Ottawa academic Hassan Diab is rejecting the results of an external review into his extradition case as a "whitewash exercise," arguing the document's only purpose was to absolve Canada's Department of Justice and to shield senior government officials from further scrutiny.
The report, written by former Ontario deputy attorney general Murray Segal, concluded that federal lawyers who worked on Diab's case did their jobs ethically and within the law. The review was made public Friday.
Segal wrote that Canada's extradition law is largely misunderstood and the system could work better — but he insisted nobody who worked on Diab's extradition broke the rules.
Diab said calling the Segal report a disappointment is a gross understatement. The conclusion, he added, promises a continuation of the old way of doing things — which puts every Canadian at risk.
"We boycotted the external review because we believed that it would amount to a whitewash exercise — it's profoundly upsetting to see our concerns and fears materializing," Diab said in Ottawa, a few hours after the document's release.
"It's a one-sided report — its purpose is not to provide transparency or accountability or to prevent future miscarriages of justice."
French authorities suspected Diab was involved in a 1980 Paris synagogue bombing that killed four people and injured dozens of others. Diab has always denied the accusation.
The RCMP arrested Diab in 2008 and, following a long legal battle, he was sent to France six years later. He was extradited despite an Ontario judge's acknowledgment that the case against him was weak.
Diab, a Canadian citizen, spent three years behind bars in France before French judges eventually dismissed the allegations against him. He was released in January 2018 and returned to Canada that same month.
Last fall, however, a French appeal court ordered a fresh review of evidence in the case and a ruling has yet to be made.
Segal's review of the extradition was ordered by former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould after the Liberals took power from the Conservatives. The 126-page report, which he presented to the federal government in May, looks at the actions of federal lawyers and the Justice Department section that reviews and co-ordinates extradition requests — the "international assistance group," or IAG for short.
Segal's job was to decide whether they behaved properly in building and presenting the case for Diab to be sent to France.
He wrote that none of the criticisms lodged against the Justice Department has any merit. Segal concluded federal lawyers "acted in a manner that was ethical and consistent" with the law and federal policies, "based on a firm factual foundation."
The review focused on Diab's case and not a broader examination of the Extradition Act.
At the news conference, Diab talked about how his ordeal left him with his reputation tarnished, his savings wiped out, his health damaged. He missed the birth of his son and three years of his children's lives — all due, he said, to the conduct of the Justice Department.
Diab's lawyer, Donald Bayne, urged the federal government to hold a full public inquiry into his case and to reform the Extradition Act to ensure others aren't caught in the same situation. The external review, he said, does nothing to ease concerns from academics and human-rights groups.
"This is basically a report that says, 'Nothing wrong was done by anybody to this man, so there's nothing to see here, folks. Move along,' " Bayne said.
"We must explain how it happened. There's no answers here ... We must ensure it never will happen again and this is a recipe for continuing disaster and wrongful extradition."
Bayne also raised the possibility of suing the government.
He said it's too early to say what path Diab will take beyond continuing his efforts to press Justice Minister David Lametti for meaningful reforms to the extradition system.
A spokeswoman for Lametti said the minister met with Diab and Bayne on Thursday as a courtesy ahead of the report's release, and committed to more meetings in the future.
In his report, Segal wrote how Diab's long detention in France and eventual return to Canada "sparked widespread debate about both his treatment and Canada's extradition process."
Critics, Segal added, have said Canada's extradition process "favours prompt compliance" with Canada's obligations to its international partners over the protection of individual rights of those targeted for extradition.
Segal pointed out that an extradition hearing is not a trial, and that the proceedings are intended to be fair but also to move swiftly.
He listed 14 recommendations that include:
— Creating a buffer between the lawyer acting on behalf of the requesting state and the lawyer responsible for advising the government
— Encouraging states seeking extraditions to complete their investigations before making requests unless public-safety worries demand quicker action
— Considering making more extradition-related information available to the public, including summaries of ministers' decisions on extraditions
Lametti told reporters Friday he was studying Segal's advice.
"There are certainly recommendations there that will help — you can always make a process better," Lametti said in Halifax.
"Obviously, I have a great deal of sympathy for Dr. Diab and for his family and for what they went through — nobody wants to see anybody sit in prison in a foreign country for that period of time waiting for their case to be tried."
The findings of the external review were made public at a time when Canada's extradition law is under intense international scrutiny, following the December arrest of senior Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver at the behest of the United States.
Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press