Mohamed Hersi, first Canadian found guilty under Canada’s new terror laws, should get maximum 10-year sentence, Crown attorney argues.
TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO
Mohamed Hersi was the first Canadian convicted under Canada’s new terror laws.
By: Michelle Shephard National Security Reporter, Published on Wed Jun 25 2014
Impose a sentence that will send a message.
That was the advice of Crown attorney James Clark in arguing why a Brampton judge should sentence Mohamed Hassan Hersi to 10 years in prison, the maximum punishment for the crimes of attempting to join a terrorist group abroad and counselling another to do the same.
Hersi is the first Canadian convicted of these two terrorism crimes, which came into effect after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The trial has been closely watched by Canada’s security services as they struggle to deal with the threat of Canadians drawn to conflict zones such as Syria or Somalia, where the prosecution said Hersi was bound to join the East African Al Qaeda group, Al Shabab.
Mahad Dhore, a Somalia-born Canadian, left his Markham, Ont., home to join the Shabab and led a squad of suicide bombers on an attack on Mogadishu’s courthouse in 2013, killing more than 30. There have been more recent examples of Canadians leaving for Syria.
Clark argued that Superior Court Justice Deena Baltman should hand down the maximum sentence not only to punish Hersi, but to “pack a fairly hefty deterrence punch” to discourage others.
“This is an offence that is inherently difficult to detect and investigate,” Clark said, arguing that when there is a successful conviction, the punishment must be severe.
But Hersi’s lawyer, Paul Slansky, argued there had been no evidence presented to show his 28-year-old client was bound for Somalia, or had any plans of violence. He recommended a sentence of no more than four years.
Slansky has previously argued that Hersi was set up, “entrapped” by the undercover officer. On Wednesday, he said Hersi had a “James Bond, Jason Bourne-outlook,” rather than that of a jihadist determined to join the Shabab’s fight.
“He is not an extremist Muslim thinker,” Slansky said, highlighting his client’s varied interests and Hersi’s testimony that sometimes he would indulge in a “reefer” or two or look at online pornography.
Slansky said he would appeal the verdict.
Central to this case was the testimony of an undercover Toronto police officer who befriended Hersi by posing as a consultant at the security company where Hersi worked. Hersi later encouraged the officer to join the Shabab, a jury found.
“It’s really lucky this was an undercover officer and not an impressionable youth,” Clark told the court Wednesday.
“Nothing less than the maximum sentence is sufficient.”
Clark also noted that Hersi was well-educated, had a good family and told the undercover officer, whose identity is protected under a publication ban, that he had contemplated joining Al Shabab for four or five years. “He had lots of time to reflect on it,” Clark said.
This case began in September 2010, when a Toronto dry cleaner found a USB stick in a bag of clothes. Downloaded on the drive was The Anarchist Cookbook, a book first published during the height of the opposition against the Vietnam War, which gives instructions on how to make explosives, and LSD. There was also a Canadian Forces Department of National Defence Operational Manual and reports from Intercom Security, the downtown company where Hersi worked.
Police were called two days later and launched an investigation.
Hersi was arrested at Toronto’s Pearson airport on March 29, 2011, as he prepared to board a flight for Cairo, Egypt, where he said he was going to study Arabic. The prosecution argued it was a stopover on his journey to Somalia.
Spectators had to be turned away from the courtroom Wednesday morning after it filled with Hersi’s friends and a family, journalists and officers with Toronto’s counterterrorism unit.
Baltman will issue her decision on Hersi’s sentence July 24.