Marginalized and isolated, or potential terrorists? BC Judge slams RCMP entrapment of vulnerable couple

On July 29th, a couple who had been convicted of terrorism charges for planting three explosive devices on the BC legislature grounds received a stay of proceedings at the BC Supreme Court. Justice Bruce described the couple, John Nuttall, 41 and Amanda Korody, 33, as “marginalized, socially isolated, former heroin addicts dependent on methadone and welfare to subsist”.

In 2013, the Canadian Security Intelligence Agency informed the RCMP that Mr. Nuttall had tried to buy potassium nitrate which can be used to manufacture explosives. From this point on, a group of RCMP officers undertook an elaborate sting operation called “Project Souvenir” to induce the couple into committing the offence. Undercover officers posed as Arab businessmen and schemed for over 5 months in order to convince the couple to plant the bombs. Among the shocking tactics employed by the officers, a particularly alarming example of abuse of process was an undercover officer convincing the couple that if they didn’t follow through on the bomb scheme, they would likely be killed by an international terrorist group. The RCMP officers involved in Project Souvenir also aided and abetted the couple by providing inducements such as an elaborate escape plan after planting the bombs, and offering them jobs.

Justice Bruce recognized that the heavy-handed involvement of the undercover officers was essential to the engineering and execution of the bomb plot. She condemned the entrapment, ruling that “ultimately [the couple’s] role in carrying out the plan was minuscule”. This is the first successful invocation of the legal defence of entrapment in a Canadian terrorism case, and the Crown wasted no time in filing a notice of appeal on the same day that the decision came down. Had the original conviction been upheld, the couple faced life sentences for a crime rooted in police trickery and subterfuge.

To say that Project Souvenir’s overzealous attempt to fight terrorism backfired would be an understatement. As Justice Bruce elucidated in her judgement, “the world has enough terrorists. 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.” While the couple’s ideology and their reintegration into Canadian society is still a complex problem yet to be resolved, the message this decision sends about the BC legal system’s intolerance for exploitative police tactics is a fine example of judicial discretion. It is a shame that tax payer dollars will be directed towards funding the upcoming appeal rather than providing mental health resources that could assist this couple in their rehabilitation.  

Gina Addario-Berry is a law student at the University of Victoria and Allevato Quail & Worth's summer student.