Published:June 20, 2019
A man with schizophrenia who attacked soldiers at a North York recruitment centre in 2016 is mentally ill, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a mentally ill terrorist.
Federal prosecutors will go to the Ontario Court of Appeal next week to argue Ayanle Hassan Ali should be retried after a judge found that the anti-terrorism section of the Criminal Code enacted after 9/11 isn’t designed to capture a “lone wolf” involved in terror activity and acquitted him on nine terrorism charges.
“Lone-wolf terrorists are a serious problem in Canada and abroad and their recent ‘successes’ may inspire others,” prosecutors argue in their factum filed with the appeal court ahead of Monday’s hearing. “The trial judge’s interpretation impedes the ability to arrest and charge the lone wolf.”
Regardless of the outcome of the appeal, little would change for Ali, who’s currently being held in the secure forensic unit at Hamilton’s St. Joseph’s Healthcare for treatment. The Crown agrees he’s mentally ill and should be found NCR on the terror charges. The difference, though, is that he would now be labelled a terrorist.
“The trial judge’s approach would erase the distinction between lone wolf terrorists and ordinary criminals,” prosecutors said. “A lone actor who commits an act of serious violence for a religious or ideological purpose, intending to intimidate the public, should be stigmatized with a Section 83 terrorism conviction.”
The attack lasted less than a minute.
On Mar. 14, 2016, Ali forced his way into the Yonge St. recruiting centre intent on becoming a jihadi martyr. “I have a licence to kill, I have a green light to kill,” Ali had written in his diary. “One soldier is all it takes, just one.”
He punched the first soldier repeatedly in the head, took a large kitchen knife from his folder and lunged at him, leaving a three-inch gash in the corporal’s arm.
When a sergeant rushed out of her office, Ali gave chase and narrowly missed slicing the back of her neck. He then tried to slash and stab at another sergeant, who in the chaos, had slipped on spilled coffee and fallen to the ground.
With his first blow, the blade hit the floor. Ali then continued stabbing him in the head and torso, but luckily, was now using the wrong end of his weapon.
After he was disarmed and restrained, Ali “appeared to be laughing, smiling, and giggling, and on something.” Others describe him as “not present” and “lost in the clouds.”
He told a paramedic Allah sent him “to kill people.” He told forensic psychiatrists who later examined him that soldiers were a “legitimate target.”
Ali was charged with three counts of attempted murder, three counts of assault with a weapon, two counts of assault causing bodily harm and one count of carrying a weapon — all “for the benefit of, at the direction of or in association with a terrorist group.”
Last year, Justice Ian MacDonnell acquitted him on all terror charges and not criminally responsible for the lesser included offences of attempted murder, assault and weapons offences. “The intention of Parliament in enacting (the relevant terror legislation) was not to capture the kind of lone-wolf criminal behaviour engaged in by the defendant,” MacDonnell said.
Ali’s lawyers argue that the trial judge got it right and the Crown’s appeal argument is absurd and should be dismissed. “From both a common sense and legal perspective, this was a just result. Mr. Ali is mentally ill — not a terrorist,” they wrote in their factum.
This isn’t the only decision regarding Ali under appeal by the Crown.
Federal prosecutors are also contesting a decision by the Ontario Review Board last July that would eventually allow Ali to go unaccompanied to Mohawk College across the street from the psychiatric hospital.
His psychiatrist described Ali as a “kind, careful, considerate, soft spoken person” but conceded his “risk includes his potential to act out on political or radical ideas and that there is no treatment for that.”
Funny, but isn’t that the definition of a terrorist?