"I think it's fair to say yes, this involved undercover, Mr. Big type covert operations." -- Tom Morino, lawyer for B.C. Legislature bomb plot accused John Nuttall
Did you know that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has a target of six disruptions of "terrorist criminal activities" this fiscal year?
No doubt one of those six disruptions happened when the RCMP arrested John Nuttall and Amanda Korody on charges of plotting to explode pressure-cooker bombs outside the B.C. Legislature on July 1 during Canada Day celebrations.
But after Nuttall and Korody's B.C. Supreme Court appearance last Wednesday, Aug. 7 before Justice Jeanne Watchuk, questions about the case continue to mount.
One query: how much pressure is the RCMP under to meet their terrorist targets as the federal Conservative government looks to reduce police expenditures?
Another question came when Nuttall's lawyer Tom Morino said after the short hearing was adjourned to Sept. 20 that while he has only received limited prosecution disclosure about the case against his client, it's enough for him to conclude the RCMP used "Mr. Big" tactics against Nuttall.
"Having seen Mr. Big cases, nothing in the [preliminary] disclosure surprised me," Morino told this reporter.
"We've received preliminary disclosure -- an executive summary I'd describe it as," Morino said. "We'll have full disclosure before the next appearance. I would anticipate thousands of pages of disclosure."
Strange court appearance
The controversial "Mr. Big" approach pioneered by B.C. RCMP undercover officers in the early 1990s involves police posing as criminals to gain suspects' confidence and collect evidence against them.
The tactic is seen as coercive and not allowed in Britain and the United States.
Yet more issues surfaced when Nuttall was sent to the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital in Coquitlam in late July.
"The only reason I'm aware that he has been certified under the Mental Health Act is because my client called me and told me," Morino said outside court.
"In my opinion, there's a sufficient nexus in time between this certification and the alleged incidents that it certainly raises the spectre of NCRMD (not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder) -- or as we used to call it, 'insanity,''' Morino said.
Both Nuttall and Korody were taking methadone to reduce withdrawal symptoms from narcotics like heroin while living in poverty in a Surrey basement apartment when arrested.
In court Aug. 7, Nuttall looked more like an Amish farmer, with a dark beard and shaggy, shoulder length hair, than a suspected terrorist.
Nuttall turned to the courtroom full of media and gave what could only be described as a goofy grin out of place with the serious charges. He and Korody exchanged wide smiles, clearly pleased to see each other but again seemingly oblivious to their dire circumstances.
Why is RCMP so confident?
So how did two apparently hapless recent converts to Islam allegedly mastermind a plot to kill and injure hundreds of people in Victoria?
How were they "self-radicalized" and inspired by "al-Qaeda ideology" as RCMP claim, and did undercover officers or informants play a role in aiding their alleged bomb-making plot?
"In order to ensure public safety, we employed a variety of complex investigative and covert techniques to control any opportunity the suspects had to commit harm," RCMP assistant commissioner Wayne Rideout said in a July 2 statement announcing the arrests.
"These devices were completely under our control, they were inert, and at no time represented a threat to public safety," Rideout said then, but did not detail how that occurred.
The BC Civil Liberties Association has also raised concerns about the role of a possible "Mr. Big" police operation.
"The question is, how could the police be so confident that the explosive devices wouldn't work?" says Michael Vonn of the BCCLA.
"The surmise is they knew that because they either provided or provided portions of them, or somehow had been actively involved with the accused in developing or facilitating the alleged plot," she said.
Several American cases of terrorist activities have drawn charges of entrapment by defence lawyers.
In the case of James Cromitie, a Walmart employee tempted by a well-paid FBI informant offering $250,000 and a new BMW in exchange for firing missiles at U.S. warplanes and bombing Jewish targets in New York, a federal judge chastised the FBI.
"Only the government could have made a 'terrorist' out of Mr. Cromitie, whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in its scope," Judge Colleen McMahon said, while still sentencing him to 25 years in jail.
Trial expected in 2015
Morino said what was expected to be a bail hearing for Nuttall on Aug. 7 will instead take place at some later date.
"We can conduct a bail hearing whenever we wish. But until such time as I have some sort of reasonable proposed release plan in place, it's really a waste of time," he said.
Morino says a judge and jury trial is a long way off.
"I don't expect trial dates until 2015," he said.
So the B.C. Legislature bomb plot mystery continues, as does the RCMP's goal of disrupting more terrorist activities before the next fiscal year.
Read more: BC Politics