Unorthodox decisions are raising questions about Crown’s case
Ottawa’s abrupt decision to cancel a preliminary inquiry into Canada’s most spectacular post-9/11 terror allegations and instead move directly to trial raises new and troubling questions.
Everything about the case of the so-called Toronto 18 is shrouded in mystery. Evidence raised in court, either at bail hearings or the preliminary hearing, is covered by a publication ban. But this hasn’t prevented the public from knowing allegations against 14 adults and four juveniles that are so bizarre as to be almost unbelievable.
The Crown claims that at one point the alleged Islamic terrorists were plotting to cut off Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s head – but changed their minds because they weren’t sure where Parliament Hill was.
It also claims some of the 18 attended a Keystone Cops-style military training camp at Washago north of Toronto where, it seems, they spent most of their time complaining about the cold.
Shortly after charges were leveled, the Star reported the government case rested on two informants. One, whose name cannot be published, is said to have been paid $4 million by the government. He was apparently a central figure in an alleged plot to make a fertilizer bomb. A second informant, Mubin Shaikh, decided to go public. Now you can’t shut him up. He’s been interviewed by the Star, the National Post, the Los Angeles Times, the CBC and most recently the BBC.
A former army cadet, Shaikh says he is the man who ran the alleged Washago terror training camp. In spite of the publication ban, he’s been happy to tell the world everything he knows and much that he doesn’t — including his opinion of one of the alleged ringleaders (“an effing time bomb”).
In one interview, Shaikh claimed the alleged plotters planned to start a Chechen-style Muslim resistance movement in Northern Ontario, a region of the country with few Muslims and even fewer Chechens.
In April, in a completely unrelated case, Toronto police charged Shaikh with assault and threatening bodily harm after he allegedly attacked two 12-year-old girls.
He was in the middle of testifying in the terror case when the Crown shut down the preliminary hearing into the case of the 14 adults and announced it wanted to move directly to trial. (Charges have already been stayed against three of the four juveniles, which means that they are effectively off the hook).
Defense lawyers for the alleged terrorists are ticked. It’s hard to blame them. The whole reason for a preliminary hearing is to determine whether there is enough evidence to warrant trial and, more important, to give the defense a chance to hear the Crown’s case. Defense lawyers say they made concessions in return for the right to cross-examine witnesses like Shaikh.
Now they won’t have a chance to test his widely publicized allegations until the trial. By itself, a decision to avoid preliminary hearings and move directly to trial is not unusual. The government has done so in other high-profile criminal cases.
But usually, the Crown makes up its mind at the beginning; it does not normally change gears halfway through.
Which leaves us to ask: Was something about to be revealed in court that the government didn’t want anyone to hear?
Was the Crown getting nervous about its informants? Is there some other reason?
If I’d attended the preliminary hearing, I might know the answers to these questions. But then I wouldn’t be able to report them. So you’ll have to wait for the next leak – or the next overseas media interview with one of the government’s star witnesses. Perhaps CNN will call up Mubin Shaikh.
Reprinted from www.thestar.com Sep 25, 2007.