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Entrapment: Connecting the wrong dots

The decision of Justice Catherine Bruce to scrap a guilty verdict against a Canadian couple charged with plotting to kill tourists in 2013 raises important additional questions

Azza Radwan Sedky , Wednesday 17 Aug 2016
Views: 3287
Views: 3287

According to Canadian Supreme Court Justice Catherine Bruce, the couple was manipulated into carrying out a police-manufactured crime. Entrapment.

This is the first time in Canada that entrapment has been successfully argued by defence counsel in a terrorism case. According to criminal law, entrapment is “a practice whereby a law enforcement agent coerces a person to commit a crime he or she would have otherwise been unlikely or unable to commit.”

You see this wasn’t a case where the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) was derailing an ongoing terrorist plot. The whole scheme came about because the RCMP set it up.

Let’s go back three years to early 2013. For all intents and purposes, John Nuttall and Amanda Korody, a common law couple and recent converts to Islam, were ready to kill and maim hundreds. They were accused of planting three pressure-cooker bombs — akin to the Boston Marathon bombings — on the grounds of the British Columbia legislature in British Columbia, Canada, in an attempt to blow it up and the tourists in its proximity.

The RCMP, aware of the couple’s every move, made the explosive devices inoperable before the couple lodged them on the grounds.

The court watched many hours of video footage of the couple talking to undercover RCMP officers as evidence of their intent and of their actual planting of the bombs. On video they bragged about their radical views and their will to become martyrs; they quipped about their ability to do better than the Boston Marathon bombers and as much harm as the 11 September terrorists.

In 2015, a jury found Nuttall and Korody guilty, which would have meant a life sentence, but Crown Justice Bruce delayed convicting them at the request of defence lawyers who said that RCMP officers constructed the whole sting operation, and that the couple, being impoverished drug abusers, were not competent or able enough to plan a terrorist attack.

On 29 July 2016, news hit the airwaves and social media leaving Canadians stunned. The crown had thrown the case out. Justice Bruce said the RCMP engineered the whole scheme; that the accused wouldn’t have committed the crime had they not been led on by the officers; and that the RCMP used trickery and subterfuge to manipulate the couple.

She called Nuttall and Korody a “benign” couple, “not very intelligent; gullible and quite naive and childlike. To say they were unsophisticated is generous.”

Again, according to Bruce, the RCMP went beyond their legal boundaries, “"The world has enough terrorists. We do not need the police to create more … Ultimately, their (Nuttall and Korody’s) role in carrying out the plan was minuscule compared to what the police had to do," Bruce said. The undercover officer was “the leader” and Nuttall and Korody were his “foot soldiers.”

She also condemned the undercover officer for discouraging the couple from acquiring the Muslim advice they had asked for, which would have, most likely, steered the couple away from committing the crime. The officer also convinced them that the powerful international terrorist group he belonged to would kill them if they did not comply.

She denounced the five-month operation and the money spent on it — 240 officers used up hundreds of hours on the case, costing taxpayers an exorbitant $900,000 in overtime alone.

An hour after their release, the couple was detained again. They went before a British Columbia provincial court to agree to peace bond terms: certain restrictions that ban them from being in the vicinity of the legislature grounds, Canadian Forces bases, synagogues and Jewish schools.

They were released yet again after they also committed to not using the Internet to log on to fundamentalist Islamic websites and to not possessing weapons or explosives, including knives except when preparing food.

One vital question remains unanswered. What exactly made Nuttall and Korody stand out as potential terrorists? Being white non-Arabs, they don’t fall into the regular stereotypical frame of terrorists.

Was their conversion to Islam reason enough to make them targets? Does Amanda’s headscarf and Nuttall’s beard project a terrorist image worthy of probing?

I understand the fear, the precautionary measures, and the surveillance tactics. Anything that would obstruct or hinder a terrorist attempt is a reasonable act. However, when police officers take as prey those unable to fathom the consequences of their actions, it becomes repulsive. When police officers misguide and mislead, it is wrong.

The officers in the case lacked a moral grounding and fundamental ethics. After all, they violated the Canadian Criminal Code to accomplish their goals and nail their targets. And this is wrong.

It is clear that in this day and age, as terrorists around the world kill and maim hundreds daily, everyone becomes a suspect. A dark face, a thick beard, a scarfed or turbaned head, or a niqab, are terrorist validations embossing a person with a distinct “T”. And this is wrong.

The emotionally challenged or unbalanced are more likely to be victimised further, especially since terrorist groups go after them as easy-to-recruit targets. This will invite extra scrutiny and surveillance. And this is wrong. 

We may all soon walk around with heavy burdens on our shoulders in societies with a proliferation of suspects and watchdogs. And this is wrong.

Painting everyone with the same brush because of colour or ethnicity, doubting other creeds and religions in the face of what we may consider the norm, falling into the bias trap by chastising some and protecting others, and then acting on this prejudice, is also wrong.

The writer is author of Cairo Rewind: The First Two Years of Egypt's Revolution.


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