TORONTO — A man with schizophrenia who attacked soldiers at a military recruitment centre in Toronto has been acquitted of terror-related charges and found not criminally responsible for lesser offences due to mental illness.
Judge Ian MacDonnell said Ayanle Hassan Ali’s actions in May 2016 did not fit the intended scope of Canadian terrorism laws.
“While it is common ground that the defendant had become radicalized, there is no evidence of any connection between him and any other person or group in relation to the attack,” MacDonnell said in his decision Monday, noting that Ali’s radical religious and ideological beliefs were largely the result of his mental illness.
It was not parliament’s intent when crafting Canadian terror laws to cover “lone wolf” crimes like the ones committed by Ali, MacDonnell said.
MacDonnell ordered that Ali remain at a forensic psychiatry unit in Hamilton — where he has been in custody for most of the past two years — until an Ontario Review Board, comprised of mental health and legal specialists, can determine his course of care. The board has 45 days to hold an initial hearing in the case, in accordance with Ontario law.
Ali’s lawyers said outside court that their client never should have faced terror charges.
“This was a case where the Crown overreached,” defence attorney Nader Hasan said. “They had someone who they thought looked the part of the terrorist when, in reality, they had someone who committed a terrible, terrible act who is mentally ill and they should have proceeded in that fashion, rather than overreaching for terrorism.”
Ali appeared in court in the same grey suit and white, checked shirt he has worn on every day of the trial. Sitting in the accused’s box, he kept his head bowed and his hands clasped together.
He had pleaded not guilty to three counts of attempted murder, three counts of assault with a weapon, two counts of assault causing bodily harm and one count of carrying a weapon for the purpose of committing an offence, all for the benefit or at the direction of a terror organization.
His lawyers had argued that, because he committed his actions alone and had never been in contact with any terror groups, he should be found not guilty on the terror charges and ruled “not criminally responsible” for the lesser included offences of attempted murder, assault and weapons offences — a designation that acknowledges the accused committed an offence but, as a result of a mental disorder, could not appreciate the consequences, legality or moral wrongness of their actions.
MacDonnell said he agreed with two psychiatrists who testified at trial that Ali should be found not criminally responsible for his actions.
The prosecution argued that Canadian terror laws could apply to Ali because he acted as a “terrorist group of one.”
The 2016 incident at a north Toronto military recruitment centre left at least two soldiers with minor injuries.