A lawyer for Hassan Diab says he's worried that the Ottawa academic's trial in relation to a 40-year-old terror attack could lead to a wrongful conviction — and possibly a second extradition request from France.
More than five years after he was set free due to a lack of evidence, Diab went on trial in absentia in France on Monday in connection with a bombing outside a Paris synagogue 40 years ago.
"It's very much a political trial," Donald Bayne, Diab's Canadian lawyer, told host David Cochrane on CBC News Network's Power & Politics on Tuesday.
"The court that ordered the trial to go ahead said the victims deserve a trial. What they don't deserve is a scapegoat or a miscarriage of justice."
The Ottawa university lecturer, now 69, was accused by authorities of involvement in the 1980 Rue Copernic bombing, which killed four people and injured more than 40. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Diab's release has been opposed by more than 20 civil society groups in France — including victims of terrorism groups and pro-Israel organizations.
"He and his family and I are deeply concerned that there will be a wrongful conviction here because there's been such a campaign to find somebody — anybody — responsible for this 1980 bombing," Bayne said.
The RCMP arrested Diab in November 2008. He was placed under strict bail conditions until he was extradited to France in 2014. He spent more than three years in prison in France before the case against him collapsed.
The key physical evidence Canada relied on in extraditing Diab to France was handwriting analysis linking Diab's handwriting to that of the suspected bomber. Canadian government lawyers acting on France's behalf called it a "smoking gun" in the extradition hearing.
But in 2009, Diab's legal team produced contrary reports from four international handwriting experts. These experts questioned the methods and conclusions of the French experts. They also proved that some of the handwriting samples used by the French analysts belonged not to Diab but to his ex-wife.
Bayne said a conviction could result in a second extradition order.
Verdict expected later this month
French investigative judges dismissed the handwriting evidence as unreliable when they ordered Diab's release in January 2018.
They also found he had an alibi for the day of the Paris bombing. Using university records and interviews with Diab's classmates, the investigative judges determined he was "probably in Lebanon" writing exams when the bombing outside took place.
In 2018, CBC News confirmed that France was aware of — and had failed to disclose — fingerprint evidence that ended up playing a critical role in Diab's release.
French prosecutors appealed Diab's release promptly — but the case moved slowly as prosecutors searched for new evidence against him. The court proceedings were also delayed by the pandemic.
In 2021, France's top court rejected Hassan Diab's appeal and ordered him to stand trial, indicating that they would try him in absentia if he failed to return to France.
Survivors of the attack and victims' families attended the first day of proceedings in Paris Monday — where prosecutor Benjamin Chambre called Diab's absence proof of "great cowardice in his behaviour."
"It's a grave abomination for justice and for the victims 43 years after the events," Chambre added.
Bayne dismissed Chambre's comments as "one of the noisy voices clamouring to find somebody guilty."
A verdict is expected on April 21.