A terrorist bomb-plotter has received a 14-year sentence for his role in a scheme to blow up government targets in downtown Toronto.
Saad Khalid, 23, who pleaded guilty in the so-called Toronto 18 conspiracy, was credited with seven years for time in pretrial custody. He will spend a maximum of seven more years in prison. He can apply for parole in two years four months.
Thursday's ruling may bode ill for accused in the case who have yet to face trial. Mr. Justice Bruce Durno said that even taking into account many mitigating factors - Mr. Khalid's youth, sincere regret, guilty plea and non-central role - Canadian courts have an obligation to punish terrorism harshly.
To be even a bit player in a serious and significant plan is a serious and significant infraction Russell Silverstein, Saad Khalid's lawyer
"Canadian society relies on ballots and not bullets or bombs to change policy," Judge Durno said in a 48-page decision he read aloud in court.
" … Terrorist offences are the most vile form of criminal conduct."
Mr. Khalid was close shaven Thursday and wore a black blazer, a tie and jeans to the courtroom, which was packed with his family, journalists, counterterrorism operatives, government lawyers and at least one police agent.
The young man buried his head in his hands after hearing his sentence, but his lawyer later said his client was actually pleased.
"He's perfectly happy," Russell Silverstein said outside court. " ... It could have been a lot worse."
"To be even a bit player in a serious and significant plan is a serious and significant infraction," he added.
The Crown's blow-by-blow of the Toronto 18 plot, laid out in a statement of uncontested facts filed this summer in the case of R. v. Saad Khalid, solely for the purpose of his trial
On June 2, 2006, Mr. Khalid was caught in a police sting. Hundreds of police swept across Toronto to round up more than a dozen Muslim youth. Mr. Khalid was caught unloading boxes marked "ammonium nitrate" from the back of a truck.
He admitted he knew the fertilizer was intended to be used to construct truck bombs to be detonated in the downtown core. He pleaded guilty in May.
The Crown alleges that only two suspects were privy to the full details of the bomb plot, and that their targets were the Toronto Stock Exchange, the Toronto headquarters of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and an unspecified military base along Highway 401.
"Saad Khalid was not the prime mover in the plot," Judge Durno said, describing the young man as an accomplice kept ignorant of the fine points. Even so, the accused "knew serious bodily harm or death were likely" and "was not just a gopher" who unloaded fertilizer.
Mr. Khalid not only knew the gist of a overarching bomb plot but also bought electrical equipment, rented storage units, and even recruited an accomplice.
"I acknowledge that I made a huge mistake, and not a day passes by that I am not filled with regret for my role in this despicable crime," Mr. Khalid told the court during a sentencing hearing last week.
He described himself as university student from a good home, but said he fell in with more radical Muslims because of a "disagreement on the issue of Canadian foreign policy, specifically Canada's involvement in Afghanistan."
Mr. Khalid's Pakistani family raised him in Saudi Arabia, then moved Canada. The death of Mr. Khalid's mother when he was 15 left him "vulnerable" to terrorist recruiters, the judge said. He was a teenager at the time of his arrest.
Mr. Khalid spent three years in jail, some of it in segregation, before deciding to plead guilty.
Judge Durno accepted Mr. Khalid's remorse, but only to a point.
He agreed the young man had truly changed in prison, and that he likely would pose no threat to society upon release.
Still, terrorist crimes need to be punished severely as "they attack the very fabric of Canada's democratic ideals," Judge Durno ruled.
Only a handful of cases have been prosecuted under Canada's Anti-Terrorism Act, a controversial piece of legislation passed by Parliament in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.
One of Mr. Khalid's co-accused, a teenager who was a peripheral member of the group, has already been found guilty of participating in a terrorist group through attending a training camp.
Charges against six of the original Toronto 18 suspects were stayed. Cases involving Mr. Khalid's nine co-accused are expected to start by the beginning of next year.
Publication bans shield the identities of the co-accused.
A 37-page statement of the Crown's case, uncontested by Mr. Khalid, is posted on globeandmail.com in an edited form to conform with the publication ban.
The document describes how the bomb-plot suspects were followed, wiretapped and infiltrated by police agents before the 2006 roundup. The document "provides a chilling and terrifying glimpse of what was likely to occur," Judge Durno ruled.