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Cablegate: Canada: Khawaja Terror Trial Opens

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DE RUEHOT #0850 1761152
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 241152Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY OTTAWA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8074
INFO RUCNCAN/ALL CANADIAN POSTS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
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RUEKJCS/OSD WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 0940
RUEAWJA/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHDC
RUEAHLC/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHDC

UNCLAS OTTAWA 000850

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PTER PGOV CA
SUBJECT: CANADA: KHAWAJA TERROR TRIAL OPENS

1. (SBU) Summary: The Canadian government's ability to win its
first major anti-terrorism case will soon be tested in Ontario
Superior Court in the landmark trial of Momin Khawaja, which began
on June 23 in Ottawa. Khawaja is the first Canadian citizen to be
charged under the 2001 Anti-terrorism Act. Although key provisions
of the Act and related national security legislation have largely
stood up to over four years of pre-trial constitutional challenges,
many security experts believe that a major trial is required to
determine whether the Act will serve as a workable tool in Canada's
fight against terrorism. End summary.

2. (U) Twenty-nine year old Canadian-born software developer Momin
Khawaja was arrested in Ottawa in March 2004 and charged as a
co-conspirator in a thwarted home-grown plot by British-born
terrorists of Pakistani origin in 2003 and 2004 to detonate a 600
kilogram ammonium nitrate fertilizer bomb against a target in the
U.K. Khawaja's alleged role was to develop and build a
radio-frequency detonator. He was the only person arrested in
Canada in connection with the plot and has spent more than four
years in pre-trial custody. Meanwhile, five of his alleged British
co-conspirators were convicted of terrorism by British courts in
April 2007 and are serving life sentences. Two more were acquitted.
A significant portion of the prosecution evidence to be used
against Khawaja is thought to have been supplied by British security
agencies and police, and media reports claim U.S. agencies also
contributed intelligence to the case.

3. (U) Khawaja is charged with seven counts under the Anti-terrorism
provisions of the Criminal Code of Canada, including helping to
develop bomb detonators, possessing explosives, helping to finance
terrorist activity, receiving terrorist training and facilitating
terrorism. Three of the seven counts carry maximum penalties of
life in prison, while four carry maximum prison terms of 10 or 14
years. On June 23, Khawaja pleaded not guilty to all charges
against him, and his non-jury trial is expected to run through
October 2008, or longer.

4. (U) The case has already helped to define the balance between
civil rights and national security in Canada, and the courts'
approach to secrecy. In October 2006 Khawaja successfully
challenged the constitutionality of the "motive" clause of the
Anti-terrorism Act defining a terrorist act as one committed for "a
political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause"
when an Ontario Superior Court judge struck it down agreeing that it
violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Canada's Bill of Rights
analogue). Despite Khawaja's partial victory, a provincial judge
ruled that the case against him could proceed. The Supreme Court of
Canada meanwhile has twice refused to hear appeals by Khawaja to
throw out his case on the grounds that the government's ability to
withhold sensitive information on national security grounds impedes
his right to a fair trial.

5. (U) The Khawaja trial will proceed simultaneously with Canada's
other ongoing terrorism trial of a member of the so-called "Toronto
11," a group of suspects accused of planning a terror attack against
Canadian targets. Although the Khawaja prosecution is not Canada's
first terrorism case to go to trial -- the Toronto 11 case got
Qfirst terrorism case to go to trial -- the Toronto 11 case got
underway earlier this year -- it is by far the most important.
Unlike the Toronto 11 defendants, Khawaja is allegedly linked to a
global terror plot whose members had ties to al-Qaeda, and he is
alleged to have undergone terrorist training in camps in Pakistan,
making his case of international interest.

6. (SBU) Comment: The conviction of Khawaja's alleged conspirators
in Britain, and the four-year delay in bringing him to trial in
Canada, has raised the stakes for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police,
the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service, and Crown
prosecutors in securing Canada's first terrorist conviction,
prompting questions about whether Canada is capable of mounting a
timely and successful prosecution. The trial has already, and will
continue to, challenge the ability of government officials and the
judiciary to find the right balance between protecting citizens'
civil rights and securing Canada from terrorist threats. Further,
expert observers (such as Canadian international security analyst
Wesley Wark) have noted that Canadian security agencies are heavily
dependent on foreign intelligence, and that friendly intelligence
services are watching the case with interest to see whether Canada
follows through on prior assurances to protect the confidentiality
of sensitive material when introducing foreign intelligence products
in open court.
WILKINS

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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