In the wake of an attack in London, Ontario that killed four people, police said they were investigating whether they could level terrorism charges against a 20-year-old man who was deliberately accused of killing five people. There was an allegation of driving in a Muslim family.
While there are increasing calls to charge the suspect with terrorism, some security experts say doing so may be difficult.
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“We’ve seen a lot of hesitation in implementing it because of the terrorism laws we drafted in 2001, and terrorism has evolved since then,” said Stephanie Carwin, associate professor of international affairs and terrorism expert at Carleton University.
“Terrorism can be difficult to prove as a crime. You have to go back and show that the person was motivated by a political, ideological or religious purpose,” she said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and the National Council of Canadian Muslims have all called the incident a terrorist attack.
Professor Leah West, from Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, said using a criminal term such as terrorism without sufficient evidence means the justice system may now be under pressure to comply with terrorism charges.
But like Carvin, she said, prosecutors may be unwilling to use the charge.
London Police said the suspect, Nathaniel Weltman, parked in his vehicle on Sunday, hit five family members, aged between nine and 74, and then speeded.
The London resident, who was arrested after the incident, has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempt to murder.
Police said that he has no criminal record and is not a member of any hate group.
On Sunday the London Police DT-S.P. Paul Waite said he would investigate with the RCMP and law officials whether they could charge the suspect with terrorism.
“There is evidence that this was a well-planned, premeditated act, motivated by hatred,” Waite told reporters. “We believe the victims were targeted because of their Islamic faith.”
Carvin said prosecutors and law enforcement need to consider three points when deciding whether to charge terrorism charges.
Terrorist activity must be committed wholly or in part for “political, religious or ideological purpose, purpose or cause”, must be intended to intimidate the public or a section of the public, and must be a cause of death or grievous bodily harm. intention, he explained.
And accusing someone of terrorism after they’ve already been charged with murder may not be worth the time for some prosecutors, West explained.
“You have to prove all three elements including motive beyond a reasonable doubt,” she said. “Unless there is clear evidence, you would have to ask the jury to determine what someone is viewing online or associates with, which can be challenging to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Prosecutors can rarely prove an ideological cause, she said, and generally, religious motives are more often used for terrorist charges. In the past, terrorism charges have primarily been used to prosecute members of organized Islamic extremist groups.
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Since Canada enacted the Anti-Terrorism Act in 2001Terrorism has evolved to include many forms of violent extremism, which used to be labeled as far-right or far-left, she said.
“We now call that ideologically motivated violent extremism. It’s a mix of complaints and political beliefs and conspiracy theories that don’t fit into different categories. It’s a collection of complaints,” she said.
This is what complicates it, because there may not be one ideological belief, but a collection of many, she explained. This makes it difficult for the prosecutor to pinpoint a set of principles of belief that led to the incident.
An example of this can be seen with the 2014 Moncton NB shootout where a gunman killed three RCMP officers.
“We would call him an anti-government extremist who believes in conspiracy theories and anti-government, but he was not charged with a terroristic crime, he was charged with murder,” Carwin said.
And he received the longest sentence of 75 years in Canadian history.
The framework of the law is another obstacle that comes in the way of making charges of terrorism. The law was originally intended to prevent terrorism by targeting crimes “left of the boom” — crimes that precede any terrorist attack, Carwin said.
“The idea is that you are able to find a terrorist group and then disrupt it, and they haven’t killed yet. But you can accuse them of terrorism.
But once an assault occurs, the most serious charge you can face in Canada is murder.
Essentially, West and Carwin argue from the perspective of the prosecution that it may not make sense to expend additional resources to accuse someone of terrorism when murder can carry the same punishment.
For example, in 2017, six people were killed and 19 seriously injured when a gunman exploded at the Islamic Cultural Center in Quebec City.
The gunman was convicted of six counts of first-degree murder in the murders and sentenced to life imprisonment. Terrorism charges were never used.