Primer on terrorism crimes in Canada
The latest charges: Three terror suspects arrested this week in Ontario are charged under the 2001 Anti-terrorism Act with plotting to "knowingly facilitate terrorist activities" in Canada and abroad, punishable by a maximum 14 years' imprisonment upon conviction. The conspiracy allegedly played out in Canada, Iran, Afghanistan, Dubai and Pakistan. Police say they seized educational literature and more than 50 circuits boards intended to remotely detonate bombs. One of the accused, Mohammad Alizadeh, also faces charges of making or possessing explosive devices for terrorist purposes and terrorist financing.
How Canadian law changed after 9/11: Three months after the terrorist attacks in the U.S., the federal government passed the Anti-terrorism Act, which specifically defined terrorism and made it a criminal offence. The wide changes to the Criminal Code were designed to provide police with new investigative powers to detect plots and prevent attacks, after the then-Liberal government decided prosecuting crimes after the fact did not adequately protect Canadian security. The law permitted authorities to pursue those who, through indirect acts, facilitated terrorist crimes.
The track record on prosecution: Prosecutors have had a solid track record in pursuing terror suspects in the nation's criminal courts in the last nine years. Eleven of the "Toronto 18" terror cell were convicted, as were all three of the other cases prosecuted under anti-terrorism legislation: Mohammed Khawaja, Said Namouth, and Prapaharan Thambithurai.
Maximum sentences: An Ottawa lawyer representing one of the three men arrested this week described the alleged crimes as "the most serious charges you can face except for a murder charge." Another lawyer said the men, if convicted, "could be put away for a long time." The crime of knowingly facilitating terrorist activities carries a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment. However, other terrorism offences on the books, such as instructing someone to carry out a terrorist act, carry maximum terms of life in prison.
How judges treat terrorism cases: The courts have handed down a wide range of sentences, some of which have been the maximum allowable under law. The ring leader of the Toronto 18 received a term of life imprisonment last January after he pleaded guilty to participating in the activity of a terrorist group and intending to cause an explosion that was likely to cause serious harm or death. On the other end of the spectrum, Prapaharan Thambithurai, described as a minor fundraiser for the Tamil Tigers, received a six-month sentence, instead of the legal maximum of 10 years, after pleading guilty in May to fundraising for a banned terrorist group.
The evolution of the justice system: Anti-terrorism experts say Canada has evolved in catching terrorists in recent years as a result of stiffer legislation, lessons learned at home and overseas, and better co-operation between police and intelligence services. For instance, the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team, responsible for this week's arrests, was created by the Anti-terrorism Act.
-- Postmedia News