Appeal court upholds stiff sentence for Canadian trying to join terrorist group

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TORONTO – An Ontario court has dismissed an appeal from a man convicted of trying to join a Somali-based terrorist organization, saying stiff penalties are necessary in such cases to deter similar would-be criminals.

Former Toronto security guard Mohamed Hersi was convicted in 2014 of attempting to participate in the activities of a terrorist group and providing counsel to a person to participate in terrorist activity.

Court heard he was en route to Somalia to join Islamic terrorist group al-Shabab when he was arrested, and a Superior Court judge sentenced him to consecutive five-year prison terms for the two charges he was convicted on.

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Hersi appealed both the conviction and the sentence, which lawyers said was the maximum possible and described as excessive.

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A panel of three judges at the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld both the conviction and sentence in a decision released Monday.

“When people determined to wreak havoc in our community are caught and convicted, the courts must impose sentences that reflect the community’s moral outrage and the very real danger posed by those individuals to the community,” the decision reads. “That is what the trial judge did. The sentence imposed was fit.”

Hersi’s lawyer did not immediately respond to request for comment.

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Police arrested Hersi in March 2011 at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport as he waited to board a flight to Cairo via London. Court heard the purpose of the trip was to join al-Shabab, a group whose ideology he claimed to support according to the testimony of an undercover police officer.

The investigation into Hersi was started after a dry cleaner found a computer memory stick among clothing containing a manual for making explosives, court heard.

The undercover officer testified that he befriended Hersi at the Toronto office tower where the man was working as a security guard. Over the course of several months, court heard that Hersi expressed sympathy for al-Shabab’s “jihadist goals,” indicated he had plans to join the group, and encouraged his new friend to do the same.

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Hersi, who took the stand at his trial, argued the purpose of the trip was to study Arabic.

At his trial, Hersi’s lawyers argued that he had been the victim of entrapment, a claim dismissed by the presiding judge.

Defence lawyer Paul Slansky argued police had no reasonable grounds to investigate Hersi in the first place.

Slansky also led the charge on Hersi’s appeal, which was based on 15 grounds relating to either the trial judge’s rulings or her instructions to the jury.

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The Court of Appeal sought submissions from the Crown on two of those issues, but ultimately ruled there were no substantial errors.

The panel’s strongest words pertained to the appeal of the sentence. The court said many of its rulings have tried to “emphasize denunciation and deterrence when sentencing for terrorist crimes.”

This case, the decision read, was no exception.

“There is no doubt that the sentence imposed was severe. It had to be,” the decision read. “Terrorists, like the appellant, pose an existential threat to the Canadian community and to the Canadian way of life. They are not criminals in the normal sense. They are worse.”


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