‘Homegrown’ looks at scapegoats

Catherine Frid wants to make it perfectly clear: she’s not expressing sympathy for terrorists in her new play.

MONTREAL — Catherine Frid wants to make it perfectly clear: she’s not expressing sympathy for terrorists in her new play.

The playwright does hope, however, that her story of a member of the infamous Toronto 18 stirs up a little dialogue about life in the post-Sept. 11 world.

Homegrown, which looks at her relationship with convicted terrorist Shareef Abdelhaleem over 18 months, premieres this week at Toronto’s SummerWorks indie arts festival.

Frid says Canada has a better track record than most other countries on the human-rights front — but that it still has a history of finding scapegoats.

She cited the Japanese-Canadians in the Second World War, gays in the 1950s and then the Sikhs. Now she says the country often rushes to judgment whenever Muslims are involved.

“It seems to me that it’s unfortunately sometimes human nature to want to cast someone as the enemy and now Muslims are being cast as the enemy,” Frid said, noting the Toronto 18 case had a significant impact on Toronto’s Muslims.

“I think we have to put a bit of reason behind it and not be so unthinking about what we’re doing.”

Abdelhaleem was convicted in January of participating in a terrorist group and intending to cause an explosion. A judge rejected his contentions that he was the victim of entrapment.

The group allegedly planned to bomb the Toronto CSIS office and stock exchange and an Ontario military base, and behead the prime minister.

Frid, who graduated from the prestigious Osgoode Hall law school but never practiced law, met Abdelhaleem through her ex-husband, who had taught him in high school.

She didn’t initially think about telling his story but was considering a prison tale and figured it would be a good chance to do some research.

Frid hadn’t paid much attention to his case when it first arose. She became more interested as she talked to him.

“Putting a human being in front of all the facts made the story much more compelling for me,” she said.

She says she remained cautious during the interview process, which took place over the phone and during several visits to the prison in Milton, Ont.

“I didn’t take what he told me at face value. That’s why I went home and looked it up.”

After everything, she doesn’t think he’s a terrorist as much as “a regular guy” who’s a big talker and “showed extremely bad judgment.”

“Basically, he’s a nice person, seems like a very respectful person. He’s always been a very pleasant person to deal with.”

The 75-minute production also looks at the sweeping reach of the Anti-Terrorism Act, the deals police cut with informants, lengthy pre-trial detention for the accused and state secrecy.

It has generated some controversy before it has even hit the stage.

One newspaper quoted people questioning government funding for the SummerWorks Festival, suggesting the play is “sympathetic” to terrorists. Others who posted comments on the paper’s website said the arts shouldn’t be funded by government at all.

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