Middle East studies in the News
French Courts Drop Terror Allegations Against Ottawa Professor Hassan Diab
by Chris Cobb
Hassan Diab walked out of a Paris prison a free man Friday and into more uncertainty.
The 64-year-old Ottawa academic was released from a Paris maximum security prison after anti-terrorism judges ruled that there was insufficient evidence to send him to trial.
It is a precedent-setting decision that could, finally, mark the conclusion of Diab's decade-long legal battle, one that has been fought against a backdrop of history, Western anxiety over terrorism and a fractious debate over due process.
At its centre: Diab, who was indicted on murder, attempted murder and other charges related to an October 1980 bomb attack outside a Paris synagogue that killed four passers-by and injured dozens more. The bomb was planted in the saddle bag of a motor cycle parked outside the synagogue.
The case has cast a spotlight on Canadian extradition law and the burden of proof required to send a citizen to face justice in another nation, and, on Friday, Trudeau hinted that his government is open reviewing that law.
Diab has consistently denied involvement and said he was studying in Lebanon at the time of bombing. The investigating judges say have evidence that supports Diab's claim of innocence.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed the judges' decision.
"We've been directly active on many, many consular cases with positive results," he told reporters Friday in London, Ont. "Certainly this case is no different. We are pleased, obviously, that the French judicial system came to the conclusion that it did."
As for Canada's controversial extradition law, which has come under constant criticism for being weak and inconsistent with the high standards of Canada's criminal law, "We will be reflecting on lessons learned in the coming weeks and months," Trudeau said.
Diab's Ottawa lawyer Don Bayne described the judges' decision as "momentous."
"This is an order of final release," he said. "There is no case against this man. It is over."
But Diab is still not totally free, conceded Bayne.
"He can't just go to the airport, buy a ticket and come home," he said.
Prosecutors immediately appealed Diab's release Friday and lawyers representing victims of the bombing are expected to do the same.
Prosecutors have admitted to flaws in the case but had petitioned the anti-terrorism judges to commit Diab to trial.
Although free until higher courts rule on the appeals, it seems unlikely that Diab will be able to return to Canada, without official permission, until the appeal process has been exhausted.
It is also likely that he is on a no-fly list and that alone could prove a significant obstacle to overcome.
While ecstatic over Friday's decision, the case has set so many legal precedents in France that Diab's French lawyers are refusing to predict what might happen next.
Lead lawyer William Bourdon has said that Diab is a prisoner of the current anti-terrorism climate in France and prosecutors are persisting in the case because they fear being branded as soft on terrorism.
The academic was extradited in November 2014 at the request of France after a six-year legal battle to stay in Canada. He was flown to Paris within hours of the Supreme Court of Canada dashing his final hope by refusing to hear the case.
The Lebanon-born Canadian citizen spent more than three years in pre-trial detention awaiting Friday's decision.
During his incarceration in France, eight judicial decisions ordering his release on bail were successfully appealed by prosecutors.
Anti-terrorism Judge Jean-Marc Herbaut, one of the investigative judges who dismissed the case against Diab on Friday, had previously ordered the academic's release on bail, saying evidence he had gathered in Lebanon indicated that Diab was telling the truth and was not in Paris at the time of the bombing.
Diab's French lawyers said in a statement Friday that they respect the victims' quest for justice, but the judges' decision demonstrates the "impossibility to attribute to Hassan Diab any responsibility in the attack."
They had asked prosecutors to respect the judges' ruling and not appeal.
After his 2008 arrest, Diab was jailed for several months at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre before being released on conditions that amounted to strict house arrest. He was ordered to wear – and pay for – a $2,000 a month monitoring device on his ankle.
In his 2011 ruling, Diab's extradition judge Robert Maranger said it was unlikely that the evidence against Diab would have resulted in a conviction in a Canadian criminal court but the low threshold required by the extradition law gave him no choice but to recommend that the academic be turned over to France.
Diab's lawyer Bayne has been especially critical of the law which he says has been abused in the Diab case and has left Canadian citizens vulnerable.
"It is a law and process that needs to be re-examined," he said.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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