In the jaundiced judgement of a succession of Canadian governments, “Muslim” is just another six-letter word for “guilty”.
If you question the truth of that blunt indictment, then let me introduce Hassan Diab.
Since 2008, the Lebanese-born Canadian academic, husband and father of four has had to endure – with the complicity of Conservative and Liberal governments that were duty-bound to defend the 67-year-old Muslim’s rights and interests – a bizarre, sinister ordeal that would swallow others whole into a pit of despair and resignation.
Still, for 13 years, Diab has indeed endured – sustained by a family’s love, a lawyer’s steadfast defence of his innocence and the support of fellow Canadians who know that he is a victim of not only a blatant injustice, but the twisted contrivances and connivance of powerful French and Canadian officials and malevolent “interest groups” intent on collecting another Muslim scalp in the perpetual “war on terror”.
How and when Diab’s long, surreal odyssey from sociology professor to accused terrorist ends is a tangible test of whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is serious about confronting Islamophobia however and wherever it manifests itself or if he will continue to spout pleasant-sounding bromides while another Muslim-Canadian’s life is rendered cheap and disposable.
Mr Prime Minister, one-day “summits” to combat Islamophobia will not do.
And there is no doubt that Trudeau has the power to end Diab’s earthly hell – now. Trudeau has the power to right the litany of wrongs visited on Diab and end the grievous pain, uncertainty and turmoil he, his wife and children have weathered with remarkable grace and patience. Trudeau has the power finally to put the fate of a persecuted Muslim Canadian ahead of the egregious misconduct of French prosecutors and the blinding animus of religious zealots more interested in exacting revenge than achieving justice.
Diab’s state-sanctioned, transatlantic crucifixion began in 2008. At the behest of French authorities, Canada’s ever compliant federal police, the RCMP, arrested Diab in connection with a lethal bombing outside a Paris synagogue in 1980.
Based largely on flimsy conjecture, Diab was jailed in Canada – his adopted home – for three months and released only on condition that he and his partner pay the $2,800 monthly cost for the GPS device monitoring his whereabouts 24/7.
“I don’t think [Diab] would have been detained [in 2008] had he been anything but a Muslim Canadian,” retired lawyer and Board member of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, Paul Tetrault, told the Toronto Star. Tetrault is, of course, right.
Later, that indignity would be compounded by the revelation that Diab’s arrest was predicated on a lie.
At the time, French officials – whose laser-beam-like interest in Diab had been ignited in 1999 by secret “intelligence” of murky provenance – insisted that they could not recover usable fingerprints from a Paris hotel registry believed to have been completed by the bomber. Years later, a French magistrate admitted that a usable print had, in fact, been retrieved. Turns out, Diab was not a match.
Meanwhile, French prosecutors sought Diab’s extradition not to face charges, mind you, but to be the chief suspect of a myopic inquiry conducted by the same reckless bureaucrats who withheld potentially (and ultimately) exculpatory evidence.
For six years, Diab fought to stave off extradition being argued on France’s behalf in an Ontario court by Government of Canada lawyers who worked hard to hand-deliver a vulnerable Muslim Canadian to mollify Paris.
In the midst of his lonely, financially and emotionally draining struggle to remain free and in Canada, Diab was booted from his job as a lecturer at Carleton University in Ottawa – a sorry act of cowardice and capitulation by administrators swayed by a due process-allergic Jewish advocacy group whose crowing leader wanted Diab out to protect, apparently, the young. “The last place in the world where this man [Diab] belongs is a university classroom, in front of impressionable students.”
Back in court, Justice Robert Maranger dismissed the so-called “intelligence” the French relied on to train their crosshairs on Diab as “argument, speculation and analysis, and not evidence”.
The only “evidence” entered to tie Diab indirectly to the bombing was handwriting “analysis” of a few words the suspected bomber allegedly wrote on that hotel register. Two “experts” insisted that the handwriting samples were a match. One fatal problem: some of the handwriting samples the experts compared against the hotel register belonged not to Diab, but to his ex-wife.
Frantic, the French promptly ditched their once unimpeachable specialists and submitted another report claiming to confirm the “findings” of the discredited earlier reports. Five other experts testified that all of the so-called “forensic analysis” was bunk and any objective review would exclude, not incriminate, Diab as a suspect.
Despite ruling that the handwriting “analysis” was “very problematic” and the case – such that it was – against Diab was “weak … [with] suspect conclusions” that, taken together, made “the prospects of conviction in the context of a fair trial seem unlikely”, Justice Maranger reluctantly agreed to Diab’s extradition, citing Canada’s poorly conceived extradition laws.
So, when the Supreme Court of Canada refused, inexplicably, to hear his appeal, Diab was shipped to France in 2014 – one more expendable Muslim Canadian sacrificed to burnish the “tough on terror” credentials of craven politicians who instantly considered Diab a “terrorist”, not a citizen worthy of protection.
Diab spent three years and two months in a maximum-security prison – much of that time in solitary confinement – without charge, while French investigative magistrates probed the bombing.
By 2017, four French anti-terror magistrates had issued, collectively, eight separate orders to release Diab from custody. They dismissed the handwriting analysis as worthless and established that Diab had likely been studying and writing exams in Lebanon during the dates the bomber was thought to be in Paris. One magistrate wrote his findings “cast serious doubt” on the prosecutor’s brief against Diab.
France’s Court of Appeal overturned each order until January 2018 when Diab was released and returned to Canada after French magistrates deemed, in effect, the case closed because of the lack of evidence.
But, in an unprecedented step, France’s highest court ruled this past May that prosecutors can continue to try to indict Diab, raising the astonishing prospect he could face extradition again following a trial in absentia.
It is hard not to view France’s relentless pursuit of Diab as anything other than a politically motivated vendetta and a cynical sop to the ugly, visceral current of Islamophobia coursing its malignant way throughout a supposedly enlightened society.
Diab is the proverbial sacrificial lamb that French authorities are seized with a maniacal determination to hoist, whatever the nefarious and duplicitous means, on a petard and call it justice.
Prime Minister Trudeau’s challenge is clear: prove through his deeds, not carefully calibrated words or PR stunts, that Canada will no longer tolerate the inhumane hounding of Diab and make certain that an innocent Muslim Canadian will not be abandoned once more to satisfy France’s corrosive quest for vengeance.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.