Surprise guilty plea in Toronto 18 terror trial

The cases of the Toronto 18 have not made many headlines of late, but that changed today.  Saad Khalid, one of the 13 adults originally charged with conspiracy to commit terrorist acts, suddenly changed his plea to guilty in court Monday.  The news took some time to emerge as the judge imposed a media ban on the proceedings in order to protect the other nine defendants still charged with the crime (via Newsbeat1):

When Saad Khalid, one of the notorious and now-shrunken group once known as the Toronto 18, this week abruptly pleaded guilty to participating in a terrorist plot to build and detonate bombs in the country’s largest city, it should have been obvious that this was a matter of enormous public importance. …

In the intervening almost three years, as the wheels of justice ground – barely – forward, young Mr. Khalid was not only de facto proclaiming his innocence by his participation in the process, but also was properly presumed to be innocent.

Indeed, in the mainstream press and on the Internet, there were many Canadians, commentators and private citizens both, who asserted the innocence of all the accused men in the most vigorous manner possible. A sophisticated Toronto 18 website and a “Presumption of Innocence Project” sprang up, and supporters even organized occasional solidarity rallies at the Brampton courthouse.

Yet when in the face of all this, Mr. Khalid stood before Superior Court Judge Bruce Durno on Monday afternoon to suddenly enter a guilty plea – a shocking turnaround whereby after all the motions and proceedings that had gone on before, he was effectively saying, “Oh by the way, I did do it” – the matter already had been placed under a temporary publication ban by Judge Durno.

I have some experience with these media gag orders, and I think they’re silly and counterproductive.  A guilty plea is a legitimate public interest story, and Canadians had a right to know that one of these little dears actually did intend to carry out terrorist attacks against key targets.  The gag rule implies that Canadians aren’t bright enough to serve on a jury and make decisions based on the law and the evidence rather than what they read in the newspapers.

I also have some experience with the clueless knee-jerk support movements that spring up to act as apologists for terrorists.  Rather than waiting to see the evidence for themselves, a tiny fringe of people don’t just give the defendants a presumption of innocence but start accusing the government of plots, frame-ups, and political prosecutions based on bigotry or partisanship.  We saw that here in Minnesota when Kathleen Soliah got arrested and prosecuted for her acts of domestic terrorism.  As with the Toronto 18 (now 11), Soliah’s supporters quickly disappeared from public view when Soliah not only pled guilty to the initial charges of bomb-planting, but then subsequently pled guilty to robbery and murder in Oakland.

Contrary to popular thought, the Toronto 18 plot was substantial.  Khalid admitted to receiving terrorist training before organizing the plot.  He also apparently admitted to having truck bombings in the works at several locations.  This runs counter to the press treatment at the time that the Toronto 18 were nothing more than just kids acting out.

Khalid was the second of the remaining plotters to get convicted.  Nine more will stand trial, and hopefully the Canadian media will be allowed to do their jobs at that time.