McGill grad acquitted of terrorism charges
The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, August 19, 2014 1:21PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, August 20, 2014 7:45AM EDT
OTTAWA -- Khurram Syed Sher, a doctor who once sang on the Canadian Idol TV show, has been found not guilty of conspiring to facilitate terrorism -- the first acquittal at trial of someone charged under the Anti-Terrorism Act.
The doctor of pathology from London, Ont., was charged along with two other men in August 2010. Sher had pleaded not guilty.
In his decision, Superior Court Justice Charles Hackland said that while Sher, 32, probably harboured some jihadist sympathies, he was not convinced the doctor genuinely intended to join a conspiracy.
As a result, the Crown had not proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt, Hackland said.
Speaking outside the courthouse, his client at his side, defence lawyer Michael Edelson said Sher will now focus his efforts on rebuilding his life, which has been on hold for the past four years.
"His career has been ended, he's lost over a million dollars in income, prestige in the community, and it's been a very, very tough four years," Edelson said.
"His family has left, he's had reduced access to his children -- it's been tragic."
Sher, standing behind his lawyer, demurred when asked for his reaction to the decision, saying only, "It feels great."
Following the high-profile arrests, police said they seized terrorist literature, videos and manuals, along with dozens of electronic circuit boards allegedly designed to detonate homemade bombs remotely.
During the trial, the Crown said Sher had joined a homegrown group dedicated to supporting "violent jihad" by whatever means possible.
Federal lawyers said Sher agreed with two others to raise money, send cash abroad, take paramilitary training, make and use explosives, and scout targets in Canada.
However, Hackland clearly wasn't sufficiently convinced of Sher's intentions to register a conviction, Crown prosecutor Jason Wakely said outside the courtroom after the ruling came down.
"He was left in reasonable doubt about whether (Sher) intended to join the terrorist group, and that is the crime -- to have a sincere intention to join a terrorist group," said Wakely, who called the decision "a disappointing result."
"We're going to review the reasons, which were lengthy and well-considered, and we'll determine whether or not there are any grounds for appeal."
Wakely said Sher's acquittal marks the first time someone has been found not guilty after going to trial on charges laid under the Anti-Terrorism Act, which was introduced in 2001 in the wake of the U.S. terror attacks on Sept. 11.
A graduate of Montreal's McGill University, Sher worked as an anatomical pathologist at St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital in St. Thomas, Ont., south of London.
He made international headlines shortly after his arrest when it emerged he had once performed on the Canadian Idol program. He has been free on bail, under strict conditions, for years.
The Crown cited evidence at Sher's trial gathered through wiretaps of phone calls, intercepted emails and covertly installed listening devices.
Prosecutors played six segments of sometimes sketchy audio culled from electronic surveillance of a July 20, 2010, meeting in Ottawa between Sher and his two co-accused.
The Crown portrayed the gathering as a pivotal moment for the purported plotters.
"While he certainly had suspicions -- Justice Hackland clearly expressed his suspicions about Dr. Sher's conduct -- he wasn't satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt, and that's the way the criminal justice system is supposed to operate," Wakely said.
"If the Crown's case doesn't prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, then an acquittal is the right result."
Sher's lawyers characterized the visit as a friendly stopover en route from Montreal to his new job in southern Ontario.
Defence arguments painted Sher as an avid hockey fan who gave thousands of dollars to charity and helped with earthquake relief efforts in Pakistan.
Sher testified that he does not believe in violence, but rather giving back to the community.