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Decision to hand terror suspect Diab to France upheld by Ontario Court of Appeal

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OTTAWA - Terror suspect Hassan Diab is turning to the Supreme Court of Canada in a bid to halt his extradition to France.

The move comes after the Ontario Court of Appeal dismissed the Ottawa sociology professor's bid to avoid being surrendered as a suspect in a decades-old terrorist bombing.

In its ruling today, the appeal court said a lower-court judge, and subsequently the federal justice minister, made no legal errors in coming to the conclusion Diab should be handed to French authorities.

France suspects Diab, 60, was involved in the anti-Semitic bombing of a Paris synagogue in 1980 that killed four people and injured dozens of others — an allegation Diab denies.

Donald Bayne, Diab's lawyer, says his client will ask the Supreme Court to hear an appeal of the ruling.

Diab says he learned of the Court of Appeal's decision with "great shock," calling it a "sad day" and a miscarriage of justice.

"Such a decision means that any Canadian citizen can be detained, uprooted and extradited based on deeply flawed evidence that a foreign state submits," Diab said in a statement read by a supporter.

"Despite this setback, I am determined to continue my fight for justice and freedom. I am hopeful that the Supreme Court of Canada will rectify the decision of the Court of Appeal and will ensure a fair system that protects the rights of Canadian citizens."

In June 2011, Ontario Superior Court Justice Robert Maranger committed Diab for extradition to face French authorities despite acknowledging the case against him was weak.

The following April, then-justice minister Rob Nicholson signed an extradition order surrendering Diab to France.

Diab has steadfastly denied involvement in the deadly attack, saying the unwavering moral principle throughout his life has been promoting equality and respect.

"I have absolutely no connection whatsoever with the terrible 1980 attack," he said Thursday. "I neither participated in, nor had any knowledge of, this heinous crime. I've always opposed anti-Semitism, discrimination and violence."

The RCMP arrested Diab, a Canadian of Lebanese descent, in November 2008 in response to a request by France. He had worked as a contract instructor at two Ottawa universities before his world was shattered.

During the Ontario Superior Court case, Maranger examined elements of France's request including eyewitness descriptions, composite sketches and handwriting on a hotel registration card allegedly penned by Diab — evidence his lawyers fiercely disputed.

In his ruling, Maranger concluded France had presented "a weak case" that makes the prospect of conviction, "in the context of a fair trial, seem unlikely." But he said Diab must be sent to France under the terms of Canada's extradition law.

In his appeal, Diab argued that a flawed handwriting analysis and other evidence that at best creates a degree of suspicion amounts to a case that does not allow committal for extradition.

However, the Court of Appeal ruled Thursday that Maranger "did not err in his approach."

Diab also contended that Nicholson made several mistakes, including opting to surrender him even though France has not yet decided whether to put him on trial for the bombing.

The appeal court ruled that the minister's surrender decision was reasonable, "even though a trial in France is not a certainty."

It said a process or prosecution must simply be underway "that will, if not discontinued, lead to a trial. A trial of that person, however, need not be inevitable."

Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

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