OPINION: Canada’s terrorist shoplifter Canada’s terrorist shoplifter – By Thomas Walkom
The first member of the so-called Toronto 18 terror plot was sentenced last week. It seems he wasn’t much of a terrorist after all. The judge sentenced him to what was, in effect, time served. That meant the young man walked free.
The decision by Ontario Superior Court Justice John Sproat tells us something about both the young man (by court order, he cannot be identified) and the anti-terror law under which he was convicted.
By any reasonable definition of the term, this young man is not a terrorist. He did not plot to blow up buildings or behead politicians. Nor, according to evidence at his trial, did he know of any such alleged plots.
He did attend two so-called terror training camps, including a hapless, winter camping adventure near Orillia in 2005.
But others who attended these camps had their charges stayed.
He did, the judge ruled, listen to an alleged ringleader make a speech about the need to defeat Rome (which the Crown said meant the U.S.) and loving “Blondie” (which the Crown said meant sexually assaulting non-Muslims).
But others who heard the same speech had their charges stayed.
He did shoplift from Canadian Tire gear that the judge determined was intended, if not necessarily used, for the ill-fated camping trips.
But at least one other, who also shoplifted, had his charges stayed.
The other key piece of evidence used to convict the youth was testimony that he may have removed – at the request of an alleged ringleader – a surveillance camera planted by an unspecified agency in the ringleader’s apartment building.
So why was this juvenile, whose only overtly criminal behaviour consisted of shoplifting, convicted of terrorism?
The answer lies in the wording of anti-terror legislation, rushed through Parliament after 9/11.
Under these anti-terror provisions of the Criminal Code, a person need not know anything about a specific terrorist plot – or even if a such a plot is being planned – to be guilty of terrorism.
But he is guilty if he knowingly does something – even indirectly – that is intended to further the objects of a group that, in the most general sense, has terrorist intentions.
Such as shoplifting camping gear.
Indeed, a suspect can be found guilty of terrorism even if this shoplifted camping gear is never used.
Last fall, Sproat determined that the youth met these very broad terror criteria set out by parliamentarians. That’s why he convicted him.
Last Friday, the judge indicated – as best he could – that regardless of the law the young man isn’t a terror threat.
That’s the significance of the time-served sentence. Except for three years of probation and a few other temporary restrictions, the young man walks away from this as if he had been acquitted.
The Crown had wanted him jailed a few months longer, presumably, to avoid this perception.
For his own reasons, Sproat chose not to be agreeable.
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