The prosecution of a convicted drug dealer who admitted to shooting two men who previously posed with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford in a now controversial photo ended suddenly and swiftly Thursday with guilty pleas to reduced charges and very few details made public.
Nisar Hashimi, 23, received a nine-year sentence after he pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of Anthony Smith and aggravated assault in the wounding of Muhammad Khattak, during a dispute outside a downtown Toronto night club three months ago.
Mr. Hashimi was originally charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder in the March 28 shooting. But after noting the “tragic consequences of gun violence in public places in our community,” prosecutor Mary Misener told the court that the Crown accepted Mr. Hashimi’s version of what happened. “He did not intend to kill or to cause grievous bodily harm either to Mr. Smith or to Mr. Khattak,” she said in reading out an agreed statement of facts in a northwest Toronto courtroom.
Justice Paul Taylor was told that there was a dispute in the Loki Lounge that night between a group made up of Mr. Smith, Mr. Khattak and “a number of their associates,” and a group made up of Mr. Hashimi and his associates. (Mr. Smith and Mr. Khattak, both seen in the undated photo with the Toronto mayor outside a home linked to drug use, were alleged to be members of the Dixon City Bloods street gang).
The dispute continued outside the club where Mr. Smith and his friends attacked a member of Mr. Hashimi’s group. “In the ensuing melee, Mr. Hashimi pulled out a handgun and fired several shots in rapid succession,” said the Crown.
“The shooting occurred in the heat of a fight and in the melee he acted instinctively,” Ms. Misener stated. Drugs and alcohol also “compromised” the ability of Mr. Hashimi “to assess the amount of force necessary” when he pulled out his illegal handgun and began firing.
Mr. Hashimi has two prior convictions for street level drug dealing. The plea bargain was described as “entirely appropriate” by Judge Taylor, who observed it would bring finality to the case.
Toronto police originally described the shooting as a “targeted hit” when Mr. Hashimi was named as a suspect. The officer in charge of the case, Detective Joyce Schertzer, indicated outside court that police supported the Crown’s decision to accept the manslaughter plea. She played down any notion the quick resolution was unusual. “I beg to differ,” Det. Schertzer said when it was suggested that it was rare for the Crown to accept a plea to a lesser offence in a murder case, less than three months after charges were laid.
Defence lawyer John Struthers, who represents Mr. Hashimi, stressed that the plea deal was the appropriate conclusion and that his client is very remorseful.
Mr. Struthers also spoke out against the so-called war on drugs, which he suggested has created the conditions for gun violence in poor neighbourhoods, sparking turf battles to meet the demand for illegal substances. “Teachers, doctors, lawyers and politicians are all recreational users of drugs,” he said.
There was no reference during the court hearing to the photo with Mr. Ford or an alleged video that purportedly shows the mayor smoking crack-cocaine. Mr. Khattak and another man alleged to be in the photo were charged earlier this month with drug and street-gang-related offences during a Toronto police operation called Project Traveller.
Mr. Ford has denied that he smokes crack-cocaine or that any such video exists. His lawyer has previously explained the photo by saying that the mayor routinely takes pictures with a great number of people and does not remember the circumstances behind this image.
The guilty plea on Thursday means that if the photo with Mr. Ford had any relevance to the case against Mr. Hashimi, it no longer needs to be disclosed to the defence.Mr. Struthers suggested the media file freedom-of-information requests for any evidence that might otherwise have come out in court.A second person arrested in the death of Mr. Smith still faces a charge of first-degree murder. Hanad Mohamed, 23, was arrested late last month. His alleged role in the shooting was not described in court Thursday.
Fariborz Davoudi, who represents Mr. Mohamed, explained there was little he could say at this point. “Right now, I don’t even have disclosure [of the evidence]. So I cannot comment one way or the other.”