Thankfully second time’s the charm in terrorism cases in Canada

With all the talk lately about bringing terrorists who fought for Islamic State (IS) and other groups abroad back to Canada to face charges here one glaring omission is often made: just how hard it is to prosecute people under sections 83.01ff of the Canadian Criminal Code (the sections that deal with terrorist activity). Cases are tough to build and the court has a high bar for determining guilt, as it should. Complicating matters, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC – also called the Crown in a court case) is reluctant to lay charges unless the likelihood of gaining a conviction is high.

This explains in part the reluctance of the government to move mountains to repatriate idiots who joined IS and who are languishing in Kurdish/Iraqi/Syrian custody. Another factor in the hesitation in laying terrorism charges is the litany of recent failed cases (the 2013 BC Legislature Canada Day plotters were found guilty by jury only to have that verdict ridiculously overturned on appeal when the judge ruled that the RCMP had ‘manufactured’ the plan; the 2016 man who stabbed officers in a Toronto Canadian Armed Forces recruiting centre was acquitted on the grounds of mental illness). To that list we have to add that of Othman Ayed Hamdan, a Jordanian-Palestinian arrested in Fort St John, BC, in 2015 on allegations that he had posted material in support of IS and the 2014 Canadian terrorist Michael Zehaf Bibeau (he was the one who killed Corporal Nathan Cirillo at the National Cenotaph and tried to storm Parliament before he died in a hail of bullets), but acquitted in 2017.

The silver lining to this cloud of setbacks is that Mr. Hamdan has been ordered deported by the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB). According to the IRB, the terrorist was a danger to the security of Canada, adding that he had served the “social media agenda” of the terrorist group. The IRB noted that “Mr. Hamdan identified infrastructure in Canada which could be targets for attack. He encouraged lone wolves in the West who could not travel abroad to carry out attacks at home.

I am of two minds on this. Firstly, getting rid of a terrorist is always a good thing, whether that is through death on the battlefield or imprisonment for a long time. Canada does not need men like Mr. Hamdan and he certainly spat in the face of what we stand for here with his activities and support for violent extremism.

At the same time, however, we know little about how and where he radicalised to violence. He arrived in our country in 2002 which tells me that there is a very strong likelihood that he radicalised here. Deporting him – which the government absolutely has EVERY right to do – does not address the issue of his radicalisation in Canada (Who radicalised him? Who are his friends? Is he part of a larger radicalised group? etc.). It will feel good to be rid of him but I fear the problem does not end with his departure. Still, one less extremist to monitor is good news for CSIS and the RCMP.

There is another two-time terrorist whose fate is in the hands of the judicial system. Awso Peshdary of Ottawa was arrested in 2010 in conjunction with the RCMP’s Operation SAMOSSA – a plot to attack a Canadian air force base – but had his charges dropped. Not quick on the uptake apparently, he was re-arrested in 2015 on charges that he was the recruiter/radicaliser of a bunch of men who left Canada to join IS (most if not all are dead). His trial has been suspended over arguments that the CSIS human source was not reliable.

We will see what happens in the Peshdary case. I for one hope that he is found guilty of material support for terrorism: there certainly seems to be a lot of evidence that he holds violent extremist views and is a dangerous man who deserves to be locked up. If he is indeed found guilty this would be a welcome decision by the courts and for Canadians, and it would show that sometimes in life we do get a second chance to make things right.

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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