Monday, January 25, 2010

The Leveller: And it all falls apart

The following article originally appeared in the January 2010 issue of The Leveller, Carleton University’s campus and community newspaper. The complete edition is available at

And it all falls apart

The case for extradition against Hassan Diab, the sociology instructor removed from the classroom by Carleton University administration on July 28, 2009, seems to be unraveling.

Hearings on extraditing Diab to France, originally scheduled for January 4, 2010, have been adjourned indefinitely to allow the French government to review the case. Diab is accused of being behind a 1980 bombing of a Paris synagogue.

Assistant Crown Attourney Claude LeFrancois requested the adjournment on December 18, 2009 after Diab’s defence won the right to call witnesses to contest the controversial foundations of the French case against him at the conclusion of the evidentiary hearing on December 11, 2009.

The case for extradition is based on two questionable categories of material submitted as evidence. The first are two French handwriting analyses that possibly link five words on a hotel registry in Paris to Diab. The second is secret intelligence that may link someone with Diab’s name—a common name—to the bombing.

The December 11 decision by Justice Maranger allows defense lawyers to call expert witnesses and contest the validity of French handwriting analysis and the use of secret intelligence in the hearing.

This is the first case in Canadian history in which the crown attorney has used unsourced secret intelligence, which is unknown, untestable, and unreliable, as courtroom evidence. Diab’s lawyer, Mr. Donald Bayne, put evidence before the court that showed the French investigators themselves admit they do not know the source and the reliability of their intelligence.

In addition, Bayne highlighted the contradictions in the intelligence against Diab, demonstrating the French investigators had recently tailored the intelligence to make it fit the evidence.

The handwriting analysis is also disputed. It purportedly links Diab to the bombing. However, four of the world’s top handwriting experts were extremely critical of the French handwriting analysis.

Dan C. Purdy, a Canadian handwriting expert who has worked with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), said, “As someone who has many years experience dealing with competency and quality control issues, I am very critical of the way the [French analyst] conducted her examination and find her results highly unreliable.”

The defence plans to show conclusive evidence that the handwriting samples attributed to Diab were in fact written by someone else. To further weaken the Crown case, Diab does not match the description of the man who filled out the hotel registration card in 1980. France’s own evidence describes a 40- to 45-year old Mediterranean European man who spoke French without an accent. Diab was 26 years old in 1980.

Worse still, the French authorities collected a palm print that they presume the bomber left, and it does not match Diab. In short, all attempts to place him at the scene of the crime appear to be contrived and what solid physical evidence there is discounts him as its author.

The judge’s decision on December 11 will allow Diab to call expert witnesses during the extradition hearing and to contest French allegations against him. The decision by Justice Robert Maranger is unprecedented in Canadian legal history, and it may have important consequences regarding the case against Diab.

This turn of events has prompted the crown attorney to request a lengthy adjournment to review a case that seems to be falling apart.

Diab’s nightmare began on October 2007, when a reporter from the French newspaper Le Figaro approached Diab and asked if he knew he was being investigated for a 1980 Paris bombing that killed four people. Diab assured the reporter it must be a case of mistaken identity.

Almost a year later, on November 13, 2008, Diab was arrested by the RCMP on the request of the French government. After being held for four and half months, Diab was released on $250,000 bail on April 1, 2009 with strict conditions. Since then Diab has been forced to wear (and pay $2,500 a month for) an ankle bracelet and GPS device that tracks his every move.

In July 2009, Diab was removed from an introductory sociology course at Carleton, after the administration faced pressure by the Jewish organization B’nai Brith. Diab’s removal sparked a campaign of support from Carleton students and faculty.

Rania Tfaily, Diab’s partner, said, “It is extremely unfortunate how Carleton’s top administrators dismissed Hassan, especially when Hassan’s case is related to issues of fundamental justice. I understand the importance of public relations to Carleton University, but I strongly oppose the disregard of the presumption of innocence–especially given the appalling unreliability of the ‘evidence’ in the case against Hassan.”

Tfaily added, “This is particularly unfortunate given the discrimination and racial profiling to which Arabs and Muslims are being subjected in North America. While Carleton administrators might have appeased B’nai Brith with their dismissal of Hassan, they have alienated a substantial number of faculty members, including Jewish academics, students, and community members.”

As Diab’s case for extradition falls apart due to flimsy evidence, it seems likely that Diab will not be extradited to France and will remain in Canada. It also seems increasingly likely that Diab will return to the academic community, but the question remains as to his reception.

The case is a reminder that decisions on guilt should be left to the rule of law and not made by media pundits and university administrations. Given the adjournment of the extradition hearing, Diab has applied to teach at Carleton University, but he has not yet heard how the university will respond to his request.