“This is truly a case where the RCMP manufactured the crime.” – B.C. Supreme Court Justice Catherine Bruce.
Why did the RCMP create the July 1, 2013 B.C. Legislature bomb plot and train and equip a hapless, methadone-addicted, developmentally challenged couple to undertake terrorist actions?
And why did the RCMP also break Canada’s laws in doing so?
Money. Lots and lots of money.
John Nuttall and Amanda Korody were freed Friday after three years in jail thanks to a stunning decision that saw a respected judge condemn the RCMP in the strongest terms possible, while overturning a jury’s guilty verdict on terrorism changes because the Surrey couple were “entrapped” by police, who also committed an “abuse of process.”
“Simply put, the world has enough terrorists,” Justice Catherine Bruce wrote in a scathing 97,000-word ruling. “We do not need the police to create more out of marginalized people who have neither the capacity nor sufficient motivation to do it themselves.”
Bruce found that the RCMP “violated the Criminal Code in order to accomplish their objectives;” threatened “fundamental beliefs our society holds about human dignity and fairness;” acted to “manipulate marginalized persons and exploit their vulnerabilities on several levels in order to push them into doing criminal acts that they would be incapable of doing without overwhelming assistance from the police;” and “entrapped Ms. Korody and Mr. Nuttall into committing the offences of which they were found guilty.”
The Crown is appealing Bruce’s ruling.
So why did the RCMP take such obviously reprehensible actions? What was their motivation in turning two sad, naïve recovering heroin addicts who barely left their basement apartment into Canada’s most famous terrorists?
To get government money for its huge operations.
The RCMP has a $2.8-billion annual budget and more than 29,000 employees.
It depends on the federal government for its funding – and counterterrorism dollars depend on results, as I wrote in The Tyee in 2013 after covering the first court appearances of Nuttall and Korody.
The RCMP is also competing with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service for financial support, so it is highly motivated to show public success.
RCMP expected to prove anti-terror success
And in the RCMP’s Departmental Performance Report one of the major “expected results” is “Terrorist criminal activity is prevented, detected, responded to and denied.”
The report says success in achieving the results will be indicated “Number of disruptions, through law enforcement actions, to the ability of a group(s) and/or an individual(s) to carry out terrorist criminal activity, or other criminal activity, that may pose a threat to national security in Canada and abroad.”
In the 2014-15 report the “actual results” are not available. “The RCMP is unable to provide actual results for this indicator,” it says.
But in the 2013-14 report – the year Nuttall and Korody were “disrupted” – the RCMP claims it had 14 successful operations – that no doubt being one of them.
Those are the kind of numbers the Conservative government of Stephen Harper wanted to see – and that secured more counter-terrorism funding.
The RCMP brass knew of and heartily approved the tactics used in the Nuttall-Korody case – dubbed “Operation Souvenir” – even as some less senior officers and lawyers were raising concerns about entrapment, the use of a controversial “Mr. Big” strategy and other actions that could jeopardize the case.
As Bruce notes in the judgment: “This project was a national priority for RCMP Headquarters and was watched carefully by very senior officers.”
Bruce noted that Cpl. Stephen Matheson testified he had raised the issue of entrapment with the investigative team in mid-March 2013 for two reasons.
“First, he believed that by paying Mr. Nuttall for jobs, the police might be committing the offence of facilitating a terrorist act,” the judgment noted. “Second, it was apparent that Mr. Nuttall did not have the financial resources to carry out any of his jihadist ideas, and thus by giving him money the police were making him into someone who was capable of carrying out a terrorist act.”
But legal and ethical questions about the activities were ignored. RCMP Sgt. Bill Kalkat, the investigation’s supervising officer, successfully sought more authority over the operation from his superiors.
“Sgt. Kalkat continued to be unhappy with the approach of the undercover shop and he took steps to secure RCMP Headquarters’ approval to take over primary responsibility for the scenarios, as well as the pace and direction of the undercover operation. In unprecedented fashion he obtained approval from A/Commr. [B.C. Assistant Commissioner Wayne] Rideout for a change in the command structure,” Bruce says.
But the RCMP hierarchy should have been deeply concerned about their operation, because Nuttall and Korody clearly couldn’t organize a piss-up in a brewery, let alone mastermind a terror bomb plot.
