Hassan Diab filed a statement of claim today seeking $90 million from the federal government over the role Canada played in his extradition to France — but his lawyer says the best outcome for everyone would be a speedy out-of-court settlement.
"Dr. Diab and his family's hope is that the prime minister and his government ... will want to right this terrible wrong," said lawyer Guy Pratte. "The hope is that the government will seize this occasion to achieve an appropriate resolution out of court at the earliest opportunity and not compound the injustice that has been inflicted."
Diab and his family filed the claim with the Ontario Superior Court. They're suing the federal government over the role Canada played in his extradition to France and his years of imprisonment in a French jail — the results of a terrorism probe that ultimately fell apart due to weak evidence.
Diab, a 66-year-old Ottawa university lecturer, was accused by French authorities of involvement in a 1980 bombing outside a Paris synagogue that killed four people and injured more than 40.
Diab was arrested by RCMP in November 2008 and placed under strict bail conditions until he was extradited to France in 2014.
He was never charged — but he spent more than three years in near-solitary confinement while France investigated his alleged involvement in the terror attack.
"My freedom and my life were stolen from me," Diab said at a news conference on Parliament Hill earlier today. "Since my arrest I have suffered from anxiety, depression, chronic stress and severe insomnia. My physical and cognitive health has deteriorated. My family and I have endured significant mental trauma as a direct result of my experiences, no matter my innocence."
In the statement of claim, Diab seeks $50 million in compensation for himself for malicious prosecution, breaches of his charter rights and punitive damages.
His wife and their two young children seek $40 million for intentional infliction of emotional distress, breaches of charter rights and punitive damages.
The lawsuit accuses the government, Department of Justice lawyers and Rob Nicholson, who served as justice minister under then-prime minister Stephen Harper, of negligence, malicious prosecution, deceit and abuse of process.
A spokesperson for Justice Minister David Lametti's office said that, since the case is before the courts, it would be "inappropriate to comment at this time."
Numerous problems with France's case against Diab were evident during the extradition hearings, while others were revealed by CBC News after Diab returned to Canada.
Central to the statement of claim are key revelations — first reported by CBC News in 2018 — that Department of Justice lawyers helped France strengthen its evidence when the case against Diab appeared to be falling apart.
Fingerprint analysis conducted by Canadian officials showed that Diab's prints did not match prints thought to belong to the suspected bomber. This information was never shared with the extradition judge, denying the defence key evidence of his innocence.
The statement of claim says the decision to "suppress this convincing and crucial evidence" meant Diab could not offer a full defence during the extradition proceedings.
Canadian prosecutors, acting on France's behalf, also sought multiple adjournments in the extradition hearings when the case against Diab was on the verge of falling apart. Canadian government lawyers used those delays to urge France to secure stronger evidence against Diab.
'A weak case'
Those behind-the-scenes efforts by Canadian government lawyers allowed the case against Diab to clear the bar required for extradition.
But the Ontario judge who ordered Diab's extradition wrote that France had still presented "a weak case; the prospects of conviction in the context of a fair trial seem unlikely."
Diab was returned to Canada in January 2018 after French judges dropped his case due to a lack of evidence. French prosecutors are appealing Diab's release.
The legal action represents an abrupt change of strategy for Diab and his family, who have said in the past they didn't want financial compensation. Their longstanding public demands have been for a judge-led public inquiry into Diab's case and reform of Canada's extradition law.
The tipping point seems to have been the findings of an department-ordered review of Diab's case by former deputy attorney general of Ontario Murray Segal.
Segal concluded government lawyers acted ethically and followed proper procedures in extraditing him to France.
Diab accused the federal government of perpetrating a "whitewash" by hiring Segal to perform the review instead of appointing a judge to hold a public inquiry with full power to subpoena evidence and cross-examine witnesses.
Diab boycotted this review, arguing its scope was too narrow and it appeared to be nothing more than a "concerted damage-control effort."
"It is my sincere hope this government will seize the opportunity to rectify the wrongdoings against me and my family and resolve this matter in a humane and fair manner," Diab said. "Prime Minister Trudeau and Justice Minister Lametti, our suffering has gone on long enough."