Ottawa academic Hassan Diab is to be tried in absentia beginning Monday in Paris, in connection with a 1980 synagogue bombing that killed four people and injured more than 40.
The trial on murder charges comes five years after Mr. Diab's previous encounter with the French justice system – denied bail; detained three years in maximum security, mostly in solitary confinement; ending in his seeming exoneration without reaching trial. On his return to Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau commented: "What happened to him never should have happened."
On Friday, the federal government would say only that it is keeping an eye on the trial of Mr. Diab, a Canadian citizen born in Lebanon.
"The Government of Canada is aware of the trial of a Canadian citizen in France. Officials are following the proceedings," Jean-Pierre Godbout, a spokesman for Global Affairs Canada, said in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail.
The trial Monday represents the latest stage in a 15-year legal process that began with Mr. Diab's arrest by the RCMP in 2008, at the request of France, which was seeking his extradition. France, however, did not seek his extradition for Monday's trial, but merely asked him to return voluntarily, and he declined, said Roger Clark, a spokesman for the Hassan Diab Support Committee.
Mr. Diab is being represented in court by a legal team led by French human-rights lawyer William Bourdon.
In France, the trial is a big event – the weekly newsmagazine Paris Match calls it one of the dozen biggest of the year, alongside the coronation of King Charles – but Amnesty International labels it a travesty of justice, and a leading Canadian expert on extradition says the case highlights the failures of this country's extradition law.
"Extradition in principle is a good thing but at the moment our process is not fair," Robert Currie, who teaches at Dalhousie's Schulich School of Law in Halifax, said in an interview.
On Oct. 3, 1980, dynamite attached to a motorcycle exploded on rue Copernic in Paris, near a synagogue celebrating the Jewish festival of Simchat Torah. It was one of a wave of terrorist bombings and Parisians protested in the streets afterward in large numbers.
After Mr. Diab's 2008 arrest, France alleged that a suspect who had registered at a local hotel as a Cypriot before the bombing was actually Mr. Diab. His passport was found in the possession of another man in Rome a few days later. Mr. Diab said he had lost it in Lebanon. France also alleged that composite sketches of a suspect developed from eyewitness descriptions resembled photos of Mr. Diab. And it put forward a handwriting expert to analyze a hotel card filled out by the Cypriot.
Ontario Superior Court Justice Robert Maranger, who heard the extradition request, rejected most of the evidence as unreliable. The handwriting evidence was key. Though he described it as "convoluted, very confusing, with conclusions that are suspect," he said he could not describe it as "manifestly unreliable." A conviction appeared unlikely in a fair trial, he said, based on the evidence presented during the hearing.
But given the low threshold of Canadian extradition law – that a requesting state's summary of its evidence is presumed to be reliable, unless shown otherwise – he said he had no choice but to permit Mr. Diab's surrender to France. Canada's Justice Minister then ordered his removal.
Sent to France in 2014, Mr. Diab did not receive the prompt trial Canadian authorities had expected. But after he spent 38 months in custody, two investigative judges said there was strong evidence Mr. Diab had been in Lebanon at the time of the bombing, and they rejected the handwriting analysis. But the charges were reinstated on appeal.
"Nothing new has been brought forward by the French prosecutor," Mr. Clark said, while Mr. Diab's alibi of being in Lebanon has "proved unshakable."
Bernie Farber, a former chief executive officer of the Canadian Jewish Congress, said that when he was with that organization, "we were of the mind that Hassan Diab had some involvement in this bombing. Over the years I came to a completely different conclusion." He called the decision to prosecute Mr. Diab again a "shanda," Yiddish for a disgrace, and said he had apologized to Mr. Diab's family for his earlier position.
Mr. Diab, a married father of two now in his late 60s, has a PhD in sociology and teaches at Carleton University.
France could once again ask for his extradition.
"It's certainly possible that there will be an extradition request," Prof. Currie said, "but the scandalous part is we don't know how the government of Canada would react." He and others have been advocating for changes to Canada's extradition law, most recently at a House of Commons committee this winter.
Mr. Clark said these are anxious days for Mr. Diab, who is not speaking to the media himself. "There are days when I see somebody fearful of what may lie ahead," Mr. Clark said in an interview.