War crimes (stock image)
War crimes (stock image)iStock

B’nai Brith Canada has recommended changes to Canada’s extradition laws in order to extradite or prosecute individuals suspected of war crimes.

Testifying before the parliamentary Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, B’nai Brith said if its recommendation are adopted they will “help ensure that Canada’s extradition system adequately serves future victims of war crimes, acts of terrorism, crimes against humanity and genocide.”

“The Government of Canada’s general approach to the extradition of persons accused of war crimes or crimes against humanity and genocide has been to seek the revocation of citizenship and their deportation,” B’nai Brith said in a statement.

“This approach often leads to accused individuals being sent back to their countries of origin without facing criminal prosecution or being held accountable for their actions. It is the view of B’nai Brith that, by allowing the perpetrators to effectively escape justice, this approach does a disservice to the accused’s victims.”

They urged that individuals suspected of committing war crimes or acts of terrorism abroad should be criminally charged and prosecuted, as opposed to the current practice of having their citizenship revoked and being deported.

“The Government of Canada’s adoption of this default procedure might be attributed to a reticence to undertake the challenges associated with pursuing criminal prosecution, such as the heightened standard of proof and the increased cost. It is the position of B’nai Brith that if there is sufficient evidence available which could lead to a criminal conviction in a Canadian court, individuals [should be tried in Canada].“

B’nai Brith cited the case of Hassan Diab as an example of how Canada’s extradition system should function.

Diab, a Lebanese-Canadian, was charged by French authorities for the 1980 bombing of a Paris synagogue. He was arrested by the RCMP in 2008 and placed under strict bail conditions until he was extradited to France in 2014 where he spent three years in prison. He was released in January 2018 after the French trial court ruled that there was insufficient evidence to bring the case to trial and he returned to Canada. In 2021, the Paris Appeals court reversed the dismissal of charges and ordered a new trial. On April 21, 2023 Hassan Diab was convicted of terrorism charges, in absentia, by a French court and sentenced to life in prison.

The French have now issued an international warrant for his arrest. France, a democratic country with which Canada has an extradition treaty, will now be able to seek Diab’s extradition to ensure that his heinous crime is properly accounted for.

“The French authorities did not waiver in their pursuit of justice, and now the victims of this deplorable act of terror are hoping that Canada will play its part,” B’nai Brith said.

B’nai Brith’s recommendations to the committee were twofold.

First, that the government direct its Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Program to either prosecute on Canadian soil or to extradite or enter into specific extradition agreements so that suspects can be prosecuted in relevant countries.

“Revocation of citizenship and removal should not be pursued in these cases. The victims are better served by prosecution or extradition for trial where the evidence warrants than revocation of citizenship and removal, as conviction and sentencing involves more complete accountability,” they said.

Second, that the government increase funding to the War Crimes program to allow it to implement the above recommendation.

“The fact that Canada has comprehensive extradition laws which are often under-utilized due to the prohibitive costs and lack of infrastructure is a growing source of frustration among victims of war crimes, terrorism, crimes against humanity and genocide,” they said.

B’nai Brith Canada Senior Legal Counsel David Matas called for the law to only be changed if the funding will be there to implement the new measures.

“The focus of the Committee’s study is on Canada’s current Extradition Law legislation. Yet, there is no point tinkering with a law which is not going to be used, at least in this area, against the most serious crimes,” he said.

“Consequently, the message this Committee needs to convey is that the law should be this or that, but also that the law should be used. An ideal law that sits in the statute books unused for the gravest crimes is an idle law. Making extradition work means not only legislating; it also means paying.”