Bruce repeatedly notes in her ruling that Nuttall was clearly delusional, as demonstrated during a police-financed trip to Victoria to do reconnaissance for the bomb plot.
“Mr. Nuttall’s immaturity and naivety were also demonstrated in other ways during the Victoria recon. For example, he offered to eat the maps they had purchased should the police stop them and claimed to be able to hack into the Millhaven Prison’s records to change Omar Khadr’s release date,” Bruce notes. (Khadr, a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner, was being held in the federal penitentiary.)
“While at the Parliament buildings, Mr. Nuttall exhibited no understanding of proper tradecraft for a terrorist on a recon,” Bruce adds. “He interacted in an enthusiastic and showy way with the tour guide, and made contact with a police officer who was controlling a protest gathering. He even allowed himself to be filmed by BCTV during the protest.”
Out of touch with reality
And Nuttall was so out of touch with reality that when the RCMP pushed him in June to come up with a terror lot for Canada Day, he was totally confused.
“Mr. Nuttall thought Canada Day was June 1st, which would mean they had another year to plan,” Bruce wrote. “He was fine with this delay. When Ms. Korody reminded him that Canada Day was on July 1st, he felt this was too rushed and wanted to wait until the next year.”
Even the lawyer advising the RCMP on the case – Martha Devlin, a senior Queen’s Counsel and federal prosecutor who has since become a Supreme Court judge – was starting to have legal concerns on the operation.
“This is a particularly difficult situation because you have a person who can do nothing without the assistance of the police,” she wrote in June 2013.
That alone should have put a stop to the undercover sting.
And Bruce clearly believes that Nuttall’s behaviour should have convinced the RCMP to halt their operation in June 2013 – before the fake bombs were placed at the B.C. Legislature on July 1.
“In my view, there was ample evidence by June 2013 that confirmed Mr. Nuttall’s general ineptitude, his scatterbrained character, his inability to think logically, his child-like demeanour, and his inability to remain focused on a task, which would be essential to the articulation and execution of a terrorist plot,” Bruce says in her ruling.
“The investigative team and the undercover shop repeatedly discussed these aspects of Mr. Nuttall’s personality, or the behaviour that demonstrated these characteristics, during their briefings.”
“The Crown submits that Mr. Nuttall’s capabilities were amply demonstrated by his articulation of the train plan while driving to Whistler; however, I found his rambling musings to be grandiose, fanciful and entirely unfocused. His thoughts went from freeing Omar Khadr to forcing the closure of Guantanamo Bay prison to capturing the US President,” Bruce says. (Nuttall had outlined a plan to hijack Vancouver Island’s E&N passenger train, unaware the service had stopped operating two years earlier.)
Planning the press conferences
But senior RCMP officers weren’t worried about Nuttall’s nuttiness. They had bigger plans to hatch, Bruce writes, preparing in June 2013 for news conferences to announce the scheduled arrests of the hopeless terrorists.
“Before going on leave, Supt. [RCMP Superintendent Daniel] Bond briefed Insp. [RCMP Inspector Stephen] Corcoran on his plan to engage with both the federal and provincial governments should an “attack plan” materialize,” Bruce wrote.
“Further, he advised Insp. Corcoran about the necessity to plan press conferences and inform the RCMP in other provinces when the defendants were arrested in order to ensure they had time to address issues that might arise in their areas as a consequence of the arrest. Both he and Insp. Corcoran believed that arrests around June 30th were a possibility.”
“Curiously, these discussions occurred prior to any concrete plan emerging from the undercover operation,” Bruce writes cryptically.
The reference to planning news conferences in advance of a “terrorist bomb attack” shows the importance senior RCMP officers placed on the case. There was no thwarting of a deadly attack – merely a public relations exercise concocted to secure funding.
And, of course, the RCMP made the absolute most out of the arrest of Nuttall and Korody, holding a major press conference with photos of the pressure cooker bombs and claiming “the threat was real” and that “it is very important Canadians remain vigilant.” Thanks to the RCMP, the spokesman said, “at no time was the security of the public at risk.” No kidding!
The amount of public resources spent on the Nuttall-Korody file was phenomenal.
The RCMP spent over $900,000 in overtime on this case. More than 240 officers worked on the investigation. The final bill to taxpayers will be in the multi-millions.
