Three incidents around one mosque, including the final one of shooting attack of 29 January 2017, suggests a pattern of activity by an individual or group that has grievances with the Muslim Brotherhood. If the two previous incidents and the shooting are connected by a police investigation through a single individual or group, then this is very close to the legal definition of terrorism. As such, it would seem logical that the alleged perpetrator should be charged with terrorism.
Terrorism is, however, a political crime and the decision to charge an individual with terrorism in Canada has political and many other factors.
Factors for the Terrorism Charge
A number of factors suggest that a charge of terrorism should result from the murder of six individuals at the Quebec City Mosque on 29 January 2017. The shooting incident was the final one of three seemingly connected incidents involving the mosque. In June of 2016 a pigs head was placed at the door of the mosque. Three weeks later a pamphlet was distributed around the neighborhood which claimed that the mosque was run by the Muslim Brotherhood. Six months later, the shooting occurred.
If (stressing if) it can be shown that these three incidents are connected through a common individual, group or campaign, then the attack is a virtual definition of what constitutes terrorism today in Canada. (Criminal Code of Canada 83.01)
A regular attendee of the mosque, according to himself, is Abdullah Assafiri. He has been identified as a Masul or leadership figure for the Muslim Brotherhood. If his name appears in the evidence collected in the investigation before the shooting, this would strongly support the concept of a terrorism charge.
Public pressure and outrage may also affect the decision. It should not, of course, have a direct role, but if the public perceives that a terrorist event has occurred, then the Crown may feel indirect pressure to move in that direction.
The discussions between the police (investigating) and the Crown Prosecutor (laying the charge) will be critical here.
Factors Against the Terrorism Charge
Charging and convicting an individual with terrorism in Canada is a high bar to clear. In addition to proving the crime occurred, the Crown Prosecutor also has to address the issue of motive and intent. Terrorism by its nature is a political crime, the intent of which is to have an outcome which affects the political sphere around the targeted group. Simply showing that the accused in the case killed the individuals does not rise to terrorism. If the Crown cannot connect the three events or if the Crown cannot show through other means that the shooter had a political motive against the targeted group, the charge will likely fail in court.
Also working against the charge of terrorism is the (informal) prosecutorial belief that you should charge the individual in a case with the crime which is easiest to prove. In the case of the mosque shooting, proving murder (1st degree) appears at this point to be a relatively easy case. Why complicate matters for yourself if you are the prosecutor? Take the simplest charge and run with that.
The workload and the case for the prosecutor may also be complicated if a terrorism charge is placed. The mosque itself has multiple perceived ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, which itself is listed as a terrorist group in many countries. The mosque has also given money to IRFAN, an organization in Canada which was determined to be a terrorist entity by the Government of Canada itself after it was caught funding HAMAS.
Abdallah Assafiri, a senior member of the mosque not above, was also identified (but not charged and not listed as a co-conspirator) in a US terrorism funding case involving the Holy Land Relief Foundation another organization with multiple links to HAMAS and its parent organization, the Muslim Brotherhood. He was listed as a Masul, or leader, for the Muslim Brotherhood in Canada. Mr Assafiri also stated that he would have been in the mosque that evening, but his son had borrowed the car. His name appearing in that case would be a complication for the prosecution which they may not wish to explain. Ironically, Mr Assassifiris role may be both a help and a hindrance for the prosecution depending on the direction followed by the investigation.
Other complications may also occur, given that Mr Assifiri was a public servant in Quebec for a number of years on worked on IT related projects for them. Ironically, Mr Assafiri is/was the holder of the domain name gouv.qc.ca who previously had the office phone number of 1 (418) 644-4667 and the government email address of email@example.com (see below for details).
Also working against the terrorism charge is the rather large list of inconsistencies that came out of the initial news reports and police statement. There was one, two or three shooters. They did, or did not, yell out a political message at the start of the shooting. One person arrested may have really been a frightened witness and a host of other information was advance. The case may not have been helped by the Prime Minister sending a letter to Fox News complaining about their reporting. Misleading or wrong information is a common occurrence these days and dealing with it at trial is part and parcel of what the prosecution had to deal with. But the level of international attention this case was incredibly high.
The decision to put forth a terrorism change will be a difficult one for the prosecution. National attention will be focused on a trial and every shred of evidence (and inconsistencies) will be seized upon by the defence. Evidence of motive and intent will be the toughest barrier in reaching for this charge.
(Technical info on the domain name gouv.qc.ca downloaded on 02 FEb 2017 from http://gouv.qc.ca.hypestat.com/)
Administrative contact: Name: Abdallah Assafiri Job Title: Administrateur Postal address: 1500, Jean Talon Nord Sainte-Foy QC G1N 4T6 Canada Phone: 1 (418) 644-4667 Fax: 1 (418) 643-5789 Email: Technical contact: Name: Abdallah Assafiri Job Title: Administrateur Postal address: 1500, Jean-Talon Nord Bureau 1er étage Sainte-Foy QC G1N 4T6 Canada Phone: 1 (418) 644-4667 Fax: 1 (418) 643-5789 Email: