TORONTO - Lawyers for a Toronto man accused of attacking soldiers at a military recruitment centre two years ago say he should be acquitted of terror-related charges and found not criminally responsible for lesser offences in the case on account of his mental state and the fact he has no affiliation to a terrorist group.
Ayanle Hassan Ali has 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 "at the direction of or in association with a terrorist group."
The 2016 incident at a north Toronto military recruitment centre left at least two soldiers with minor injuries.
In written arguments filed as part of Ali's trial, defence lawyers argue the 30-year-old — who a psychiatrist said shows signs of schizophrenia — should be acquitted on the terror-related charges altogether and found not criminally responsible for the lesser included charges of attempted murder, assault and weapons offences.
In other words, the defence is arguing that Ali did commit attempted murder, assault and weapons offences — for which he should be found not criminally responsible — but the crimes were not committed with any relation to a terror group.
"Terrorism is such a loaded term and connotes a level of dangerousness that ... we worry that if he is in the system as not criminally responsible for terrorism, it might unfairly affect how he is treated," defence Nader Hasan said in an interview.
"More fundamentally though, he's not a terrorist, he's someone who is ill, and so this process and the ultimate disposition ought to reflect that reality and ultimately what we want is that he is treated as someone who is mentally ill who needs to get better."
The Crown, however, wants Ali to be found not criminally responsible for the terror offences, defence documents show. Prosecutors are expected to make their case and call witnesses in court later this week.
Hasan said Ali would be in custody at a secure treatment facility whether he is found not criminally responsible on the terror charges or the lesser included offences.
Finding someone not criminally responsible acknowledges that the person committed the crime they are accused of but, as a result of a mental disorder, they were incapable at the time of appreciating that their actions could cause harm, or were unacceptable by societal standards, Ali's lawyers explained in their arguments.
The incident at the centre of the case began when Ali entered a Canadian Forces recruitment office in March 2016 and repeatedly punched and slashed at one soldier, leaving the man with a three-inch gash on his arm, according to an agreed statement of facts presented by the Crown and defence at trial.
Ali tried to stab or slash three other military personnel— one of whom was left with bruises and a "small, superficial nick" — before being subdued, the statement said.
There is "no evidence of any connection" between Ali and any other person or group in relation to the crimes, and the Crown "does not allege that Mr. Ali committed the ... offences for the benefit of, at the direction of or in association with anyone but himself," prosecutors acknowledged in the agreed statement of facts.
If Ali was not affiliated with any terrorist group, he cannot be guilty of terror offences, because Canadian terror law "does not apply to alleged one-person terrorist groups," Hasan and co-counsel Maureen Addie argued in their filings.
"In creating (anti-terror laws), Parliament was not intending to target individuals working alone, but to provide additional censure to people who commit indictable offences to assist terrorist groups," they argued.
In the weeks after his arrest, Ali was sent to a forensic psychiatry hospital unit, where he has remained in the two years since.
On Monday, a psychiatrist who supervised Ali's care testified that the man has shown signs of schizophrenia, including delusions and paranoia, since about 2010.
Around the time of the attack, Ali believed the government was listening to him and thought he was being possessed by spirits from Muslim mythology known as Jinns, Dr. Gary Chaimowitz said.
Ali became angry over Canadian military involvement in Muslim countries and came to feel that if he martyred himself all his sins would be forgiven in the afterlife, the doctor told the court.
Ali's trial resumes Thursday.