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Canadian man accused in synagogue bombing freed after case tossed out

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Carleton University in Ottawa, where Hassan Diab taught before his arrest.

It was a travesty of justice from the very start. A mild-mannered university lecturer in Ottawa was falsely accused of a heinous crime, the bombing of a Paris synagogue in 1980. There was little credible evidence and no charges, but a Canadian citizen was made to suffer nearly a decade of judicial abuse before, finally, being cleared and freed.

Hassan Diab spent years of his life in the grip of two justice systems. In Canada, he was arrested by the RCMP, forced to pay for his own electronic monitoring, then put through an extradition hearing that relied upon a French Record of Case from which exculpatory evidence had been deliberately excluded. He was finally bundled off to a French prison in 2014 without even being allowed to say goodbye to his family. There he was confined in a maximum security prison for more than three years.

Diab was never charged with anything. Eight French lower-court orders to have him released on bail were overturned by a highly-political French court of appeal.

A Canadian citizen born in Lebanon with a foreign-sounding name, Diab became a target after his initial arrest. The mob quickly gathered: He was fired from a summer class he was teaching at Carleton University. When his colleagues objected, B’nai Brith's CEO at the time said: "It’s appalling university professors would lobby for the reinstatement of a professor who is alleged to have bombed a synagogue. And one asks this question: is it because a synagogue was bombed?"

"The stalled extradition of Hassan Diab continues to afflict his victims," said a spokesperson for the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.

The then Managing Editor of the Ottawa Citizen denounced Carleton's Department of Sociology and Anthropology for having hired him in the first place. "[I]t is hard to interpret the slur against Jews as anything but entirely deliberate….[P]erhaps [Peter] Gose [Chair of the Department] believes that Muslim students might actually find it congenial to be taught by an accused terrorist and mass murder [sic]."

The Ottawa Citizen editorially opined: "Students shouldn’t have to wonder whether they’ll be safe when they walk through the classroom door."

Triple-distilled Islamophobia. Guilty before proven innocent.

The evidence that led to Diab’s decade-long ordeal?

Witness testimony: He had long blond hair. He had medium length black hair. He was 45. No, 26. He had a stocky build. A slim build.

Documentary evidence: He entered France by train and plane simultaneously. The report of a handwriting "expert" with 21 hours of training since 1993, whose conclusions were demolished by three professional handwriting analysts with international reputations. (Earlier handwriting evidence had been removed by the French authorities when challenged. The extradition judge, Robert Maranger, gave them time to root around for more.)

The exculpatory evidence--fingerprints and a palm print--was left out of the Record of Case. The extradition judge refused to permit the defence to produce it.

Diab was the classic pharmakos, an outsider by virtue of his name and ethnicity whose sacrifice was necessary to purge society. He was, in more familiar terms, a scapegoat: "[T]he goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness." A great evil had been committed, and a sacrificial victim had to be found and expelled. The Canadian justice system did just that through extradition; the French system did so by removing him from society: confining him to prison without charge, despite flimsy evidence and repeated judicial demands that he be released on bail.

His guilt or innocence simply stopped mattering.

To his credit, one of the French examining magistrates who succeeded the crusading Marc Trévidic--who had engineered the original case--did his job, although it took long enough. He traveled to Lebanon, where he discovered "consistent evidence" that Diab was writing university exams when the Paris bombing took place.

Now, at long last, the case has been tossed out. An innocent man, a fellow-citizen, lost nearly ten years of freedom, for no defensible reason. We've been watching a textbook study unfold, one demonstrating the crushing effects of prejudice and fear. Collectively, we should all be ashamed.

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