Hamilton

Hamilton mosque arsonist asks for forgiveness; Crown seeks jail term for hate crime

An arson at the downtown mosque made its members fearful, but in court, the arsonist is asking for forgiveness.

'I really am sorry about what I did': Keith Frederick, 39

Police investigated an arson at Hamilton's Ibrahim Jam-E Mosque last September. (David Beatty/CBC)

A man who pleaded guilty to trying to burn down a Hamilton mosque has asked the mosque leaders for forgiveness and expressed his sorrow for his actions.

Despite the contrition expressed by Keith Frederick, 39, during his sentencing hearing Thursday, Crown attorney Todd Norman argued he should serve more than two years in jail.

The Crown is prosecuting the arson at Ibrahim Jam-E mosque on King Street East last September as a hate crime.

Frederick, who earlier pleaded guilty to the arson, stood and spoke at the end of the hearing and said he was sorry for what he had done and that the whole episode was "outside my character".

Hamilton mosque arson 1:09

Norman said the incident was a hate crime, as evidenced by text messages sent by Frederick to his uncle in the two weeks previous, saying he had more than one target "scoped out" and asking for help procuring explosives and firearms.

"I'll bring my own jihad to those camel f---ers," he texted.

"They have no idea what a good Canadian boy is capable of," he said in another message.

And shortly before the time of the attack: "A place of their worship is burning tonight."

Norman said the text messages pointed to a plan, albeit not sophisticated, to violently attack members of the Muslim community. The target Frederick chose, Norman said, was a "specific and symbolic target," and it was "an attack against the fundamental values that we as Canadians hold dear."

Community fears

The arson caused minimal damage to the mosque. It was prevented from being more serious when Syrian refugees who live nearby saw the small fire Frederick had started, put it out and helped police catch the suspect.

However, Norman noted that members of Hamilton's Muslim community and members of the specific mosque attacked said the incident has left them fearful, apprehensive and anxious. Elders who wear traditional dress have been wearing different clothing. There's been a decrease in the number of attendants, and children telling their parents they "don't want to be burned alive."

The event has caused "people who should feel safe in their place of worship to feel unsafe," Norman said.

About 10 leaders of Hamilton's Muslim community came to court Thursday, but the case was delayed to midday and they had to leave for work before the lawyers could speak to the matter.

In September, members of the public saw man set a fire at the entrance to the Ibrahim Jame Mosque, police say. (David Beatty/CBC)

The Crown is also seeking a lifetime weapons ban, a mandatory counseling program and three-years probation.

Frederick's lawyer, Vikram Singh, asked Justice Martha Zivolak to consider a sentence of anywhere between the time that Frederick has already been in custody since the incident, which would count for one year, ranging to what the prosecutor requested.

Singh said his client has an "alcohol issue" and has been taking medication while in jail for anxiety and depression. While he was incarcerated he was beaten up and had to get stitches in his head, Singh said.

'I really am sorry about what I did'

Frederick took an opportunity to speak. He wore a grey zip-up sweater over a black t-shirt and faded grey jeans.

He said when he woke up behind bars the day after the arson, he thought it was a dream.

He spoke quietly, his hands behind his back, at times with emotion in his voice.

"I really am sorry about what I did," he said.

Forgiveness 'very helpful for both sides'

Earlier Thursday, while waiting for the court hearing, Frederick met with a member of the Muslim community, he said.

"I expressed my need for forgiveness," he said. "He accepted. He invited me to visit with him and some other community leaders."

Ayman al-Taher, imam of the Ibrahim Jam-E mosque, said Thursday the community reached out to Frederick and offered forgiveness if he regrets what he's done.

"We wanted him to change his views about Islam and Muslims, and look at how can help him to change and send positive message to the outside," Taher said. "The act of forgiveness and helping wrongdoers to change is rooted in (what) Muslims believe."

He said Sayed Tora, the imam of the Hamilton Downtown Mosque, conveyed that message to Frederick at the courthouse today.

The forgiveness, Taher said, will be "very helpful for both sides."

"My hope is that we're able as a community to continue to be able to live in peace."

Frederick said when gets out of jail, he wants to enroll in an alcohol-counselling program and "go back" to the "quiet, hardworking citizen" that he was before.

Ontario Court Justice Martha Zivolak said she expected to issue her decision on the sentence next Wednesday, May 17.

kelly.bennett@cbc.ca

Corrections

  • This story was amended to remove an improper reference to the mosque as a church that appeared in the story summary and on some social media posts.
    May 11, 2017 3:44 PM ET