Canada cannot seem to get terrorism 100 % right

We have had a couple of very good successes in terrorism trials in Canada.  The Toronto 18 back in 2006.  Operation Samossa in Ottawa in 2010.  The VIA train plot in 2013.  The Victoria legislature Canada Day plot also in 2013 (before a judge erroneously – in my opinion – dismissed the jury verdict on appeal alleging entrapment by the RCMP).

But we have also had a few setbacks in such trials.  Back in September a Fort St. John, BC man was acquitted on charges of incitement to murder after posting pro-Islamic State material on the Internet for years, including a ‘how-to guide’ on committing terrorist attacks.  He said he was just ‘drawing attention’ to atrocities in the Middle East. Now, a Montreal jury has acquitted a couple of wanting to leave Canada to join IS, buying the defence whopper that they were going to Greece ‘on holiday’ rather than as a stepping stone to Syria.  At least the male defendant was found guilty on a lesser explosives charge.  For the record, the RCMP found bombmaking materials and instructions, a fact that the judge inexplicably ruled did not constitute ‘possession of an explosive’.  Huh?

I do not expect ordinary Canadians, and this includes juries and judges, to be terrorism experts.  We have people in the RCMP and CSIS that fit that bill.  But I do expect them to recognise a threat when it is staring them in the face. These two acquittals are judicial travesties.  Three people that posed a very real danger to our society and other nations have been released and effectively told that what they engaged in does not matter.  Some would say justice has been served.  Others, and I am among this group, would say that Canada doesn’t get it and we will be perceived as incompetent partners in the international counter terrorism effort.

There are several aspects to this latest trial that bother me.  First, I have it on good authority that the Crown (the prosecution in Canada) is hesitant to go to court unless the chances of a conviction are very high.  This was a strong case, based on what I have seen in the open media.  And yet a verdict of not guilty was returned.  Secondly, what is the Crown not doing to get those guilty verdicts?  Are they not using the right witnesses?  Are they not using the right strategy?  Why are they not able to convince juries and/or judges of the seriousness of this threat?  Thirdly, what happens to this couple now?  Because they were acquitted are we ok with a young, heavily radicalised pair of IS groupies run around free?  Shouldn’t they have to get some kind of counselling – perhaps at the Montreal-based Centre pour la Prévention de la Radicalisation Menant à la Violence (CPRMV)?  Is there no penalty to pay for dallying with a violent terrorist group?

I am not trying to paint these two fools as the A-team of terrorism, capable of a 9-11 style attack.  From what I gather they would probably not have been that good at a bomb plot.  Then again, the Tsarnaev brothers of the Boston Marathon pressure cooker attack were not geniuses either. Nor was Martin Couture-Rouleau (St-Jean-sur-Richelieu) or Michael Zehaf-Bibeau (National Cenotaph/Parliament) back in 2014 or Aaron Driver (2016) or Rehab Dughmosh (2017).  Still, it does not take a rocket scientist to cause damage and kill people.

We in Canada are very, very fortunate that plots like these are extremely rare. We should be thankful for that.  At the same time, however, when we are faced with the rare plot we have to take it seriously and exact the cost that terrorists deserve.  To do anything less is not justice: it is a joke.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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