B.C. Superior Court rules that RCMP coerced couple, manufactured terror plot

Image description: A grainy low-resolution photo of a beaming John Nuttall, with shoulder-length hair and unkempt beard, sitting in the passenger seat of a car. Directly behind him is Amanda Korody, wearing a black headscarf; Korody is grinning and has a cigarette in her mouth. (Image credit: RCMP surveillance photo)

Today, after over three years of legal limbo, accused terrorists John Nuttall and Amanda Korody were freed when B.C. Superior Court Justice Catherine Bruce found that the RCMP manipulated them into planting pressure cooker bombs on the British Columbia legislature’s grounds on Canada Day 2013.

This is the first time that a North American terror-related trial has ended in a finding of entrapment, a historical event amidst an onslaught on Muslim communities by the FBI and RCMP.

Regular readers of The Alfalfafield will be familiar with the details of this case, but for those coming in late: Nuttall and Korody were found guilty last year of multiple offences related to the pressure cooker bomb incident, but they were never sentenced. Instead, Justice Bruce took up the question of whether or not they were entrapped into committing these crimes by a team of approximately 240 RCMP officers.

The longer this entrapment phase of the trial went on, the clearer it became that the true authors of this plot were undercover Mounties:

This pair of recently-converted ex-heroin addicts living on welfare in a dingy basement apartment in the Lower Mainland were always unlikely jihadists, and when one reads about the lengths to which the Mounties had to go in order to get this plot off the ground, it becomes grimly laughable to imagine them ever carrying out any kind of plot, no matter how small or unambitious.

Consider the fact that their handler often had difficulty in getting them to put down the bong, turn off their video games, and leave their damn house. The fact that Nuttall’s initial far-fetched plans including hijacking a nuclear submarine and (somehow) building a missile and launching it at Seattle (which he believed was hundreds of kilometres closer than it actually was), plans that the pair’s RCMP handlers complained were frustratingly far-fetched and impossible to accomplish. The fact that the outline for the eventual plot, as well as the funding, material, and training necessary for its completion, were all provided entirely by the RCMP.

The fact that Nuttall feared for his life if he backed out.

In other words, without the RCMP’s involvement, there is no terrorist plot – just a pair of incompetent shit-talking ex-junkies playing Call of Duty in a Vancouver basement.

Today, Justice Bruce agreed with this assessment, ruling that the pair lacked the competence and capacity to conduct a terror plot on their own initiative. The common-law couple walked out of the courtroom elated and vindicated after Bruce excoriated the Crown and the Mounties in a damning ruling (about which more below).

However, their freedom was extremely short-lived. A mere two hours later, after enjoying lunch with Nuttall’s mother and a stroll down Commercial Drive in downtown Vancouver, the pair were re-arrested. They are currently being brought before a provincial court in an effort to impose a so-called “peace bond” on them which would heavily restrict their movements and abilities for the next year or more. The Orwellianly-named “peace bond”, as I’ve written about before, is essentially an extremely restrictive parole-like set of conditions for a person who hasn’t been convicted or charged with any crimes, but is suspected of having terrorism-related thoughts/intentions/connections/etc by the state security apparatus. It’s a form of pre-crime and a terrifying slide towards a two-tiered justice system:

For any other crime, the police must be able to provide substantial evidence before being able to make an arrest. But under C-51, when it comes to “terrorism”, all they need are suspicions in order to impose an extremely restrictive peace bond on a possibly innocent person. People arrested under this provision are not entitled to the same right to a trial that folks arrested for other crimes have; instead, they are essentially given a take-it-or-leave-it choice between severe restrictions on their behaviour and jail time for a crime they never committed (and may never have intended to commit).

The most recent high-profile example of the use of peace bonds in this way was the case of Aaron Driver, a young man in Winnipeg who made posts supportive of the so-called Islamic State. He had a peace bond essentially imposed on him – “If I fought it, they would have added even more conditions than I’m already under,” he told the CBC – which compelled him to wear a GPS-tracking ankle bracelet, dictated where he was allowed to live, forebade him to use any social media, and required that he receive written permission from the court before he could own a phone or computer. All this despite the fact that the RCMP didn’t have enough evidence to charge him with anything.

