New book alert: The Toronto 18 Terrorism Trials
Edited volume with a chapter on financing the Toronto 18
This week, a new (free!) book came out from editors Michael Nesbitt, Kent Roach, and David Hoffman, on the Toronto 18 terrorism trials. The volume contains 16 chapters from a wide variety of Canadian national security experts drawing on a full range of methodological approaches. It includes chapters on radicalization, social network analysis, an interview with one of the police informants, an overview of the role of CSIS in the case, reflections on prosecution, two chapters on the intelligence to evidence problem, the financing of the case (from me), the role of jury trials in the case, the issue of bias in Canadian anti-terrorism legislation, entrapment, charter, and sentencing issues, and concludes with chapters on rehabilitation of terrorist prisoners and the history of citizenship revocation in Canada.
The Toronto 18 arrests took place fifteen years ago (2006), and the trials unfolded over the subsequent five years. Ultimately, three separate trials of 11 individuals were held. This case was foundational in many ways for Canadian counter-terrorism policy and practice. We discussed it in some detail on Episode 160 of A Podcast Called Intrepid.
The plot was also very much a part of the terrorism landscape at the time. It involved very little (if anything) in the way of direct communication with a terrorist group; from that perspective, it was ‘inspired’ rather than directed. The plotters also self-financed the entire plan. The most useful comparison to other attacks occurring at the time is the London 7/7 bombings where similar patterns of self-financing were observed, but to a much worse outcome.
The financing of the plots (the “18” ended up splitting into two separate groups with different attack plans) was particularly interesting. It involved a lot of self-financing, but also included weapons and ammunition acquisition (in some cases by one of the police informants), training camps, efforts to procure a safe house, operational security measures, and a host of other activities.
In fact, the Toronto 18 plot is one of the rare examples of operational terrorist activity where most financing mechanisms are present: the group raised, used, stored, and managed their funds. The group also obscured the source and destination of funds by using small amounts and cash (financial tradecraft). The only mechanism absent from the operational financial activity was fund movement likely due to the fact that most of the money was held in cash. You can read my full analysis of the financing of the plot in my chapter Financing the Toronto 18, available here.
Despite the abundance of financing activity in the case, there was not a single financing charge pursued.
Another part of the reason why I’m so excited that this book is finally out is that it offers pointed critiques of our counter-terrorism system. There are real and important lessons to be learned from this case that could make a difference in Canada today. I’m thinking particularly of the lack of understanding around financing, of course, but also about the lack of terrorist rehabilitation, and the potential for bias in our application of CT laws, policies, and practices (among many other examples in the book).
Absent government-led after-action / inquiries into terrorist plots and attacks, which I’ve long advocated for, this type of academic reflection is the next best thing. This collected edition provides us with an opportunity to reflect on what went wrong, what went right, and where we can strengthen our responses to terrorism. It may have been fifteen years ago, but a lot remains the same in Canada’s counter-terrorism landscape.