Sunday, September 19, 2010


It is no great surprise that the National Parole Board thinks convicted Canadian terrorist Ali Dirie is nowhere near safe to release. Why would he be? He was the would-be ringleader of the Toronto 18, whose members plotted to kill large numbers of their fellow Canadians in cold blood, and he will serve just 4½ years in jail, even after parole was denied to him.

Mr. Dirie’s case is a good reminder of why the often laudable judicial tendency to give offenders a second or third chance should be overtaken in future terrorism cases by the need to protect society. If Mr. Dirie is not safe to release under supervision with one year left in his sentence, the chances are slight he will be safe to release when the sentence expires.

The Toronto plotters intended to set off bombs in crowded buildings and to take politicians hostage, an attempt to intimidate Canada into changing its foreign policy on Afghanistan. If Mr. Dirie hadn’t been in jail already (for taping two loaded handguns to his thighs and trying to smuggle them into Canada), he would have been the group’s leader, according to intercepted telephone conversations revealed at his trial. Do the math, Canadian-justice style: A seven-year sentence, minus double credit for the 30 months already served equals two years till freedom. Two years (or even 4½) is not a punishment; it’s more like the cost of doing business, and cheaply, at that.

Now 27, Mr. Dirie has a criminal record stretching back many years. He is a chronic criminal who graduated to terrorism. He has committed 16 criminal offences (including two for escaping custody) and been sentenced six times. For his gun-smuggling offence, he received two years in jail, which is not sufficient for someone who already had several weapons convictions on his record. During that time in jail, he tried to recruit other inmates, and continued working for the terrorist group, trying to obtain more guns and false passports. That behaviour during his first penitentiary sentence should have been a red flag when he was later convicted as a terrorist that he needed to be locked away for a good long time.

Chillingly, the parole board said it has “reliable information compelling the conclusion that you are planning to commit an offence causing the death of or serious harm to another person before the expiration of your sentence.” It also said he has offered “no remorse, empathy or concern for the innocent people were to be targeted by the terrorist attacks/plans.” It is discomfiting that Mr. Dirie is due to be freed a year from now. Ali Dirie is a lesson in what happens when the Canadian predilection for second chances meets up with committed terrorists.