The Crown has also indicated that it intends to appeal Justice Bruce’s ruling.

This is perhaps not very surprising. Certainly it’s consistent with the position of the Crown, the RCMP, and CSIS throughout this case, which is that Nuttall and Korody posed a very real and very menacing threat to the public. But coming on the heels of Justice Bruce’s ruling, it’s an absolute affront to the notion of justice, and a Kafkaesquely cruel continuation of John Nuttall and Amanda Korody’s hellish imprisonment.

And when one reads Justice Bruce’s ruling, it is evident that what this couple has endured is completely unjust. I haven’t had time to go through each and every paragraph of the lengthy judgement, but here are some points which stood out to me on a first skim. I’ll avoid commenting on them until the end. All bolding throughout was added by me; I’ve also removed paragraph numeration from all quotes for ease of reading.

1) The RCMP’s testimony was slanted against the defence

Bruce wrote in her ruling that while many of the officers involved in the undercover operation were credible and even-handed in their testimony before the court, several key witnesses were so obviously biased towards the Crown and personally invested in securing a conviction as to make their testimony irredeemably biased:

Cpl. McLaughlin [one of three commanding officers] demonstrated very little recollection of events even with pointed prodding by defence counsel in his direct examination. However, when cross-examined by the Crown, he had a detailed recollection of events and demonstrated a new found memory of matters addressed in the Crown’s questions. I found the officer’s selective memory in this regard to weigh heavily against his credibility. He appeared to have a recollection of only those portions of the operation that would favour the police and their handling of the investigation.

Sgt. Kalkat [another of the three commanding officers] was also not a credible witness in general. His evidence was contradicted by Cst. Mokdad, Supt. Bond and Cpl. Matheson. It was also internally inconsistent and contrary to his written record of events. I found it astounding that he kept so few notes of meetings and conversations with his team about the project and yet purported to have a detailed recollection of the events favourable to the Crown’s position

I found Officer A’s [Nuttall and Korody’s handler and the primary undercover officer] testimony during the jury portion of the trial, particularly as it related to his personal views of the defendants’ capabilities, to be incredible and unreliable. It was quite apparent that he had a personal stake in the outcome of the investigation and was not objective when relating his observations and impressions of the defendants’ acts and statements, which the Court also observed first-hand in the video and audio recordings of their encounters during the undercover scenarios.

2) The RCMP began investigating John Nuttall on the basis of a totally unsubstantiated anonymous accusation

The Mounties received a tip from CSIS in February 2013 that Nuttall had attempted to purchase potassium nitrate, an ingredient in a powerful explosive, from pharmacies in the Lower Mainland. The tip came from an anonymous source (perhaps [Redacted] X?), and the officers in charge of the operation never made any attempt to verify the accusation, despite clear instructions from their superiors to do so:

On February 7, 2013, CSIS forwarded the formal advisory letter to Supt. Bond, which letter reported that CSIS had recently learned that Mr. Nuttall had been attempting to purchase potassium nitrate from pharmacies in the Lower Mainland on January 31, 2013. The advisory letter did not reveal a source for the tip….There was never any scenario designed to elicit Mr. Nuttall’s knowledge about the use of potassium nitrate in explosives.

On the same day, February 7, 2013, Sgt. Kalkat instructed the surveillance team not to approach any local shop employee to gather evidence of whether Mr. Nuttall had been trying to purchase potassium nitrate…He made this decision despite Supt. Bond’s direction to pursue the advisory letter with due diligence.

It was not until February 18, 2013, that the RCMP obtained footage from the surveillance cameras in a pharmacy located near Mr. Nuttall’s home that showed him attending the pharmacy on the date referred to in the advisory letter. However, the RCMP’s own surveillance of Mr. Nuttall indicated that he regularly attended this pharmacy to pick up prescriptions for his grandmother. The RCMP did not otherwise corroborate or seek to corroborate the information contained in the advisory letter. Indeed, no officer reviewed the video surveillance until late in the project despite the priority given to confirming or refuting the advisory letter by Supt. Bond. The surveillance camera footage from the pharmacy did not actually reveal any evidence that supported the RCMP’s investigation of Mr. Nuttall. Insp. Corcoran [a senior RCMP officer brought in as a “closer” in the final week of the plot] testified that he at no time queried Sgt. Kalkat about the outcome of the investigation into the CSIS advisory letter and he was never briefed on this matter by the command team.

