TORONTO – A woman convicted of terror charges for attacking workers at a Canadian Tire store in Toronto was sentenced to seven years in prison Thursday after a judge found her mental illness played a key role in her crimes.
Rehab Dughmosh, 34, was found guilty of four terrorism charges for attacking store workers with a golf club and a butcher’s knife while draped in an ISIL banner in June 2017 and for trying to travel to Syria join the terrorist organization the year before.
Justice Maureen Forestell said Dughmosh’s mental illness, likely schizophrenia, played a central role in her crimes and “rendered her vulnerable to extremist beliefs.”
“I wish to make it quite clear that the sentence that I am imposing is significantly less than would be imposed on an offender who did not have a major mental illness,” she said.
The judge also made a point to note the “unusual” nature of the case.
Dughmosh represented herself and did not enter a plea, so the court recorded a not-guilty plea on her behalf. She also did not weigh in on jury selection for her case.
During her trial, Dughmosh admitted all the facts alleged by the Crown. That agreed statement of facts was the only evidence proffered to jurors, who swiftly found the woman guilty.
After the verdict, Dughmosh told court she disagreed with the statement of facts – despite admitting they were true – for religious reasons. When asked later if she sought a remedy, Dughmosh said she did not and the judge found there was no basis to interfere with the jury’s decision.
Court heard that Dughmosh flew to Turkey in April 2016 with the intention of crossing over into Syria, where she was born and raised, to join ISIL. Her brother alerted authorities and Turkish officials did not allow her to enter the country, forcing her to return to Toronto, according to the agreed statement of facts.
She told the RCMP at that point she was only trying to visit family and the investigation was closed. Court heard that in fact, Dughmosh had been planning at attack for months.
On June 3, 2017, she attacked people at a Canadian Tire store in the city’s east end, clad in a homemade ISIL banner and bandana. She swung a golf club at an employee, which was then taken from her. Then she swung a knife at another employee, but was quickly disarmed and restrained by the store’s employees. One man suffered some bruising, but no one was seriously injured.
“She told employees that she was from ISIS and that she wanted revenge for Muslims,” the judge told court.
Dughmosh told police she had purchased a bow and arrows and had practice shooting. She also made other weapons, but her ex-husband took them from her, court heard. Police also found several Islamic State propaganda videos on her phone.
Dughmosh had married her husband in Syria and the couple moved to Canada in 2009 and later had two children, court heard.
She began to explore extremist groups and political beliefs in 2013, stopped going to the mosque and began wearing a niqab. She went out less with her family, court heard.
By 2015, family members said she began feeling unsafe and paranoid. She began to cover openings in their apartment, including telephone jacks and light fixtures.
A doctor diagnosed her with a major mental illness that was likely schizophrenia, but could be an unspecified anxiety disorder. The doctor said her extremist beliefs provided “a more stable sense of self at a time when self-concept and personality are undergoing significant changes.”
“She experienced hallucinations and delusions and expressed an intention to kill all non-Muslims and Muslims who side with non-Muslims,” Forestell said.
Dughmosh refused treatment while in custody until a little more than a year ago, court heard. She was in partial remission a few months later and has been compliant and improving since.
Yet she still endorses pro-Islamic State sentiments, although less intense and without violent ideation, court heard.
“That continued support for ISIS, even though it is related to her illness, may make Ms. Dughmosh dangerous to the public,” the judge said.
With credit given for time already served in jail, Dughmosh has about 4.5 years left of her sentence.
The court ordered her Islamic State items and propaganda videos on her cell phone destroyed.
Dughmosh said little during her sentencing but spoke up at the end to ask the judge not to destroy the photographs of her children on her phone. Forestell agreed.
Outside court, Crown lawyer Jason Wakely recognized the Canadian Tire workers for their bravery.
“I just want to applaud them for the way that they reacted to this situation,” he said. “They subdued her without any direct injury so they deserve credit.”