But behind the clearly demented perspective of Nuttall and Korody there was a darker picture – one where they both feared being killed by “Officer A,” the undercover agent who befriended them and provided money, travel and religious advice that encouraged their intent to take some undefined actions in support of “Islam,” at least as they vaguely understood the religion.
Nuttall and Korody became totally dependent on Officer A – practically their only friend and sole reason for leaving their apartment over the course of the investigation.
And Officer A intensified that dependence, refusing Nuttall’s “repeated requests for spiritual guidance about harming innocents” and forbidding him from visiting his mother and family, despite problems they were having, when Nuttall went on a police-sponsored trip to Victoria.
But when Officer A pushed them into the pressure cooker bomb plot and angrily criticized them for not getting more done to execute the plan, the couple feared the man they believed was an international terrorist might kill them both.
“Mr. Nuttall privately expressed to Ms. Korody that if they did not finish the devices they would ‘mostly likely be killed or set up’ by Officer A,” Bruce wrote.
She points to Nuttall’s comments to Korody captured on surveillance tapes.
“His third contingency plan is ditch us. We’re expendable. Save himself. Those are his words. We’re assets to be sure, yes, we are, but if we at any time become a liability... a threat, a liability, we’re both dead, ’kay,” Bruce quotes Nuttall.
An agitated Nuttall makes it clear he fears for their lives as the couple work on the pressure cooker bombs.
“Has it occurred to you that he has a fourth contingency plan? It involves us, wearing cement galoshes at the bottom of the ocean. Anna, you know?... That’s what I’m trying to explain to you. We can‘t go to sleep, we can’t fuck up, we can’t fuck up. We can’t fuck up.”
But whatever Nuttall and Korody did at that point simply didn’t matter – they had become pawns in an RCMP public relations event with a pre-ordained conclusion – the arrest of two cunning, diabolical terrorists by the ever-vigilant police.
Fortunately, the rule of law still applies in Canada and Justice Catherine Bruce takes it very seriously indeed.
As she wrote near the conclusion of her decision:
“What the RCMP did to orchestrate the offences committed by the defendants is a very important factor in this case because Mr. Nuttall and Ms. Korody did not have the capacity to do these things. However, the role the police played in the mission is even more offensive because they violated the Criminal Code in order to accomplish their objectives and almost all of their actions were unsanctioned...”
And lest anyone think that Nuttall and Korody should have simply stood up to the RCMP at some point and refused to continue the absurd plot, Bruce says it was not just a question of the couple’s obvious personal weaknesses.
“When I consider all of the pressures placed upon the defendants by the RCMP during the undercover operation, as well as the multi-faceted control exercised over their actions and the beliefs they held that justified the use of violence for religious purposes, I find that the average person, with strengths and weaknesses, and with or without the vulnerabilities of the defendants, would likely have planted the pressure cooker devices to save their own lives despite the risk to others,” Bruce wrote.
What is perhaps most disturbing about this astonishing case, even beyond the RCMP’s self-serving and shameless behaviour, is that while they were spending untold amounts manipulating Nuttall and Korody to their own ends, real terrorists were busy threatening the world – and some Canadians were joining ISIS overseas as armed mujahedeen.
And despite the RCMP’s anti-terrorism goals, Canada’s Parliament was not being protected by its officers in October 2014 when Michael Zehaf-Bibeau stormed in after killing Canadian Forces Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, who was standing as an honour guard at the National War Memorial. Unarmed House of Commons security guard Constable Samearn Son tried to stop Zehaf-Bibeau and was shot in the foot, buying time for RCMP officers and others to corner the deranged gunman, who was fatally shot by sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers.
Are there real terrorist threats in Canada that require RCMP intervention?
That’s why it’s so reprehensible that the RCMP wasted precious resources creating an illegal terrorism plot using the hapless Nuttall and Korody instead of countering real terrorists – and why this ruling demands action to stop RCMP recklessness.
Read more: Rights + Justice
Tyee Commenting Guidelines
Comments that violate guidelines risk being deleted, and violations may result in a temporary or permanent user ban. Maintain the spirit of good conversation to stay in the discussion.
*Please note The Tyee is not a forum for spreading misinformation about COVID-19, denying its existence or minimizing its risk to public health.