No evidence against 'Toronto 18' defendant: lawyer
TORONTO - The evidence against an accused member of the so-called Toronto 18 terror cell amounts to nothing more than a young man exercising his right to debate, associate and worship, his lawyer told court Monday.
And nothing Asad Ansari did was terrorism or even criminal, lawyer John Norris told the jury in his closing submissions.
"Much of the evidence relied upon by the Crown against Mr. Ansari arises from his own exercise of fundamental freedoms," said Norris.
"You must draw the line between criminal and non-criminal activity with great care in this case and once you have done so you will see, ladies and gentlemen, that nothing Mr. Ansari did has crossed the line into criminality."
Ansari, 25, is on trial with Steven Chand, 29, charged with participating in a terrorist group. Chand is also charged with counselling to commit fraud over $5,000 for the benefit of a terrorist group.
The two were on trial with Fahim Ahmad, who pleaded guilty mid-trial after the jury heard weeks of evidence that he was plotting to attack Parliament, electrical grids and nuclear stations and that he held training camps to assess the suitability of recruits for his cause.
Ansari and Chand attended a camp in Washago, Ont., north of Toronto in December 2005, the jury has heard.
This trial is the first time a jury will decide a terrorism case in Canada.
The case against Ansari is very different from the one against Ahmad because Ansari is alleged to have aided or facilitated Ahmad in his pursuit of those terrorist objectives, Norris said. The Crown must show that Ansari was aware of Ahmad's objectives and that he did things to further those objectives.
Norris said the Crown's case boils down to Ansari's longtime association with Ahmad, his attendance at the training camp, the production of videos based on footage shot at the camp and Ansari deleting a camp video from Ahmad's computer.
"There really is not a whole lot of dispute on what he did," Norris said. "On the whole of the evidence, we submit, the Crown has failed to ... demonstrate that Mr. Ansari did what he did with a culpable or blameworthy state of mind."
Ansari took the stand to testify in his own defence and said he was not aware of Ahmad's objectives at the winter camp. The Crown has said that not all of the attendees knew the camp's true purpose at the outset, but that by the end, after a fiery speech by Ahmad, there could have been no doubt.
But Ansari had gone home by the time of the speech that talked of the fall of western civilization, Norris suggested.
The lawyer acknowledged those at the camp took target practice with paintball guns and a real gun, went on long, military-style marches and went through obstacle courses while trying to avoid paintball fire. But Norris said there was no reason for Ansari to suspect the activities were anything more than "boys being boys." Ansari did not participate in the handgun training.
"Perhaps there was a jihadi theme to some of the activities ... (but) there was nothing that would alert anyone outside of the inner circle that this was anything but fantasy or make-believe," he said.
After he was arrested, Ansari was found to be in possession of reams of jihadi material. But possessing that material does not mean Ansari had read it all, and even if he had, reading it doesn't mean he agreed with it, Norris told the jury.
"Mr. Ansari was an intelligent, curious young man who was interested in many things," Norris said.
"Possessing such items is simply part of being a well-informed member of society."
Lawyer Michael Moon will give Chand's closing submissions Tuesday and the Crown's final arguments are set for Wednesday.