The Iranian-Canadian accused of a terrorist-bomb conspiracy plans to fight to get "every scrap" of secret evidence amassed against him - a strategy that could delay his trial for years, and possibly even scuttle the case.
A lawyer for Havi Alizadeh, 30, told reporters outside court Wednesday that the defence will battle to pry a sheaf of sensitive documents from the hands of federal agents. This will include details about informants, covert wiretaps, and foreign spy sources used in the probe.
"We want every scrap of information there is," Sean May said after his client made a brief video court appearance on Wednesday. "In fairness, we want to get everything about the case, about what investigative steps were taken by all agencies."
This is a standard strategy for people targeted in terrorism investigations, and the stakes seem enormously high in the case, a result of an RCMP-led probe called "Project Samossa."
Three Canadians - Mr. Alizadeh, Misbahuddin Ahmed and Khurram Sher - were arrested last week on allegations that they conspired to build bomb components in Canada and finance terrorism overseas. Each made a brief video appearance in court Wednesday as lawyers worked to set up bail hearings for later this month.
Police in Ontario are understood to have amassed much hard evidence in the case - including months of surveillance tapes and more than 50 circuit boards police say were destined to become detonators.
The alleged conspiracy is said to stretch across much of Canada and to insurgent groups operating along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. This means a patchwork of police and clandestine agencies, and not just the RCMP, built the case against the three accused.
While such partnerships can yield important investigative leads, they also sow the seeds of eventual problems in court. Police intend for their evidence to be presented in court, but spy agencies and foreign sources are usually loathe to step into witness boxes.
A Canadian Security Intelligence Service official last week took pains to tell reporters the spy service is conducting a parallel investigation of the suspects, and the CSIS work should not be seen as an adjunct to the RCMP police probe.
The Crown last year dropped a case against a man whom the government considered a dangerous terrorist after CSIS complained a judge's order for greater disclosure might compromise its informants and blow the lid off some foreign partnerships.
Canada has perhaps the world's most stringent disclosure rules. Prosecutors are obliged to cough up any document that could be relevant to an individual's defence. Recent federal findings on the Air India terrorist attacks, however, urged judges to tread very cautiously when forcing the revelation of state secrets in national-security investigations.
So far in the case at hand, defence lawyers have received only the initial binder of Crown evidence outlining the alleged conspiracy.
Volumes more documents are to be produced in coming months, but that will not head off the disclosure battles.
In the handful of criminal-terrorism trials that have taken place in Canada over the past decade, fights over state secrets have typically taken one to two years. Publication bans were placed on any discussion of the evidence, meaning the public was long in the dark about specific allegations.
Secrecy battles take time because proceedings in provincial criminal courts can come to a halt as lawyers go off to Federal Court, the forum where state secrets are usually debated.
"We may have to make a Federal Court application," Mr. May said yesterday. "We want all we can get."