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Momin Khawaja leaves an Ottawa courthouse under RCMP protection on May 3, 2004. (TOM HANSON/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Momin Khawaja leaves an Ottawa courthouse under RCMP protection on May 3, 2004. (TOM HANSON/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Globe editorial

The Supreme Court stares down a remorseless terrorist Add to ...

Canada stood up to terrorism in the case of Momin Khawaja of Ottawa, the first person charged under the terror law passed after Sept. 11, 2001. In two separate cases, it upheld the extradition of two suspected Tamil Tigers, as it should have. Democracies don’t have to fight terror with both hands tied behind their back, as the Supreme Court of Canada makes clear.

The court was unanimous on Friday that the homegrown terrorist who consorted with terrorists, including the fertilizer-bomb plotters in Britain, deserved a sentence of life in prison, with parole eligibility after 10 years. And it was also unanimous that no reason has yet been shown to delete from the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act the “motive clause” – which says terrorism is an act committed for a political, religious or ideological purpose.

Really, this should have been a slam dunk. Mr. Khawaja put himself at the service of indiscriminate killing. He was designing a detonator for some very serious international terrorists – offered to build up to 30 of them. He gave terrorists money and supplies. And he showed no remorse, would not even speak to the court or to justice officials writing a presentence report.

After all that, Mr. Justice Douglas Rutherford of Ontario Superior Court had sentenced him to just 15 1/2years. The judge also snipped out the “motive clause,” a clause he described, without any evidence at all, as having a chilling effect on free speech. The natural and usually laudable Canadian tendency toward mercy was too much in evidence, and the need to protect Canadian society, and uphold Canada’s international obligations to fight terror, was diminished.

But the Supreme Court denounced terror in action, not just words. (The Ontario Court of Appeal had done the same, overturning key parts of Judge Rutherford’s ruling.) A life sentence is fitting for a major global terrorist because if he doesn’t show evidence of rehabilitating himself, he can be held for life. As for the “motive clause,” the terror law does not impinge on free speech, but on violence or threats of violence.

Violence is a threat to the rights protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and it would be self-defeating if the rights in that charter somehow prevented Canada from protecting itself from terrorism.

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