An astonishing injustice that no one will care about


National Post, 2 May 2018

When miscarriages of justice come to light, as in the case of Dr. Hassan Diab, it seems we're not greatly bothered by the incarceration of the innocent

The case of Ottawa professor Hassan Diab, extradited to France on dubious grounds to endure near solitary confinement, now appears to be something much more disturbing. It appears, according to new reporting by the CBC, that Dr. Diab was sent to France in part because senior officials in the Canadian justice department did not disclose evidence that strongly pointed to his innocence.

Dr. Diab, upon being released in France earlier this year and returning to Canada, said he had no intention of suing for compensation. I hope he changes his mind now, and that his case prompts a swift redrafting of Canada’s extradition laws to prevent a similar miscarriage of justice.

It’s no longer news that innocent people are falsely convicted in Canada, including of the most serious crimes. It happens when police and prosecutors are convinced that a suspect is guilty, no matter whether there is an absence of evidence, or even exculpatory evidence.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be shocked by that. There is no inherent reason that police, prosecutors and judges ought to be more or less fallible than other government employees, like those who work in defence procurement or in energy policy. On the other hand, though, incompetence or malfeasance in the criminal justice system has such catastrophic consequences for the falsely accused that it always ought to shock and appall.

That is what happened in the case of Dr. Diab. In 2008, France requested his extradition on charges related to the 1980 Paris synagogue bombing that killed four people. The evidence France had was flimsy at best, relying mostly on discredited handwriting samples. Canada’s Extradition Act does not require that the evidence be credible, but simply that the requesting government assert that it has evidence.

In June 2011, the Canadian courts approved the extradition on those narrow grounds, even though the presiding judge said bluntly that the evidence was “convoluted, very confusing, with conclusions that are suspect” and that “the prospects of conviction in the context of a fair trial seem unlikely.”

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