Last 'Toronto 18' case now in jury's hands
Published Friday, June 18, 2010 3:58PM EDT
The last of the so-called Toronto 18 cases was put in the hands of five women and seven men Friday, the first time a jury in Canada has been tasked with deciding a terrorism case.
After a trial that stretched over nine weeks in Brampton, Ont., the fate of Steven Chand and Asad Ansari -- both charged with participating in a terrorist group -- hangs on those deliberations.
Sixteen others have come before them in the prosecution, which began with a roundup of 18 men and youth in the summer of 2006 that made headlines around the world.
Seven had their charges dropped or stayed. Two were found guilty at trial by judge. Seven pleaded guilty.
Chand also faces a charge of counselling to commit fraud over $5,000 for the benefit of a terrorist group.
Three other cases under Canada's anti-terrorism provisions in the Criminal Code -- Momin Khawaja in Ottawa, Said Namouh in Montreal and Prapaharan Thambithurai in Vancouver -- were dealt with by judge alone.
The choice of whether to go before a judge or jury lies with the defendant, so only their lawyers could say why they made that choice. It's possible for juries to be swayed by elements judges wouldn't be, said one security expert.
"It's probably fair to say that a trial before a jury has to be considered a little more unpredictable," said Wesley Wark, a professor with the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs.
Canada's Anti-terrorism Act is less than 10 years old and many of the legalities and definitions are still being ironed out.
"I think terrorism cases are probably the most difficult kinds of cases that you'll meet in criminal law, whether for juries or judges," Wark said.
One of the unpredictable factors could be former co-defendant Fahim Ahmad, who pleaded guilty mid-trial. Superior Court Justice Fletcher Dawson told the jury Ahmad's plea has no impact on the guilt or innocence of Chand and Ansari.
One of the things the Crown has to prove for the jury to find Chand or Ansari guilty is the existence of a terrorist group. When the ringleader has admitted his guilt, that could be hard to ignore.
In the absence of the jury, Ansari's lawyer John Norris asked for a mistrial. He suggested it would be difficult for jurors to set aside Ahmad's guilt when deciding his client's fate.
He said some tasks are "simply too much to ask of the jury."
Jurors were not told which counts he pleaded guilty to. Now that the jury is in deliberations it can be reported that Ahmad admitted to all three charges he faced.
Ahmad admitted participating in a terrorist group of which he was the leader, instructing others to carry out activities for the benefit of a terrorist group and imported firearms for the benefit of the terrorist group.
In pleading guilty to those charges he essentially conceded the Crown's case against him, that he was the head of a group of men whose goal it was to engage in terrorist activities. The Crown said Ahmad was plotting to attack Parliament, electrical grids and nuclear stations, though it appears as though he never got so far as a detailed plan.
He has not yet been sentenced, but faces life imprisonment. Ahmad's co-plotter, Zakaria Amara, with whom he broke ranks to go separate ways on the terrorism plot, was sentenced to life imprisonment but is eligible to apply for parole as early as 2016.
The jurors were also not told Ansari was out on bail. In the mornings Ansari and his mother would arrive at the courthouse, go through the extra layer of security outside the courtroom hearing the Toronto 18 proceedings, and make his way to the prisoners' box to join Ahmad and Chand.
While in the prisoners' box Chand, with his long hair braided in various styles, would sit slouched back and often rested his arm on the back of the bench.
During one set of particularly intricate legal arguments when the jury was not there, it appeared as though he nodded off.
One of his lawyers walked over and could be heard saying: "Steven, you should try to stay up, man. It's important."
"Do I have to?" Chand petulantly replied.