Last week, Crown prosecutors announced they will seek the maximum punishment – life in prison without parole for 10 years – for Montreal resident Said Namouh, who was convicted last month on charges of terrorism. If the Crown succeeds, a precedent could be set to lower the bar for the sentencing of crimes prosecuted under the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA).
Thirty-seven-year-old Namouh, who emigrated from Morocco in 2003, was arrested and charged in September 2007 for editing and uploading a hostage video of the kidnapping of BBC journalist Alan Johnston by Hammas to a well known jihadist web site, and for advocating holy war in jihadist chat rooms.
Namouh’s defence attorney, René Duval, argued during the case that the evidence against Namouh failed to prove that he intended to kill anyone. Duval criticized the Crown’s prosecution efforts, explaining afterward, “I think this approach is mistaken. This is not very different from any other case, except the criminal code makes for aggravating circumstances if the person is performing something that they call ‘terrorism.’”
The Crown prosecutor, Dominique Dudemaine, focused on Namouh’s chat room declarations of intent, saying that “because Namouh had plans that said he wanted to die a martyr, there’s no protection for the future that said he wouldn’t be a danger to society.”
Duval, however, drew a stark difference between his client’s case and those where the Crown had sought a life sentence in the past.
“In my view of the matter, this is highly distinguishable from other cases, where people had plotted to bomb places such as the Toronto Stock Exchange,” he said, referencing the 2006 “Toronto 18” case. The suspects of that case received no more than 10 years in prison, though they were arrested after purchasing 3 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a crucial bomb-making component.
“The Crown is trying to make an example. In our case, we are very far from the last case in which the Crown sought life,” Duval said. “We are talking about someone putting things on the Internet.”
Duval also referred to the case of Younis Tsouli, who was convicted in 2007 in the United Kingdom under similar provisions in British anti-terrorism laws. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, which was later increased to 16 years.
Namouh was convicted under a number of charges, notably section 83.19 of the Canadian Criminal Code. The law states that anyone who “directly or indirectly participates in enhancing the ability of any terrorist group to facilitate or carry out a terrorist activity” can be charged – whether or not the said terrorist group actually carries out the terrorist activity, the accused’s contribution actually enhances the terrorist group’s ability to carry out the act, or the accused is even aware of the specific nature of the planned terrorist act.
Section 83.19 contained a maximum sentencing of 14 years until 2001, when it was amended by the ATA, which expanded the maximum sentence to life.
Namouh’s sentence is expected to be handed down in February of next year in Montreal. Duval declined to comment on whether or not his client would appeal the sentence.