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Crown no longer seeking adult sentence for teen who pleaded guilty to terror charges

Prosecutors are no longer seeking a life sentence for a teenager who pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges including possession of explosive material and counselling someone to detonate a bomb.

In a virtual hearing Friday, the Crown said it is instead making a joint submission with the defence for the maximum youth sentence of three years, with two years spent in custody and one in the community under supervision.

Prosecutor Tom Lemon said the proposed sentence would be on top of the three years the Kingston, Ont., teen has already spent in custody, with no credit given for time served.

Last year, prosecutors asked the court to sentence the teen as an adult, meaning he would face a life sentence or one in the range of 20 to 25 years behind bars. The defence, meanwhile, said a youth sentence of three years would be appropriate.

The Crown changed its position after reviewing evidence presented during the sentencing hearing, including reports indicating the teen has made "significant rehabilitative efforts," Lemon told the court Friday.

He noted the youth has completed Grade 12 while in custody and remains committed to his studies, takes part in twice weekly spiritual counselling and is described as a "model resident" at the facility where he's held.

A three-year sentence would "adequately hold (the teen) accountable) and "promote his rehabilitation and reintegration into society," as well as reducing his risk of recidivism, the prosecutor said.

"From the Crown's perspective, the joint submission is a just and fair result. It serves the public interest and achieves the applicable principles of sentencing," Lemon said.

The Crown is also asking the court to impose a series of "stringent conditions" on the teen during his time in the community. These include a "wide-ranging" ban on weapons and explosives, a curfew, and continued education or employment.

The teen should also be prohibited from owning or using a digital device that can access the internet, unless he receives approval from his youth worker, Lemon argued. Any permitted device should be monitored, he added.

Defence lawyer Sean Ellacott argued layering too many conditions on the teen could work against his reintegration "and therefore the safety of the society."

"The key point has been about isolation and the way that you can be more subject to manipulation with greater isolation," and a curfew could contribute to a feeling of isolation, particularly for someone his age, Ellacott said. As well, "the nighttime really has nothing to do with these offences," he argued.

Ellacott also argued a prohibition on accessing the internet isn't realistic in this day and age, given that even activities such as paying bills require going online. 

"In my submission, especially for someone his age who wants to be in school and who we want to have relationships, the internet has to be treated like the real world where you're allowed into it, but there's certain things you're not allowed to do," he said.

The teen, who cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, was 16 when he was arrested by RCMP in January 2019 following a tip from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

An agreed statement of facts said the teen unwittingly communicated with an FBI undercover agent he believed to be a "lone wolf" terrorist in Virginia, and sent him instructions on how to build a pressure-cooker bomb.

The statement said the teen also encouraged the agent to plant the bomb in a public place, such as a bar, to kill "enemies of Allah."

No bomb was planted but the statement said a search of the youth's home found all the materials needed to create one.

The youth pleaded guilty in 2020 to facilitating a terrorist activity, possession of an explosive substance with intent to injure or kill, taking action to cause an explosion and counselling another person to detonate an explosive device to cause injury or death.

He also admitted to breaching his bail conditions for failing to wear a monitoring bracelet. 

The judge is expected to deliver her ruling in person at a Belleville, Ont., court on Feb. 9.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 28, 2022.

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press