OTTAWA — The trial of a man accused of taking journalist Amanda Lindhout hostage in Somalia is slated to get underway on Thursday, a few days behind schedule.
In a ruling Tuesday, Ontario Superior Court Justice Robert Smith said the criminal trial can begin this week, even though a legal dispute over secret information is unresolved.
The trial was supposed to start last Monday, but defence counsel argued that Ali Omar Ader could not get a fair hearing at this point due to side proceedings in a different court over how much sensitive information can be admitted.
A Federal Court judge recently ruled certain classified records must remain under wraps, a decision Ader’s lawyers are challenging in the Federal Court of Appeal.
Lindhout, a native of Red Deer, Alta., and Australian photographer Nigel Brennan were seized by masked gunmen near Mogadishu in August 2008. Both were released in November 2009.
Ader, a 40-year-old Somalian national, faces a criminal charge of hostage-taking for his alleged role as a negotiator. He was arrested in Ottawa in June 2015 following a complex international police investigation.
It emerged during pre-trial motions last spring that the RCMP had lured Ader to Canada through an elaborate scheme to sign a purported book-publishing deal.
Behind the scenes, proceedings have played out in Federal Court over prosecution service concerns about sensitive information that, if disclosed during the trial, could harm international relations, security or defence.
In addition to the RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the cyberspies at the Communications Security Establishment, Global Affairs Canada and National Defence were involved in the Canadian response to the kidnapping. Each identified information to be shielded from disclosure.
The Federal Court confirmed that dozens of documents must remain confidential because the competing interests weigh in favour of protecting the information.
Trevor Brown, an Ottawa lawyer representing Ader, told Smith on Monday that an appeal of the Federal Court ruling should be allowed to fully unfold before a criminal trial begins, since it might dislodge information relevant to Ader’s defence.
Federal lawyer Croft Michaelson said that waiting for the Federal Court of Appeal process to finish could put the criminal proceedings in jeopardy due to unwarranted delay.
Under new rules issued by the Supreme Court, an unreasonable delay is presumed should proceedings — from the criminal charge to conclusion of a trial — exceed 30 months in Superior Court.
The Ader proceedings are now at the 27-month mark.
In this ruling Tuesday, Smith said there was an important public interest in seeing the trial take place in a timely way.
After reviewing the Federal Court decision, Smith concluded that a fair trial could be held, and that Ader would be able to make a full answer and defence.
If the Federal Court of Appeal rules in favour of Ader, any new disclosure issues can be dealt with at that time, he added.
Brown said he was “obviously disappointed in the decision, but we’ll be ready to go Thursday.”
Trial witnesses are expected from Alberta, the United States, Europe and Australia.
Lindhout, 36, has published a best-selling memoir of her 460 days as a prisoner in which she discusses being sexually assaulted in captivity.
In 2009, she established The Global Enrichment Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to fostering leadership in Somalia through educational and community-based programs.