OTTAWA – Canada's top court ruled Thursday that it will hear the appeal of Momin Khawaja, the first person ever charged under Canada's anti-terror laws.
The former Ottawa software developer was convicted in 2006 of seven terrorism-related charges connected to his involvement with a U.K.-based Islamic extremist cell that plotted to blow up fertilizer bombs in and around London, England, in 2004.
This, even though a judge concluded there wasn't enough proof that he knew the cell planned to bomb a string of London targets.
He was sentenced to 10 years even though lawyer Lawrence Greenspon said Khawaja lacked the intent to kill innocent civilians for a cause and accused the Crown of using "highly inflammatory" language by describing Khawaja's plans as murderous.
Greenspon argued Khawaja should have received a seven-and-a-half year sentence, further reduced to a one-day prison term by taking into account a two-for-one credit for the five years Khawaja has spent behind bars awaiting trial.
Not only did that not happen, but the Crown appealed and in December, 2010, the Ontario Court of Appeals turned the sentence into ife in prison with no chance for parole for 10 years.
The three-judge panel sided with the Crown, concluding Ottawa Judge Douglas Rutherford's sentence "fails to reflect the enormity of his crimes and the horrific nature of the crime of terrorism himself."
"The appellant was an active member of a terrorist group whose singular goal was to eradicate western culture and civilization and establish Islamic dominance wherever possible," the judges wrote.
Khawaja's family said they have no reaction.
"We've been victimized for eight years," said Qasim Khawaja, Momin's brother. "We've lost all our energy to respond."
Instead, they're leaving that to Greenspon, who had urged his client to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.
Khawaja's case will be heard alongside two other challenges to Canada's anti-terror laws.
Suresh Sriskandarajah and Piratheepan Nadarajah are both facing charges of terrorist activity in the United States and are fighting extradition. They are accused of attempting to purchase a shipment of AK-47 military rifles for the Tamil Tigers terrorist group.
The two men, like Khawaja claim that the term "terrorist activity" in the criminal code is "unconstitutionally overbroad" and that the law contravenes section 7 of the Charter of Rights which guarantees "life, liberty and security of the person."
The trio also claim that by including violence carried out for political or religious reasons the definition of terrorist activity infringes on freedom of religion and freedom of expression.
Timeline of events
March 29, 2004: Police raid the Khawajas' Ottawa home in the city's Orleans neighbourhood in a raid co-ordinated with British authorities who nabbed several British men on suspicion of terrorism activities the next day. Momin Khawaja is arrested at his place of work and slapped with terror-related charges. He is the first person charged under Canada's new anti-terror laws.
March 31, 2004: Family patriarch Dr. Mahboob Khawaja arrested in Saudi Arabia, where he is working.
April 1, 2004: Lawyer Steven Greenberg, representing Momin Khawaja, says his client denies all the charges.
April 13, 2004: Mahboob Khawaja is released from Saudi prison.
May 7, 2004: Momin Khawaja is denied bail after a two-day hearing.
March 29, 2005: Momin Khawaja passes the one-year mark in detention while facing charges related to allegations he participated and/or contributed to terrorist activities between Nov. 10, 2003 and March 20, 2004 in Ontario and England.
June 6, 2005: A bail review hearing begins for Momin Khawaja.
June 17, 2005: Khawaja is again refused bail.
December, 22, 2005: Khawaja faces five new charges that make specific accusations about his alleged terror-related activities. Authorities allege he worked between July 13, 2003, and March 30, 2004. with Omar Khyam and others in Ontario and in London and Slough, England, on the development of a device to detonate a bomb. They also allege he received terrorist training and Khawaja, with others, told a female Carleton University student to conduct financial transactions on his behalf for the benefit of a terrorist group.
October 29, 2008: Ontario Superior Court Judge Douglas Rutherford convicts Khawaja of seven terrorism offences in a 58-page verdict, finding him guilty of facilitating, financing and participating in a U.K.-based terrorist group. Rutherford believes Khawaja built the trigger to set off bombs and wired money to his "bros" in Pakistan to fund jihad in Afghanistan, but prosecutors are unable to prove that he knew about a British plot to blow up a nightclub, a shopping complex and other targets.
March 12, 2009: Justice Rutherford sentences Khawaja to 10 1/2 years in prison in a 19-page decision delivered in a packed Ottawa courtroom.
December 17, 2010: In one of six decisions sending a strong message to terrorists, a three-judge panel turns down Momin Khawaja's appeals of both his 2008 conviction and 2009 sentence, instead increasing his sentence to life in prison.
June 30, 2011: Khawaja's case will be heard alongside two other challenges to Canada's anti-terror laws. They, like Khawaja, claim the term "terrorist activity" in the criminal code is "unconstitutionally overbroad" and that the law contravenes section 7 of the Charter of Rights which guarantees "life, liberty and security of the person."