3) There was conflict between undercover officers and higher levels of RCMP management on the direction of the plot

And furthermore, this conflict was based on an extremely offensive interpretation of Islam:

Sgt. Kalkat wanted the undercover shop to take a more aggressive approach with Mr. Nuttall in order to channel him away from the constant discussion of ideas and spur him into action…Sgt. Kalkat complained to Cpl. Matheson that the operation was proceeding too slowly. He told the corporal that the investigation was a national priority due to the risk posed by Mr. Nuttall. When questioned why he believed there was a risk in light of the lack of recent evidence that Mr. Nuttall was expressing extremist beliefs, the sergeant testified that the DNR [“dialed number recorder”, a log of numbers dialled by a suspect] revealed that Mr. Nuttall’s cellular telephone usage and blog were associated with the registered name of “Muhammad Muhammad.” He also referred to Ms. Korody’s wearing of the hijab and her conversion to the Muslim faith. Apparently Sgt. Kalkat associated terrorism with adherence to the Islamic faith in general. Moreover, at this time only Mr. Nuttall was a target; there was no evidence at all about Ms. Korody’s activities beyond what the surveillance had indicated.

Elements within the RCMP were even concerned that they may be facilitating terrorism:

Cpl. Matheson testified that he raised the issue of entrapment with the investigative team in mid-March 2013 for two reasons. First, he believed that by paying Mr. Nuttall for jobs, the police might be committing the offence of facilitating a terrorist act. Second, it was apparent that Mr. Nuttall did not have the financial resources to carry out any of his jihadist ideas, and thus by giving him money the police were making him into someone who was capable of carrying out a terrorist act.

4) Nuttall and Korody’s Islamic faith was used as a tool against them

The very fact that Nuttall and Korody had converted to Islam was weaponized against them:

Officer A was to portray himself as having been born in the Middle East and a life-long Muslim who, by implication, was intimately familiar with the faith. From the outset of the undercover operation, Sgt. Kalkat pushed for Officer A to assert his superior knowledge of the Islamic faith during the scenarios with Mr. Nuttall and to use his knowledge of the religion as a means of controlling and directing Mr. Nuttall’s behaviour. Over the course of the operation, Officer A led Mr. Nuttall to believe that he had family in the Middle East and had to return there to deal with issues involving his family.

5) Nuttall’s knowledge of Islam was extremely basic and confused – and the RCMP did their best to keep it that way

This was according to Dr. Omid Safi, an expert on Islamic studies brought in by the defence:

Dr. Safi opined that Mr. Nuttall’s knowledge of the Quran and the Islamic faith was very superficial and often confused. On many occasions Mr. Nuttall expressed a lack of confidence in his understanding of the faith..Dr. Safi testified that even a person with a rudimentary knowledge of the Islamic faith would have known that a convert does not attempt to interpret the Quran and the hadiths of the Prophet Mohammed on his own and that the faith requires him to seek help from a religious scholar to understand their meaning…

Dr. Safi testified that during the undercover operation Officer A repeatedly denigrated the role of the imam in the Islamic faith when Mr. Nuttall expressed reticence about committing acts of violent jihad. Early on Mr. Nuttall revealed to Officer A his lack of understanding about the Islamic faith and his need for spiritual guidance about his ideas concerning jihad. Instead of encouraging Mr. Nuttall to seek guidance from an educated spiritual advisor, Officer A directed Mr. Nuttall to look to him for answers…

In this regard, Officer A said that imams have no greater knowledge of the Quran than Mr. Nuttall and he disparaged the role of authoritative opinions in the Islamic faith. Officer A also reinforced the notion of the will of Allah and pre-determination without any free will and pointed Mr. Nuttall in the direction of the terrorist viewpoint by referring him to Anwar Al-Awlaki

In Safi’s expert opinion, the “eyebrow-raising” conduct of the RCMP was “dubious” at best, and that the pair would have been far better served by being directed towards religious counselling rather than receiving egregiously wrong-headed interpretations of Islam. Bruce wrote that “Officer A’s religious advice specifically had the effect of promoting radical extremist views of the faith”.

