Hamilton mosque arsonist sentenced to 25 months in prison

Man who pleaded guilty to trying to burn down a Hamilton mosque previously asked the mosque leaders for forgiveness and expressed his sorrow for his actions.
On the 15th anniversary of an arson attack at a Hindu temple in Hamilton, police investigated an arson at a Hamilton mosque. (David Beatty/CBC)

A man who attempted to burn down a Hamilton mosque was sentenced Wednesday to 25 months in jail.

Last week, Keith Frederick, 39, appeared contrite in court and said he had asked local Muslim leaders for forgiveness.

Despite that, Crown attorney Todd Norman argued he should serve more than two years in jail for the arson at Ibrahim Jam-E mosque on King Street East last September, which the Crown prosecuted as a hate crime.

Justice Martha Zivolak agreed, and also included three years of probation in the sentence. On Wednesday, members of the Muslim community communicated through Norman to the judge that they are in the month of Shaban, preceding Ramadan, and wanted to extend that forgiveness. 

After the hearing, three Muslim leaders including the imam of the mosque said the sentence "strikes a balance" between the fears and safety of the congregants and their ability to demonstrate their willingness to forgive.

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

Zivolak applauded Frederick's remorse "in open court."

"Truly through communication and education can there be true healing and reconciliation," she said.

After the time Frederick has already served, he still must serve 12 months, three weeks in jail.

He has a lifetime weapons/incendiary device ban and must follow medical advice for his mental health and addictions challenges.

And he can't go within 200 metres of the Ibrahim Jam-E mosque on King St E., or within 100 metres of any other mosque, unless he's in a vehicle traveling directly past it.

'Outside my character'

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

But 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.

Late one night last September, members of the public saw a man set a fire at the entrance to the Ibrahim Jam-E Mosque. (David Beatty/CBC)

The arson caused minimal physical 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.​

Imam Ayman al-Taher, Ali Ghouse and Sayed Hashemi attended Wednesday's sentencing and said they thought the judge's sentence was fair and allowed them to express their desire for reconciliation. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Sayed Hasemi, who keeps the accounting records for the mosque, said after the court hearing that students who once attended the mosque's evening classes three times a week, about 60 to 80 students at a time, have completely stopped coming. That has led to a drop of about $4,000 a month in donations and book fees not being received, he said. 

And he said the mosque is installing new security measures like extra cameras and an electronic gate that will cost $20,000. It is are hoping for some government help to mitigate that cost, but it is still hefty for a small congregation.

Muslim leaders said that forgiveness and "helping wrongdoers to change" are fundamental values in their belief system, and are especially encouraged during the months of Shaban and Ramadan.