Our laws on terrorism are in need of review

When you work in counter terrorism you do your utmost to ensure that things do not go boom! or that people who hew to violent ideologies do not succeed in killing others. You play your part – intelligence gatherers, investigators, evidence amassers, prosecutors, etc. – in the hopes that your work will contribute to a successful collective effort to save lives. And when at the end of all this you ‘get your man’, it’s high fives all around in recognition of a job well done.

What to make then, of a recent case of a convicted Canadian terrorist who is going to be released this fall despite the expert opinion of the parole board that he constitutes a “high risk to public safety”?

I am writing of Kevin Omar Mohamed, a resident of Whitby, ON, and a former U of Waterloo student, who pleaded guilty to terrorism charges back in 2017 and received a four and a half year sentence (more on that in a bit). Under our penitentiary practices, he got two and a half years for time served. Kudos to Global’s Stewart Bell for first breaking this story.

Here’s a synopsis of what Mr. Mohamed got up to as a terrorist:

  • he travelled to Turkey in 2014 where he met members of Jabhat al-Nusra, an Al Qaeda-affiliated group
  • he tweeted out invitations for others to join the cause, giving detailed instructions on how a person could cross from Turkey into Syria
  • once back in Canada, he used two separate Twitter accounts to post “comments supportive of terrorist activities, promote violence, and suggested that a person could create timed bombs to be put on planes or boats.”
  • he also urged people to “burn cars of ‘non-believers'” and “commented on the beauty of attacking the West.”
  • when arrested, he was found with what police said was a large hunting knife, work gloves, a large quantity of money and handwritten notes taken down from al-Qaeda publications on how to plan and carry out an attack.

So let’s summarise this, shall we? A man who joined AQ, encouraged others to join, promoted attacks and may himself have been planning one here in our country, gets 4 1/2 years in the clink and on top of that gets 2 1/2 for time served? There is only one reaction possible to this: WTF?

Furthermore, according to the Parole Board of Canada (PBC), there is no evidence that he thinks any differently today. He did not engage in any ‘deradicalisation’ programs while in custody. It is thus fair to assume, in the absence of ANY concrete information to the contrary, that he is still a terrorist and still poses a significant threat to public safety. This man should NOT see the outside of a prison cell any time soon. Besides, why do we have assessments by professionals such as those at the PBC if their advice is going to be ignored? The requirement that Mr. Mohamed ‘reach out to an imam in the community’, ostensibly to get ‘deradicalised’, is both vague and insufficient.

What this demonstrates is that our laws on terrorism are woefully inadequate. 4 1/2 years for terrorism is a joke. No, he did not blow anything up or kill anyone but all the evidence suggests that he wanted to, or wanted others to. Why is this not punishable by a sentence of at least ten years? Inquiring minds want to know. Maybe Parliament and/or the Department of Justice should get on this – stat!

In closing I want to pass on a message to those who who investigated Kevin Mohamed and helped to put him behind bars (I know a few of them personally). Don’t give up guys: your work is important and helps to keep all of us safe. You did your job – now it is the turn of the government to do theirs properly.

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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