Canadians shouldn’t be sent to trial overseas on shaky evidence

Following an ongoing national discussion that was recently reopened with the case of Hassan Diab, a former professor at the University of Ottawa and Carleton University, it’s clear that Canada needs to stop being complacent while its citizens are abused by foreign nations. Time and time again, the Canadian government has been almost eager to extradite its citizens to foreign nations.

Diab is a Canadian citizen, and the centre of an only recently concluded legal process. The facts of his case are as follows: Diab was taken from his home in Canada and extradited to France in 2014 because he was suspected of committing a synagogue bombing that killed four people in France in 1980.

If you end the factual analysis there, whether or not Diab was the recipient of injustice is a contestable statement. If all those years ago Diab did in fact participate in the murder of four people on French soil, or if there was at least persuasive evidence pointing to such a conclusion, then it’s entirely reasonable for the French authorities to request he be tried for such a crime according to their terms. But the facts don’t end there, and what they reveal is a disappointing neglect on behalf of the Canadian government.

Only two points of context are required to expose the absurdity of Diab’s extradition. First, Diab claimed that he was not even in France at the time when the bombing occured; he was in Lebanon. This claim would later be substantiated by French authorities after further investigation. The primary evidence the French authorities had against Diab was a handwritten document they attributed to him, and handwriting analysis of that document was brought into question by five handwriting experts. Instead of protecting him, the Canadian government took Diab out of his home and sent him to a foreign nation on evidence that was questionable at best.

In 1999 Canada’s extradition laws were rewritten to considerable controversy. The biggest problem with the law is that the burden of proof was lowered substantially in order to extradite citizens. What does this mean? Essentially, if you want to convict someone in a case on Canadian soil you need persuasive evidence. In an extradition case, however, anything that even vaguely resembles evidence is sufficient. There have been about 1,500 extradition requests since 1999. Only five of them have been rejected. In the Diab case specifically, though the Canadian judge assessing the evidence found it to be erroneous, he nonetheless extradited Diab because the evidence was not “manifestly unreliable”.

The Canadian government was grossly mistaken when they extradited Hassan Diab. If Canada is unable or unwilling to protect its own citizens on its own soil then the problem is much larger than just extradition reform.