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An Ontario Superior Court judge has ruled the murder of a Toronto massage parlour employee amounted to an act of terrorism, setting a new precedent for Canadian law.Colin Perkel/The Canadian Press

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said if the 17-year-old is convicted of first-degree murder conviction that would will automatically mean a life sentence, with 25 years before he is eligible for parole. In fact, due to his age, it would be 10 years.

A young Toronto man who stabbed one woman to death and injured another, in what he later confessed was an act of misogynistic violence, is guilty of terrorism, a court ruled on Tuesday.

The conviction marks a historic moment, prosecutors say, because it is the first time a Canadian court has ruled that a murder inspired by hatred of women meets the legal threshold of terrorism.

“I think it is the first time that there has been a terrorism finding that has not been related to a religious motivation, or a terrorist group,” Lisa Mathews, the lead Crown prosecutor on the case, said in an interview.

The man – who under the Youth Criminal Justice Act cannot be named, because he was 17 when he committed the crime – pleaded guilty in September to first-degree murder and attempted murder.

The attack took place in February, 2020, in a massage parlour in the city. During the September hearing, the man admitted he had been inspired by an online community of “incels,” or involuntary celibates. Men in these groups claim to be unable to find sexual partners. They blame women for this, and their discussions often veer into misogyny and violence.

Months after the man, then a teenager, was first arrested on the murder charges in 2020, the Crown announced it would also be seeking to prove that his attack was a terrorist crime.

Those arguments were heard separately this spring. On Tuesday, Ontario Superior Court Justice Suhail Akhtar ruled that the man’s crimes were terrorism.

“He found that the conduct to which the young person had already pleaded guilty met the definition of terrorist activity under the Criminal Code,” Ms. Mathews said. The judge has not yet released his reasons.

Federal security agencies have been warning for years that Canadians face an ever-broadening array of threats from violent extremists being radicalized in online communities. Prosecutors in Canada have faced criticism for continuing to use anti-terrorism laws almost exclusively to target suspects inspired by al-Qaeda, the Islamic State or similar groups.

This has started to change recently, as prosecutors have begun to argue that violent hate crimes also meet the threshold for terrorism. Two years ago, a 21-year-old was arrested and accused of killing four members of a Muslim family in London, Ont., by running them over with a pickup truck. He has been charged with terrorism offences by federal prosecutors. His trial is slated for the fall.

In the Toronto man’s guilty plea, he admitted that at noon on Feb. 24, 2020, he had gone to a massage parlour to attack the women he saw working there.

According to an agreed statement of facts, he entered the parlour with a concealed 17-inch blade. He immediately started slashing at the first woman he saw, killing a 24-year-old.

During the struggle, another woman leapt to her colleague’s aid. She was also stabbed, but managed to grab the weapon and strike the attacker in the back. When emergency responders came to arrest him and take him to hospital, they found a handwritten note in his front left pocket. It said, “Long Live The Incel Rebellion.”

The court heard the man had plotted the violence for months. “I wanted to kill everybody in the building, and I’m happy I got one,” he said when he was arrested.

The perpetrator of another Toronto attack, the city’s deadliest mass killing, also cited incel ideology as his motivation. In 2018, that attacker rented a cube van and ran over victims selected at random. He killed 11 people and wounded 15 others, and was sentenced to life in prison.

No terrorism charges were laid in that attack. Nor were any laid in connection with a 2019 attack in Sudbury. In that case, a 28-year-old self-described incel tried to kill a mother and her eight-month-old baby. The victims survived, and the offender is now serving a life sentence.

The Toronto man has not yet been sentenced. The Crown is arguing he should be sentenced as an adult. If that happens, his first-degree murder conviction will automatically mean a life sentence, with 10 years before he is eligible for parole.

If he is treated as a youth, his sentence will be much lighter. But in this scenario the fact that he has been convicted of terrorism as well as murder could lengthen the amount of time he spends in prison.

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