6) John Nuttall consistently exaggerated, distorted, and otherwise misrepresented his abilities and intentions

Nuttall was a chronic bullshitter:

Mr. Nuttall exaggerated the police contact he had experienced due to his expression of jihadist views. He also exaggerated his computer skills by claiming he could hack into the Israeli government’s server.

Needless to say, Nuttall was completely incapable of such actions.

During the March 3rd scenario, Mr. Nuttall spoke about Qassam and Samus rockets used by Hamas to target Israel. Officer A agreed in cross-examination that Qassam rockets are homemade short-range rockets without guidance systems, and that Samus are long-range guided missiles. He further agreed that Mr. Nuttall believed they were the same thing and that he could make them in his garage.

Needless to say, Nuttall was completely ignorant as to how to construct said rockets.

During the next scenario on March 7, 2013, Mr. Nuttall told Officer A that he had left his laptop in the vehicle to test Officer A to see if he was a police officer. Mr. Nuttall made statements to the effect that there was enough information on the computer to send him to jail. It is clear that Mr. Nuttall could not have been referring to any plan for jihad.

Because there was nothing on said laptop that could have convicted him of anything.

There are numerous additional examples of Nuttall’s capacity for bullshit throughout the ruling, but for the sake of space, you’ll have to search them out for yourself.

7) Officer A exhibited all the behaviours of an abusive partner

Many of the actions taken by Nuttall and Korody’s handler match a basic checklist of signs of abuse and manipulation. Sgt. Kalkat explicitly wanted to increase Officer A’s “control” over Nuttall (and, later, Korody), while Cpl. Matheson felt that A was having an “undue influence” over the pair. Additionally:

[I]t became apparent that Mr. Nuttall was emotionally bonded to Officer A and was extremely worried about Officer A during his absence. Mr. Nuttall told Officer A that he felt abandoned since he had gone away and that he only trusted Officer A and no one else.

It is apparent that from this time onward the defendants intentionally isolated themselves from others in preference to spending time with Officer A. In the later scenarios Officer A perpetuated this social isolation by discouraging Mr. Nuttall and Ms. Korody from having contact with other friends and family members. In addition, it was at this time that Mr. Nuttall’s grandmother moved out of the basement suite thereby isolating them further from family members.

*       *       *

All of this being said, it must be made clear that Nuttall (and, to an extent which is less provable, Korody) made some reprehensible statements and gave clear indications to RCMP undercover officers which expressed an intent to commit violent offences against the public. These statements, especially those made early in the proceedings, appear to justify the RCMP’s initial interest in the couple, and particularly in Nuttall.

However, it is immediately clear to any neutral observer of this case that this couple was manifestly incapable of committing any serious offence without major assistance from an outside party such as the RCMP. Given this obvious inability, how do we account for the RCMP’s behaviour?

In a tweet earlier today during my first reading of the ruling, I chalked up the RCMP’s behaviour to incompetence. However, upon further reflection, I think it’s far more reasonable to assume that the upper management of the Mounties was pursuing a conviction, regardless of the facts on the ground.

Consider the facts. Officers consistently made efforts to push Nuttall and Korody towards plots they considered reasonable and achievable. They pushed a twisted and grossly inaccurate interpretation of Islam on the pair, and discouraged them from seeking out religious advice from outside sources which may dissuade them from violence. Upper management consistently downplayed the pair’s incompetence, dishonesty, and exaggeration of their capabilities, while seizing on the vaguest scraps of indications that they could potentially pose a danger. Against the better judgement of officers who were in closer contact with the couple, as well as the informed opinions of the RCMP’s legal experts, senior officers advocated an escalation of tactics towards the formation and execution of a serious plot, despite a total lack of actual evidence that either Nuttall or Korody had ever even attempted the beginnings of an actual terror attempt. And then, during the trial, key officers slanted and distorted the evidence they presented to such an extent that an impartial Superior Court judge felt entirely justified in calling them out as incredible and unbelievable.

