On October 3, 1980, a bomb went off just outside a synagogue on the rue Copernic in Paris. Several people were killed: a student on a motorbike, an Israeli journalist, a driver, and a caretaker. In addition, 46 people were wounded, many of them seriously. Eventually, over many years, the French authorities, with help from German intelligence as well as Israeli and French agents, tracked down the PFLP operative who left the bomb, a Lebanese sociologist named Hassan Diab. By that time, Diab was living in Canada. With the evidence it had gathered, France asked Canada to extradite Diab in 2008 so he could stand trial. More on this long, and disturbing story, can be found here: “Canada’s Trudeau considers next steps as citizen convicted for Paris synagogue blast,” AFP, April 22, 2023.
First, let’s look at the long saga of Diab’s first extradition to France from Canada, and the latest finding of a French court that has led France to request his second extradition.
France first requested that Canada extradite Diab in 2008, to stand trial for his role in the bombing 28 years before outside the synagogue on the rue Copernic. Diab’s lawyers fought the extradition; it was only in June of 2011 that a Canadian judge agreed to his extradition. But at that point, there were still further delays; an appeal made by his lawyers to the Ontario Court of Appeals was rejected and, at long last, in 2014, six years after the first request for his extradition, Hassan Diab was extradited to France to be tried for the bomb he planted on the rue Copernic in 1980.
Diab was jailed for three years while French investigators continued to gather evidence. Diab all the while maintained his innocence, insisting that he had been in Lebanon at the time of the bombing. The French trial court finally dismissed the charges, claiming there was insufficient evidence to convict him, and set him free on January 12, 2018. On January 14, Diab returned to Canada — he wasn’t taking any chances that French authorities might re-arrest him. But then, in still another tortuous twist to the tale, in January 2021 the Paris Appeals court reversed the previous dismissal of charges in 2018, and ordered a new trial. His French lawyers appealed that order, but France’s highest court of appeal, the Court of Cassation, ordered the trial to go ahead.
The new trial was ordered in 2021 after new evidence emerged, including a sketch of the bomber made by a witness in 1980 that bore a striking resemblance to photographs of Hassan Diab taken at the time. Investigators also discovered a passport in his name with Spanish stamps showing he had arrived from Spain to France just before the bombing, and that he left again for Spain just after, at the very time that Diab claimed to have been in Lebanon. Handwriting was found that closely resembled that of Diab, written in the guestbook of a Parisian hotel a day before a terror attack. These bits of evidence, together with all the other evidence against him that had previously been gathered, proved to be enough for the French court to convict him of the murders on the rue Copernic. On April 21, 2023, Diab was convicted of terrorism charges in absentia — he had remained in Canada since 2018 and did not return to France for the trial; he was sentenced to life imprisonment. While all this happened, he and his supporters have continued to claim that he was in Lebanon at the time of the bombing.
Now we are waiting to see what Canada will do. And the signs from Justin Trudeau are most disturbing.
Instead of forthrightly proclaiming that Canada will comply with the extradition request forthwith, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that “Canada is considering its next steps after a Paris court on Friday convicted a Lebanese-Canadian sociology professor in absentia for the 1980 bombing of a synagogue in the French capital.”
What “next steps” does Canada have to consider taking? France is a parliamentary democracy, with an independent judiciary, and an advanced legal system solicitous of the rights of the accused. In the past, when France asked for Hassan Diab’s extradition by Canada, it was granted – albeit in 2014, six years after the request was first made because of the delaying tactics of Diab’s lawyers. Now France has asked Canada to again extradite him, not for a trial but to serve his sentence.
Hassan Diab, now 69 and a resident of Canada, faces life in prison in France. But he and his supporters want Ottawa to reject any new requests for his extradition.
“We will look carefully at next steps, at what the French government chooses to do, at what French tribunals choose to do,” Trudeau told a news conference.
Canada is dragging its feet. And the source of this delay is the Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. Why does Trudeau not comply at once with France’s request, instead of suggesting he may not do so, as Canada “considers its next steps”?
The French judges have considered the evidence and announced their verdict. They want Canada to send Hassan Diab back to serve his sentence. There is no ambiguity in their view. Nor is there anything to suggest the French government really doesn’t want Hassan Diab extradited, for fear of possible terrorist attacks by his incensed supporters. .
But, he [Trudeau] added, “we will always be there to stand up for Canadians and their rights.
Really? I would have thought that Canada should “always stand up for justice,” above all else, even if a person convicted of multiple murders abroad happens to be a Canadian citizen. France’s judicial system is not directed by some crackbrain Idi Amin or Muammar Qaddafi; it has no hanging judges like the Iranian judge Khakhali. The French judicial system is fully the equal, in its procedural guarantees, of the system which exists in Canada. How would Trudeau react if France refused to extradite to Canada a French citizen convicted of the murder of Canadians by a Canadian court? Would he be impressed with France “always being there to stand up for the French and their rights”? Or would he be, as we should now be with him, furious?
Diab, speaking to reporters in Ottawa, reacted to the verdict by calling it “Kafkaesque” and “not fair.” “We’d hoped reason would prevail,” he added.
“Kafkaesque”? “Kafkaesque” refers to the nightmare scenario when someone has been charged with a crime, as in The Trial, but never finds out what he is being charged with. Hassan Diab knows exactly what he has been charged with. He has had years of freedom in Canada, between those requests for his extradition, years when he was able to recruit an army of supporters in the country to pressure Ottawa not to extradite him to France, presenting him as an innocent caught in a web of others’ lies, a sinister conspiracy — quite possibly by “Zionists” — working to frame the “innocent” Hasan Diab?
Diab has urged Trudeau to honor his past statement about the case, which appeared to pour cold water on ever sending Diab back to France. Why did Trudeau ever make such a remark, seeming to promise that he would not extradite Hassan Diab a second time, not because Diab was innocent, but only because the first extradition proceeding took so long? The fault should be attributed not to France, but to Canada, that repeatedly delayed that extradition. Trudeau is giving signs of hesitation; in fact, it sounds as if he plans not to extradite Diab, only because the man who murdered four people and wounded 46 in the rue Copernic attack has “suffered enough” by having been pursued by French justice for 15 years, since 2008.
Trudeau welcomed France’s release of Diab in January 2018, telling reporters in June of that year: “I think for Hassan Diab we have to recognize first of all that what happened to him never should have happened.”
He also ordered a review of Canada’s extradition law to “make sure that it never happens again.”
What terrible thing happened to Hassan Diab? Lots of people from lots of countries are extradited all the time, and not all of them are convicted at trial. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have been extradited in the first place. It is right and proper that they be tried. Trudeau is a sentimentalist who thinks there is only so much poor Hassan Diab should be made to suffer, after all the vicissitudes and delays (of his own lawyers’ making) in the extradition requests that took Canada so long to process.
Hassan Diab hasn’t “suffered enough.” He hasn’t been serving the life sentence that, by rights, he ought to have started serving many years ago, and would have done, if all the evidence, including the sketch of the bomber, and the passport Diab used in 1980, that was later discovered, had been made available to the first trial court. The people who have “suffered enough” are the four people who can’t speak for themselves, because they are the people whom Hassan Diab murdered on October 4, 1980, on the rue Copernic.