Toronto man found guilty in alleged Canada terror plot

Was test case for laws introduced by nation in 2001

By Ian Austen
New York Times News Service / September 26, 2008
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BRAMPTON, Ontario - A Toronto man became the first Canadian found guilty yesterday of participating in the activities of a terrorist group, one with bold but not well-formed plans to attack targets in Toronto and Ottawa.

The man, who was the test case for antiterrorism laws Canada introduced in 2001, cannot be named because he was a juvenile when he was charged. He was among 18 people arrested following a series of police raids in June 2006.

Police and prosecutors said the people arrested planned to bomb government buildings, including the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., and raid Parliament to decapitate Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

"I am satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that a terrorist group existed," Justice John R. Sproat of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice said during the reading of his judgment, which lasted about one hour. "Planning and working toward ultimate goals that appear unattainable or even unrealistic does not militate against a finding that this was a terrorist group."

Despite the guilty verdict, the man, now 20 years old, has not yet been formally convicted. That process is frozen until the court reviews an application from his lawyer arguing that many of the group's activities were made possible by a paid police informant who committed illegal acts himself.

While the testimony from that informant, Mubain Shaikh, clearly influenced the judge's decision, the informant said outside the courthouse here that he disagreed with yesterday's ruling.

"I don't believe he was a terrorist," Shaikh said of the defendant.

"I don't believe he should have been put through what he was put through. But that's our system."

Wiretaps, videotapes made by Shaikh, his testimony and other evidence painted a picture of a group whose specific objectives were unclear, whose activities were often apparently benign and whose abilities to carry out a plot were, at best, limited.

In this trial, most of the evidence focused on the suspect's participation at two camps staged by the group, which has come to be known as the Toronto 18.

But in his ruling, the judge said that even commonplace activities can take on a different meaning within the context of a camp where leaders made inflammatory remarks about destroying "Rome" and marching in Washington. "As a matter of common sense, engaging in activities such as paintballing, physical exercise and rafting is by no means inconsistent with the existence of a terrorist group," Sproat ruled.

The judge allowed that the suspect, who was born in Sri Lanka and who was a recent convert to Islam at the time of his arrest, may not have realized what he was getting into up until the time of the first camp, where a somewhat disorganized attempt at target practice was made by participants.

But a long and often rambling speech by the group's leader, who cannot be identified because he still faces trial, made the group's aims clear at the end of that first camp, the judge ruled.

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