Wednesday, February 17, 2010



Federal prosecutors have scored their biggest win to date in the so-called Toronto 18 terror case. On Tuesday, a Brampton judge ruled that an RCMP mole paid $4 million for his part in unravelling a plot to blow up buildings in downtown Toronto was not an agent provocateur.

With that ruling, 34-year-old Shareef Abdelhaleem, who had already been found guilty of taking part in the bomb plot, was formally convicted of terrorism.

The question of the role played by police moles has hung over this affair since June 2006, when 18 Muslim Canadian men and boys were swept up and charged under Canada's new anti-terror laws.

At the time, there was considerable suspicion, particularly within parts of the Muslim community, that RCMP mole and former Air Canada flight attendant Shaher Elsohemy had induced some of the accused into committing criminal acts they otherwise would not have contemplated.

These suspicions were fuelled by the fact that the Mounties agreed to pay Elsohemy and some members of his family up to $4 million so they could relocate under the witness protection program.

As the judge noted Tuesday at the end of a three-week hearing into whether Abdelhaleem had indeed been entrapped by police, the mole originally asked for $15 million.

All of this was going on in 2006, at a time when some in the U.S. were accusing Canada of being soft on terrorists. It was also a time when the threat of stricter border controls threatened to derail a Canadian economy dependent on trading goods back and forth across the international frontier.

In that context, the high-profile arrests of the 18 seemed unusually convenient.

Over time, the case swung back and forth. When the Crown abruptly cancelled a preliminary hearing and, in effect, dropped all charges against seven of the 18, the case appeared to wobble.

It recovered somewhat when, in the only other trial to date, a judge found one young man guilty of terrorism. But that finding was mitigated when the trial judge immediately released the man, saying his time in pre-trial custody was sufficient.

Last year, the government's credibility received a major boost when three of the four charged in the Toronto bomb plot pleaded guilty.

That left it to Abdelhaleem, the fourth accused bomb plotter, to take on the mole at trial.

As the judge said Tuesday in his 42-page ruling, the defendant did not do very well.

In testimony marked by confusion, Abdelhaleem argued that he had inserted himself into the plot partly to protect his old friend Elsohemy and partly so he could sabotage the scheme it if it went too far.

The judge said he found those arguments "nonsensical ... inconsistent with common sense ... without the force of any real logic."

Curiously, Abdelhaleem – who took over his own defence at one point – never tried to argue during his testimony that the mole had entrapped him, which was the point of the entire hearing.

That failure, as well as his rambling style on the stand (the judge called him "the antithesis of an impressive witness") virtually guaranteed a victory for the Crown.

Which is what occurred Tuesday. Federal prosecutors were so pleased that they broke their self-imposed silence to talk to the media.

"The public should be very happy about what happened today," lead prosecutor Croft Michaelson told reporters outside the Brampton courthouse. "Truth and justice won out."