Ontario Court of Appeal sentences Khawaja to life in prison

The Ontario Court of Appeal has sentenced convicted terrorist Momin Khawaja to life in prison.

This morning the court released its judgement in R. v. Khawaja and a the cases of two members of the Toronto 18 addressing the thorny issue of Canada’s definition of terrorism.

Khawaja, an Ottawa software developer, was appealing his conviction while the Crown cross-appealead, asking the court to impose a life sentence rather than the 10-1/2 years imposed by trial judge Justice Douglas J. A. Rutherford of the Superior Court of Justice on Oct. 24, 2006.

In noting that Rutherford’s sentence was not enough to deter terrorism, the ruling from a three-panel bench of justices Eleanore Cronk, Michael Moldaver, and David Doherty, said: “When terrorists acting on Canadian soil are apprehended and brought to justice, the responsibility lies with the courts to send a clear and unmistakable message that terrorism is reprehensible and those who choose to engage in it here will pay a very heavy price.”

In a section of the lengthy ruling entitled “The trial judge erred in his overall approach to sentencing and imposed a sentence that is manifestly unfit,” the appeal panel states: “To be sure, terrorism is a crime unto itself. It has no equal. It does not stop at, nor is it limited to, the senseless destruction of people and property.  It is far more insidious in that it attacks our very way of life and seeks to destroy the fundamental values to which we ascribe — values that form the essence of our constitutional democracy.”

The panel says Rutherford’s sentence failed to “reflect the enormity of his crimes and the horrific nature of the crime of terrorism itself.”

The appeal decision goes on to say that terrorism is a “special category of crime” that often is designed to and results in the indiscriminate killing of innocents.

Thus, “sentences exceeding 20 years, up to and including life imprisonment, should not be viewed as exceptional. That may not be the traditional approach to sentencing, but it is the approach we believe must be taken to repudiate and deter terrorism and denounce it for the insidious crime it is.”

The appeal court says Rutherford erred in three areas: interpreting s. 83.26 of the Criminal Code; in assessing the appellant’s level of determination; and in not treating the absence of evidence of the appellant’s rehabilitative prospects as a critical factor.

The full and lengthy decision can be found here.

Toronto 18 members Saad Gaya and Saad Khalid, who had received 12- and 14-year sentences for participating in a plot to detonate truck bombs in Toronto, also received increased sentences  — to 18 years for Gaya and 20 for Khalid.

Read R. v. Khalid here. Read R. v. Gaya here.

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