GOLDSTEIN: Whether London attack was terrorism isn’t for politicians to decide

By publicly declaring this was an act of terrorism, politicians are, in effect, pressuring the police to lay a charge that is hard to prove and may not be appropriate.

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Every day across Canada, politicians refuse to comment on issues under investigation by police, or before the courts, saying it would be inappropriate to do so.

The reason — they say — is that it could appear they are trying to exert political influence on the justice system.

But the opposite has occurred in the horrific case of four members of a Muslim family killed, and their nine-year old son now an orphan injured, when they were run over by a pickup truck while out for a Sunday evening stroll in London, Ontario.

The driver has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one of attempted murder.

But by publicly declaring this was an act of terrorism, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and other politicians are, in effect, pressuring the police to lay a charge that is hard to prove and may not be appropriate.

That these political statements are being made at the same time police are investigating whether terrorism charges should be laid, is irresponsible.

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Even if the police (and the prosecutors who will eventually handle the case in court) do not feel any political pressure to lay terrorism charges as a result, the appearance they might be influenced erodes confidence in the independence of the justice system.

The facts are that a horrible crime has been committed and police have already laid four counts of the most serious charge in the Criminal Code — first-degree murder — and a fifth of attempted murder.

They have said they have evidence (as yet undisclosed) that this was a hate crime, meaning that the innocent victims were targeted because they were Muslims and because of their Islamic faith.

Police are, as they should be, giving the utmost priority to this investigation.

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But laying a charge of terrorism is different.

To prove it, prosecutors will have to demonstrate that the accused was motivated “in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause with the intention of intimidating the public with regard to its security, including its economic security, or compelling a person, a government or a domestic or an international organization to do or to refrain from doing any act.

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“Activities recognized as criminal within this context include death and bodily harm with the use of violence; endangering a person’s life; risks posed to the health and safety of the public; significant property damage; and interference or disruption of essential services, facilities or systems.”

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Obviously “death and bodily harm” occurred here but that isn’t enough for a finding of terrorism, which involves a far more complicated prosecution on multiple fronts, that will not, upon conviction, lengthen the sentence if first-degree murder charges are proven.

Terrorism charges, for example, weren’t laid in the 2017 attack on a Quebec City mosque in which a lone gunman was convicted of six charges of first-degree murder.

In the London case, police have already said they believe the accused acted alone, did not know the victims, has no criminal record, was previously unknown to city police and has no known association with hate groups.

Court documents indicate that in 2016 the accused had mental and anger management issues, was in therapy and taking medication.

None of which is to say terrorism charges shouldn’t be laid if they’re appropriate.

But that should be decided by police and prosecutors, not politicians acting as judges and juries.

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