OTTAWA — The Liberal government should undertake a “comprehensive reform” of Canada’s extradition law as soon as possible to prevent “further injustices” due to shortcomings, a House of Commons committee recommends.
In addition to calling for an overhaul of the Extradition Act, a report from the justice and human rights committee urges the government to make administrative changes to the process for sending people to face prosecution and incarceration abroad.
During hearings earlier this year, MPs heard about cases “cited as evidence of real harms resulting from flaws in our existing legislation and process and as examples of injustices that will likely continue to occur in the absence of reform,” the committee’s recent report says.
Dalhousie University law professor Rob Currie, one of the longtime critics of the extradition system who appeared before the committee, welcomed the committee’s findings.
“They really heard us,” he said in an interview. “It shows great understanding of the problems that we were pointing out.”
Advocates of reform have long highlighted the case of Ottawa sociologist Hassan Diab, a Canadian citizen who was extradited to France and imprisoned for over three years, only to be released without even being committed to trial for a 1980 attack on a Paris synagogue.
Diab, who has always claimed innocence, returned to Canada. But he was later tried in absentia in Paris for the bombing that killed four and wounded 46.
A French court sentenced him to life in prison in April and issued an arrest warrant, meaning he could once again face extradition.
Under the first step in the Canadian extradition process, Justice Department officials decide whether or not to issue what is known as an “authority to proceed” to the next step, a hearing in court.
If the case proceeds, a court then decides whether there is sufficient evidence, or other applicable grounds, to justify a person’s committal for extradition.
When someone is committed to be extradited, the justice minister must then personally decide whether to order the individual’s surrender to the foreign state.
Critics say the committal process compromises the ability of the person sought to meaningfully challenge the foreign case against them, reducing Canadian judges to rubber stamps and permitting use of unreliable material.
They also say the surrender decision made by the justice minister is a discretionary and political process, unfairly weighted toward extradition.
Diab’s supporters have long argued he was in Beirut writing university exams — not Paris — when the synagogue attack took place. They say fingerprint, palm print and handwriting evidence clears him of the crime.
The MPs heard testimony from witnesses including Diab’s wife Rania Tfaily, civil society voices, law professors and Justice Department officials.
Among the committee’s recommendations:
— Modernize outdated treaties and withdraw from ones with partners that seriously contravene international human rights standards;
— lower the required threshold to rebut the presumption of reliability of the extradition partner’s record of the case at the committal hearing;
— enshrine an obligation for a partner state to hold the trial of a person sought for extradition within a year of the surrender to the foreign state;
— add a legal obligation for the Department of Justice to disclose to the person sought for extradition any exculpatory evidence in its possession, or that it knows of, that could compromise or weaken the request of the partner state; and
— give the extradition judge a greater role relative to that of the justice minister, particularly by granting Canadian courts the power to rule on the fairness of the extradition order, taking into account the situation of the person sought and the extradition partner’s respect for human rights.
Currie said a better balance between the role of the judge and that of the minister is important because the law currently gives judges very little power in the extradition process.
“Most of the major, important questions of law are actually allocated to the minister,” he said.
The office of Justice Minister David Lametti had no immediate comment on the committee report. The committee has asked the government to make a detailed written response.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 19, 2023.
Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press