OPINION – Opaque verdict on terror laws, By Thomas Walkom
The case of the so-called Toronto 18 is widely seen as a major test of Canada’s anti-terror laws. Yet the most serious conviction to date – of 23-year-old Saad Khalid – could have been obtained without them.
Last week, Khalid – detained since his arrest in 2006 – was sentenced to seven more years in jail after he pled guilty to and was convicted first, of “intending to cause an explosion … likely to cause serious bodily harm” and second, of doing so for the benefit of a terrorist group.
The key charge, plotting to blow something up, was a criminal offence long before the 9/11 attacks that led Parliament to ram through new anti-terror legislation.
By contrast, these same 2001 anti-terror laws were crucial to the conviction last year of a youthful member of the Toronto 18. That youth, who by court order cannot be identified, was convicted of participating in activities – mainly shoplifting – that enhanced the capabilities of a terrorist group.
However, the judge involved clearly didn’t view this young man as a serious terrorist threat. He sentenced him to time served – or, in other words, released him.
So that’s the first intriguing thing about Canada’s first so-called homegrown terrorism case: The man convicted on the more serious charge didn’t have to run afoul of anti-terror laws to go to jail; yet the youth convicted as a terrorist didn’t do anything serious enough to warrant more jail time.
The second intriguing element of this case is that both convictions hinge on allegations that have not yet been tested in court.
In last year’s youth trial, his lawyers did not attempt to deny government allegations of a terrorist plot. By and large, they accepted the Crown’s theory as to the plot itself and its ringleaders.
Their defence, which the judge rejected, was that their client was ignorant of any terror aims.
In the more recent case, Khalid accepted the government’s allegations as fact (including, strangely enough, its accounts of conversations to which he was not privy). His defence, which the judge accepted in part, was that he was not a major player.
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