor Hassan Diab to France a second time in the long-running matter.

In May, a French court upheld a decision directing Diab to stand trial in the decades-old bombing of a Paris synagogue.

Born in Lebanon, Diab became a Canadian citizen in 1993, working in Ottawa as a university teacher.

The RCMP arrested him in November 2008 in response to a request by France. French authorities suspected Diab was involved in the 1980 blast that killed four people and injured dozens of others, an accusation he has always denied.

After lengthy proceedings that went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, Diab was extradited to France, where he spent three years behind bars, including time in solitary confinement. 

In January 2018, French judges dismissed the allegations against him for lack of evidence and ordered his immediate release. 

The ruling allowed Diab, now 67, to return to his wife and young children in Ottawa while subsequent court proceedings in Paris played out. 

Diab's supporters have long argued he was in Beirut — not Paris — when the attack took place and that his fingerprints, palm prints, physical description and age did not match those of the suspect identified in 1980. 

Diab's lawyer, Donald Bayne, has said the latest analysis of handwriting evidence in the case makes the argument for pursuing his client even weaker.

There has been no public indication of a next step in the case since the May ruling in Paris.

The letter from dozens of lawyers and other legal professionals, made public Tuesday, calls on the Liberal government to urge France to put an immediate end to the "continuing miscarriage of justice."

"Thousands of Canadians have come to know the Ottawa professor as an innocent man, whose life has been massively damaged and whose rights and freedoms have been violated by France’s relentless persecution."

Addressed to Lametti, the letter is copied to several other cabinet members and federal party leaders.

Among the signatories are lawyers Barbara Jackman, Paul Champ, Dennis Edney and Paul Copeland as well as law professors Rob Currie, Sharry Aiken and Don Stuart.

They seek assurances that Canada will not bow to a second request for Diab’s extradition.

In addition, the letter advocates suspending the extradition treaty with France, calling it "inherently defective."

"France has proven to be an untrustworthy extradition partner."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 14, 2021.

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press