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What should we do with ‘pretend’ terrorists?

Should a wannabe Canadian terrorist who lied about joining ISIS get away with nothing more than a slap on the wrist?

It never ceases to amaze me how some terrorists are heavily into getting their image out there on social media and in propaganda videos.

Do they do this as their way of frightening us? Is it an ego trip? Are they taunting law enforcement and intelligence agencies with “nyah, nyah you can’t get me!”? Are they not concerned that in effect they are painting huge targets on their backs? A kind of “yoo-hoo here I am! Take your best shot”.

We in Canada have a number of examples in this regard. Take John Maguire who began an Islamic State (ISIS) video with the words ‘O Canada – and no, he was not about to sing the national anthem? Or how about Farah Shirdon who dramatically burned his Canadian passport while vowing “We are coming for you Barack Obama!”? And then there is Andre Poulin who juxtaposed playing hockey in the northern Ontario city of Timmins with a screed about how he had embraced terrorism?

All wankers and all dead. As a consequence, none of them pose any threat to Canada or anywhere else for that matter, although there is the inspirational value of their martyrdom I suppose.

Which brings us to Shehroze Chaudhry.

The Burlington (Ontario) Muslim bragged that he had traveled to Syria in 2016 and committed acts of terrorism in the name of ISIS under the nom de guerre ‘Abu Huzayfah’. He was even featured in a ten-part New York Times (NYT) video series called Caliphate. That video won an Overseas Press Club prize and a Peabody Award.

Not surprisingly, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) began an investigation into Chaudhry. And that was the right thing to do in light of his claims. These were serious crimes and needed to be looked at. It turns out, however, that he made it all up. He never got to Syria (I have read where he may have traveled as far as Turkey but was turned back) and never joined ISIS. In other words, he lied.

Probably pissed off at the waste of investigative resources, the RCMP proceeded to charge him with terrorism hoax in September 2020. But a year later those charges were dropped, essentially granting this wannabe his freedom. His lawyer has stated that his client is “relieved”. And, despite the decision to impose a 12-month peace bond (a protection order made by a court under section 810 of the Criminal Code where a person appears likely to commit a criminal offence, but there are no reasonable grounds to believe that an offence has actually been committed).

RELATED: Borealis discusses Chaudhry’s hoax

The lawyer added that Chaudhry’s actions were “mistakes borne out of immaturity — not sinister intent. And certainly not criminal intent.” He also praised his client’s completion of a university degree and having maintained a job.

Well, that’s that then – NOT!

Aside from setting aside the lawyer’s fawning praise of a loser liar – don’t all defence lawyers do that anyway? – there remains the very real question of whether Chaudhry has really paid any price at all for what he did. What did he do? Let us count the ways in which he erred:

  • he claimed to have joined a terrorist group that rapes girls and throws people off buildings;
  • he said he himself had committed acts of extremism;
  • he wasted government of Canada resources for FOUR years: what did that cost the taxpayer?;
  • he acted as a propaganda star for ISIS;
  • he made a lot of good people, like NYT reporter Rukmini Callimachi, look dumb (The Overseas Press Club took back its award while the NYT returned the Peabody. The Pulitzer Prize Board also rescinded its recognition of the podcast as a finalist.).

And now he just walks free?

No requirement to go through a deradicalisation program? After all, if he really did try to join ISIS but was rebuffed, he did not do so for the dental plan the group offers. He must have held violent extremist views. What are those views now? Does he still pose a threat to Canadian public safety?

Or maybe he really has turned a corner. Maybe he will grow into a useful, productive Canadian. If so then great.

But is there really no penalty greater than a peace bond? What message does this send to others contemplating joining terrorist groups? For the record, I find the Canadian justice system woefully lenient and ineffective when it comes to terrorism. This case just reinforces my views.

So, Mr. Chaudhry congratulations on your freedom. I am not so sure you deserve it.

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By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. and Director of the National Security programme at the University of Ottawa’s Professional Development Institute (PDI). Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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