Editorial: Terrorist sting’s cost frightening

The case of the would-be terrorists who thought they were placing pressure-cooker bombs at the B.C. legislature is truly frightening, not because of the danger they posed but because of the resources expended by the RCMP in bringing this pitiful pair to trial.

Documents obtained by the Canadian Press through a freedom-of-information request show that the RCMP spent about $900,000 in overtime pay over the course of the five-month undercover operation that involved more than 240 officers.

article continues below

The overall cost of the operation has not been disclosed, but overtime pay is undoubtedly only a fraction of what this caper has cost the public.

The sting began in February 2013, when an undercover officer posing as an Arab businessman made contact with John Nuttall, who revealed to the officer that he was a convert to Islam and wanted to wage a holy war. The undercover team worked with Nuttall and his common-law wife, Amanda Korody, as they explored plots to wage a war against unbelievers and to damage morale of Canadian troops posted overseas.

So far, so good. It’s a credit to the RCMP that they learned of Nuttall’s desire to become a terrorist and set out to learn how far he would go.

But the penny should have dropped when Nuttall proposed a plan to hijack a Via Rail passenger train on Vancouver Island — the rail service hadn’t operated since 2011. This should have been a strong indication that the couple’s ability to carry out a terrorist plot was limited.

That doesn’t mean Nuttall should have been dismissed as harmless. The former Victoria man has a 2010 conviction for possessing a weapon for a dangerous purpose. He has also been convicted of assaults, mischief and breaches. He received an 18-month conditional sentence for robbery in 2003, after hitting a businessman on the head with a rock and running off with the man’s briefcase. In 1996, he was sentenced to 18 months for his part in several vicious beatings over a drug debt.

Nuttall kicked one victim so severely, the man had to have a kidney removed.

It’s the extent of the sting operation that raises questions, especially about how far Nuttall and Korody could have gone without the support and encouragement of the RCMP.

In fact, the lead Crown prosecutor involved in the case wrote a memo expressing concern that support to the pair from the police might be seen as generating crimes.

“Due to the unique circumstances of the target (no money, no friends, on welfare, somewhat vulnerable), without the assistance of the RCMP, he cannot do a thing,” the prosecutor wrote in an apparent reference to Nuttall.

The couple placed three pressure-cooker bombs on the legislature grounds on July 1, 2013. Officers had helped with the making of the bombs and ensured they could not be detonated.

Nuttall and Korody were arrested shortly after they learned their bombs didn’t explode. They were found guilty of terrorism charges last June, but the convictions have not been entered while defence lawyers argue that police entrapped their clients in a sting.

During the trial, evidence, including videos recorded by police, painted a portrait of two hapless drug addicts who seemed inept at the most mundane of tasks. That they should have been arrested is not in doubt — they were clearly plotting to do harm — but it seems they could have been taken off the street much earlier in the process.

This would make a good, knee-slapping comedy if the punchline weren’t such a hefty bill for taxpayers.

Read Related Topics

© Copyright Times Colonist