MONTREAL — A lawyer for a Montreal teen facing terrorism-related charges says the Crown has not sufficiently proven his client was linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or committed an act on its behalf.
Defence lawyer Thiago Murias said Wednesday the evidence presented was worrisome but did not directly show his client was joining ISIL.
The Montreal teen has pleaded guilty to the armed robbery of a convenience store in October 2014, an act the Crown has suggested was on behalf of ISIL and to finance a trip to take part in the conflict in Syria.
The 16-year-old, who cannot be named because he is a minor, faces two charges: committing a robbery in association with a terrorist organization and planning to leave Canada to participate in the activities of a terrorist group abroad.
The teen did not take the stand during his trial, but Murias argued during his closing arguments the evidence presented fell far short of proving his acts amounted to terrorism.
Murias said the only thing the evidence suggests is the boy was set on fighting Bashar Assad’s regime, but without specifying with which of the several groups on the ground.
“He had the conviction as a Muslim to help his brothers in Syria,” Murias said. “The evidence does not show he wanted to commit a terrorist act in Syria.”
Nor, he said, was there any evidence the robbery was anything different from a run-of-the-mill criminal act that occurs hundreds of times a year.
“Is it really people like this legislators wanted to criminalize with such severe penalties?,” he told youth court Judge Dominique Wilhelmy. “It’s important (my client) doesn’t become a collateral victim in the war on terror.”
Murias said it’s unlikely the terrorist organization had any idea the teen had committed the crime.
He noted previous terrorism cases in Canada involve well-planned conspiracies with adults seeking to bomb buildings or derail trains.
“Never in Canada have we had terrorism jurisprudence in a case where a youth held up a convenience store,” Murias said. “I think we’re missing the mark on what the legislators had in mind.”
The boy defended committing the robbery, telling investigators the money was “spoils of war.”
But Murias cautioned against taking a confused teen’s moral justification for committing an act as a motive linked to terrorism.
“His political beliefs are one thing and the charges he’s accused of are quite another,” Murias said.
He conceded there was a large amount of propaganda on the boy’s computer — mostly from al-Qaida — but no direct contact between the boy and Islamic State militants.
Murias described his client as being engulfed by jihadist propaganda over two years leading up to his arrest.
The lawyer suggested his client could also be viewed as an unwitting child soldier and, as such, be immune from prosecution under international law.
Final arguments will continue Thursday afternoon and again next Tuesday.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press