Khawaja terrorism conviction upheld

Ontario's Court of Appeal upholds the conviction of Mohammed Momin Khawaja, who was found guilty in October 2008 on terrorism-related charges.
Mohammed Momin Khawaja is seen leaving an Ottawa courthouse under RCMP protection in this May 3, 2004, photo. ((Tom Hanson/Canadian Press))
The Court of Appeal for Ontario on Friday upheld the conviction of Mohammad Momin Khawaja in a ruling that backs the federal government's definition of "terrorism activity."

The court also increased the Ottawa man's sentence on terrorism-related charges to life in prison from his original sentence of 10½ years.

Khawaja was convicted in October 2008 of financing and facilitating terrorism for training at a remote camp in Pakistan and providing cash and other assistance to a group of British extremists. 

He was also convicted on two charges of building a remote-control device that could trigger bombs.

At Khawaja's original sentencing, Judge Douglas Rutherford called him "a willing and eager participant" in a terrorist scheme.

The appeal court also ruled against Piratheepan Nadarajah and Suresh Sriskandarajah in their extradition appeals. The United States wants to try the two men on terrorism charges for allegedly helping the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

No charter protection

In its decisions against Khawaja, Nadarajah and Sriskandarajah, the appeal court backed the federal government's definition of "terrorist activity." The definition includes violent acts committed for a "political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause." 

The three men had tried to argue the definition violated their constitutional rights of freedom of religion and conscience and their freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression.

However, the appeal court said the Charter of Rights protects none of the men's activities that fall under the terrorism definition.

The appeal court ruled that "violent activity, even though it conveys a meaning, is excluded from [constitutional protection] because violence is destructive of the very values that underlie the right to freedom of expression and that make this right so central to both individual fulfilment and the functioning of a free and democratic society."

'Toronto 18' ruling

Separately, the court also ruled on the case of three men from the so-called Toronto 18 — a group that had plotted to detonate bombs in downtown Toronto and at an unspecified military base east of Toronto.

The court dismissed the application of the group's leader, Zakaria Amara, who was seeking to appeal his life sentence.

Amara pleaded guilty in October 2009 to knowingly participating in a terrorist group and intending to cause an explosion for the benefit of a terrorist group. He was the main organizer of a plot to set off three massive bombs at the Toronto Stock Exchange and other high-profile targets in Ontario.

The court also increased the sentences of two other men, Saad Khalid and Saad Gaya, who had admitted to being part of the plot.  

Khalid's sentence was increased to 13 years from the original seven years, after factoring in time served in pre-trial custody. Gaya's sentence was increased from four and a half years to 10½ years, again after accounting for time he served behind bars before his trial.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews welcomed the court's rulings.

"Today's decisions by the Ontario Court of Appeal send a clear message that Canada does not tolerate terrorist activity," Toews said in a statement. "Our government remains unwavering in its commitment to protect the safety and security of Canadian families.

"Terrorism poses a serious threat to Canada's national security."