Monday, October 22, 2007

Judge denies bail to accused in terror case

Jordana Huber, CanWest News Service

BRAMPTON, Ont. - A judge denied bail on Monday to one of the 14 men accused in connection with Canada's largest terrorist sweep.

Shrugging his shoulders as he looked back from the prisoner's box at family gathered in a Brampton courtroom, Steven Chand, 26, appeared visibly upset after Justice Fletcher Dawson denied him bail.

Chand is the first of 14 men to have a second bail hearing after the Crown filed a direct indictment on Sept. 24 to move the matter directly to trial. The tactic put an end to nearly four months of preliminary hearings, which defence lawyers had hoped to use to test the strength of the Crown's case against their clients.

The accused were rearrested, recharged and are in the process of receiving new bail hearings before going to trial.

Police allege the men, mostly in their 20s, were conspiring to storm Parliament Hill and take politicians hostages as well as use bombs made of fertilizer to blow up offices of CSIS and the RCMP. Police also allege that the group was plotting to behead Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Meanwhile, lawyers for the accused continue to push for a resumption in preliminary hearings.

Michael Moon, a lawyer for Chand, said he would review Dawson's decision to determine if there were any grounds for an appeal.

"It is very difficult not to be able to relate to the public the degree to which Steven Chand should not be in custody," said Moon, noting the publication ban on the case. "Mr. Chand is not a threat, he's not a jihadist in the Westernized sense. He is not a terrorist, so he shouldn't be in custody."

Monday's ruling came only hours before lawyers for the accused were set to present judicial pretrial motions.

Raymond Motee, a lawyer for one of the two men currently out on bail, said the attorneys would discuss an abuse of process motion which calls for the Crown to proceed with a preliminary trial.

Defence lawyers were outraged last month at the direct indictment, which put an end to the testimony of the Crown's key witness, police informant Mubin Shaikh.

James Stribopoulos, a criminal law professor at York University's Osgoode Hall, said direct indictments are exceptional but have been upheld under constitutional challenges.

"They would have to show there is an 'oblique' motive, that is the word the case law uses, on the part of prosecutors - essentially, that this was being done to subvert the right to a fair trial," said Stribopoulos. "That is a very difficult thing to show."

But Moon is among several lawyers who said he is considering all his options for what he sees as politically motivated case. "I think there is tremendous pressure from Ottawa to move this along," said Moon, "irrespective of whether or not the rights of the accused are abrogated in doing so."

Eighteen men were arrested last summer and charged with plotting a series of attacks in southern Ontario.

Since then, charges against three of the youths have been stayed, while the fourth youth is scheduled to go to trial next year.

Charges against the accused also include participating in or contributing to the activity, directly or indirectly, of a terrorist group and the commission of indictable offences including explosives and firearm offences for the benefit of or in association with a terrorist group.