An expert on terrorism and de-radicalization said a Toronto 18 member’s release on day parole could act as a benchmark for years to come.
Kent Roach, law professor and co-author of a book on Canada’s anti-terrorism policy, said the string of conditions attached to Saad Gaya’s day parole might serve as a template for other convicted terrorists granted some form of parole from prison.
"This is an issue that is going to reoccur over the next decade," he said. "Although some convicted terrorists have been sentenced to life imprisonment, many others have not."
"The issue of whether they have been rehabilitated is something we will see more and more," he added.
Gaya, now 28, is serving time after pleading guilty to participating in a plot to bomb three Toronto targets, including the Toronto Stock Exchange, in protest of Canada’s military involvement in Afghanistan. The former science student at Hamilton’s McMaster University was arrested in 2006 while unloading a delivery truck filled with three tonnes of bags marked ammonium nitrate fertilizer. He was originally sentenced in 2010 to 12 years in prison, and an appeal court increased that to 18 years.
On Wednesday, Gaya was denied full parole, but was granted up to six months of day parole, which will allow him to attend school and work in the community. But he must return to a community-based residential facility at night. According to the Parole Board of Canada decision obtained by The Canadian Press, Gaya plans on pursuing a master’s degree.
Gaya’s parole is contingent on a number of factors, including mandatory religious counselling from an Imam — a Muslim religious leader — who is approved by Correctional Service of Canada.
Canada does not yet have a rehabilitation program focused on de-radicalization, said Roach, which gives him cause for concern.
In 2014, Correctional Service Canada released three inter-connected studies into the radicalization and potential de-radicalization of inmates, but Roach said the government still hasn’t created a focused program to rehabilitate terrorists. "This is early days," he added.
He said the former Harper government’s moves to prevent Imams from providing correctional services was particularly worrying.
"From a security perspective, it is important to have people who have expertise and legitimacy to try to address these misreadings of Islam that may have motivated many people who have been convicted of terrorism offences in Canada."
In its written decision, the parole board said that Correctional Service Canada did not recommend that Gaya be required to speak with an Imam for religious counselling. The board added that condition.
A representative from the board did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Further conditions of Gaya’s release prevent him from associating with people he has reason to believe are involved in criminal activity. He cannot own or use a computer, or any device that can connect to the Internet.
The decision also said he must immediately report all contact with men he plans to associate with to his parole officer.
In the written decision, the board said Gaya has shown remorse for his participation in the bomb plot, and has gained "tremendous insight" into his radicalization. The decision said Gaya has already helped Muslim community groups to address the radicalization of youth.
"Others believe that [Gaya] can be of assistance in preventing other youth from falling into the same predicament as [him]," the decision reads.
But still, the board said that full parole is "premature," at this time. The board said day parole is meant to prepare people serving sentences for full parole or statutory release.
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