Crown appealing military centre stabber Ayanle Hassan's bid to attend college classes

Prosecutors will argue Friday in a Toronto courtroom that a man found not criminally responsible in a knife attack at a local military recruitment centre should not be allowed to take college classes on his own. But his lawyer says Ayanle Hassan Ali can't be rehabilitated by simply locking him up and "throwing away the key."

Ali has made 'tremendous progress' his lawyer says

Ayanle Hassan Ali was found not criminally responsible after he attacked several uniformed military personnel with a large knife in March of 2016. He's now being held in a secure Hamilton hospital. (Toronto Police Service)

Prosecutors say a man found not criminally responsible in a knife attack at a Toronto military recruitment centre should not be allowed to take college classes on his own, but his lawyer has told CBC News that Ayanle Hassan Ali can't be rehabilitated by simply locking him up and "throwing away the key."

The Crown is appealing a decision by the Ontario Review Board (ORB), which last year granted Ali permission to attend Mohawk College unaccompanied while he is detained at a secure Hamilton hospital.

It is also challenging the board's decision to ban Ali from attending known military installations or recruitment centres, arguing he should face a more restrictive condition prohibiting contact with any uniformed military personnel.

The arguments are set to be heard at the Ontario Court of Appeal in Toronto on Friday.

"A very careful approach was warranted in addressing the respondent's mental condition, reintegration into society, and other needs, in a way that would not imperil the safety of the public," the Crown argues in its submissions.

"The board, however, only cited the needs of the accused and his reintegration when addressing indirect supervision in the community for educational purposes, and failed to advert to, or give adequate consideration to, the paramount factor of public safety."

But Ali's lawyer Nader Hasan told CBC News the board carefully considered all the relevant information and the ORB ruling should stand because his client is no longer a safety risk.

Ali 'making tremendous progress,' lawyer says

"He's been making tremendous progress," said Hasan,

"He has responded very well to medication and treatment ... so he's now at the point where he moves about the hospital grounds with a little bit more freedom particularly on the locked unit, and he has started taking distance learning classes."

Hasan pointed out the ORB ruling does not mean his client will be going to college unaccompanied anytime soon.

"It is entirely possible that Mr. Ali won't get to the point over the course of the next year where he is going to school off campus. The disposition simply provides his doctors with the discretion to make that decision."

Ali attacked several uniformed military personnel with a large knife in March 2016 and wounded several people before he was overpowered and subdued.

He was charged with attempted murder, assault causing bodily harm and assault with a weapon, as well as carrying a weapon, all for the benefit of a terrorist group.

Ali didn't act for terror group, judge found

Last spring, an Ontario judge ruled that while there is no doubt Ali carried out the attack based on his extremist beliefs, the formation of those beliefs was precipitated by mental illness.

What's more, the judge found Ali was not acting on behalf of or for the benefit of a terrorist group.

As a result, Ali was cleared on the terror element of the charges and found not criminally responsible on the lesser included offences.

Months later, Ali appeared before the review board, which annually evaluates the status of anyone found not criminally responsible or unfit to stand trial for criminal offences due to mental illness.

Ayanle Hassan Ali arrives in a police car at a Toronto court house on Tuesday, March 15, 2016. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

According to documents filed ahead of this week's hearing, the board found Ali constitutes a significant threat to the public and should continue to be detained at a Hamilton hospital.

However, it also granted Ali privileges to travel through the hospital and grounds, first with staff, then progressing to an approved companion, then under "indirect supervision," which means being unaccompanied.

The board said Ali could then follow a similar progression into the community for education purposes, namely to go across the street to Mohawk College.

Board's decision 'unreasonable,' Crown says

Prosecutors said the board's decision was "unreasonable" given that it was Ali's first review and he has no track record with such privileges.

Hasan argues the panel made the right call.

"This wasn't a situation where the five members of the Ontario Review Board were split as to what to do," he told CBC Toronto.

"This is a situation where the treating physician, one of the most renowned psychiatrists we have in Ontario, made a recommendation having treated Mr. Ali for nearly three years ... and the Ontario Review Board unanimously adopted those recommendations"

The crown accepts that Ali has been compliant with his medication and has generally followed the rules in his highly restricted hospital ward, but argues that is not the same as having "unsupervised access" to the college.

It noted that since military personnel could be at the college, the board should have imposed a condition barring Ali from contacting any of them, particularly in light of his "residual symptoms."

But Ali's lawyer wrote in documents obtained by CBC News that the disposition includes a no-contact order with any of the stabbing victims, and that the hospital doctor is to "notify the local police at such times as he or she exercises his or her discretion to permit the accused to enter the community and to advise the local police ..."

Ali 'accepts he has schizophrenia,' doctor testifies

Ali's psychiatrist testified at the board hearing that his patient accepts that he has schizophrenia and knows the symptoms of his illness, except for residual thoughts that he is being monitored by the Canadian government, which he is not convinced stems from his illness.

The doctor added Ali still has concerns about the Canadian government's actions overseas towards Muslims but has not expressed any more desire to achieve martyrdom by attacking Canadians.

Hasan will argue rehabilitation and public safety go hand-and-hand so society is better off if people like Ali are rehabilitated.

"That's what the ORB has in mind when they fashion these dispositions," he said. 

"People don't get rehabilitated by sticking them in a hospital in a locked secure unit and throwing away the key ... There has to be room to rehabilitate; there has to be room to grow."

With files from The Canadian Press