I’ve suggested previously that the institutional pressure on the RCMP’s INSET (Integrated National Security Enforcement Team) program to produce a conviction, any conviction, was seriously heavy, and coming from the highest levels. The RCMP, at the behest of the Harper government, shifted substantial resources and officers into national security, to the point that they felt compelled to go to Parliament begging for more funding to do basic policing work in the fields of gang operations and white-collar crime. The complete absence of any serious plots for their resource-sucking anti-terror teams to take on began to weigh down on senior management.

Their publicity coup in coercing Nuttall and Korody into committing a serious plot – on Canada Day, of all days – led to international headlines, Cabinet-level plaudits, and promotions all round, as well as an in-built justification for future funding.

The RCMP had all the incentive in the world to push for a successful plot, and damn the evidence. The indications that this is exactly what happened have accumulated steadily throughout the trial, as I’ve documented in this space. Today, Justice Bruce came down bravely on the side of the evidence in the face of hysterically hyped fear. The key quote from her ruling, the one all the media accounts are quoting, is powerful and pithy:

There are no remedies less drastic than a stay of proceedings that will address the abuse of process. The spectre of the defendants serving a life sentence for a crime that the police manufactured by exploiting their vulnerabilities, by instilling fear that they would be killed if they backed out, and by quashing all doubts they had in the religious justifications for the crime, is offensive to our concept of fundamental justice. Simply put, the world has enough terrorists. We do not need the police to create more out of marginalized people who have neither the capacity nor sufficient motivation to do it themselves. [my bold]

The fact that the RCMP has chosen to push back aggressively against this ruling, to double down on their discredited narrative, is perhaps the strongest indication we’ve received to date of how heavily invested they are in the story they’ve spun for public consumption.

The clear facts of the matter, however, indicate that John Nuttall and Amanda Korody were demonstrably incapable of posing a credible threat to the public. The state security apparatus needed terrorists to justify its own existence, and it therefore went about making terrorists in the image of its own greatest fears. That it required a pair of incompetent ex-addicts to accomplish this speaks to how unrealistic its fears were.

Justice Bruce’s ruling points urgently to the need for an immediate repeal of C-51, which empowers the RCMP and other law enforcement agencies to act even more aggressively against terror suspects than they did against Nuttall and Korody. Given the Mounties’ track record of self-interested and lawless behaviour in the pursuit of publicity- and funding-garnering arrests, their increased powers pose a clear and present danger against the public, particularly against Muslims in Canada.

There’s a lot more to be said about this case – and in particular, CSIS’s still-shady involvement in the plot, which I’m hoping to post on in the next several days – but for now, let’s just focus on what the RCMP has done.

Today’s ruling  systematically and ruthlessly demonstrates that they took two aimless bullshitters and, through sheer force of will, intimidation, and misinformation, transformed them into terrorists. The RCMP, ignoring this unequivocal judgement, has chosen to rearrest these innocents and subject them to further coercion, restriction, and humiliation. That there is anybody who can still argue with a straight face that this police force is responsible and competent enough to exercise extreme powers of disruption and unsupervised infiltration of minority and activist communities is incredible. That those advocates include senior cabinet ministers of the supposedly progressive Liberal government is despicable. C-51 must be immediately repealed, and John Nuttall and Amanda Korody must be immediately and unconditionally released. Anything less is an affront to both the justice system and the public’s credulity.

***UPDATE*** After publication, it was announced that Nuttall and Korody have once again been released. A peace bond hearing has been set for September 7.

Regular readers of The Alfalfafield have no doubt noticed that I’ve been on a lengthy hiatus. I’ve been extremely busy for the last couple of months, and likely will be for the next couple of months as well. However, I remain committed to this project, and hope to post sporadically. Please check back in this space regularly, or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or on RSS. You can also reach me at matt@thealfalfafield.com with any feedback.

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