A ‘rat’ vindicated

The ‘Toronto 18’ informant sets the record straight

a ‘rat’ vindicatedWhen his testimony wraps up in the coming days, the man once known as Shaher Elsohemy will step off the stand and disappear back into the arms of the witness protection program. For obvious reasons, nothing about his new life can be revealed. Not his fake name. Not his whereabouts. Nothing. But one thing is absolutely certain: when he does leave the witness box and return to location unknown, he can walk away a happy man—vindicated, finally, after all these years.

Until last week, when he showed his face for the first time since 2006, Elsohemy was famous for two things: helping the RCMP topple the so-called “Toronto 18,” and being paid millions of dollars in the process. For more than three years, the Mounties’ star informant had to stay hidden in the shadows while countless fellow Muslims attacked his credibility. They called him a traitor. A rat. A money-hungry liar who deserves to “suffer in this life and the next.”

Today, the truth could not be clearer. Elsohemy was not motivated by dollar bills, and the terrorist plot he helped unravel was very, very real.

Although 18 people were rounded up in the raids of June 2, 2006, only four were accused of conspiring to set off a trio of explosions in southern Ontario. It was Elsohemy who infiltrated that core group, shared their deadly plans with police, and helped orchestrate the sting operation that brought them down. Three of the four have since pleaded guilty, including the confessed ringleader, Zakaria Amara.

On Monday, with the RCMP’s prized asset safely tucked away in a nearby room, Amara was handed the harshest sentence possible: life behind bars. The judge’s words confirmed what Elsohemy has long known. “What this case revealed was spine-chilling,” Justice Bruce Durno said. “The potential for loss of life existed on a scale never before seen in Canada. It was almost unthinkable.”

Back on the witness stand the next morning, Elsohemy clarified the other lingering issue: his hefty compensation. As first reported in Maclean’s, the travel agency operator negotiated an unprecedented deal with the Mounties that guaranteed his family up to $4 million in cash, cars and houses for abandoning their identities in the name of national security. William Naylor, who represents Shareef Abdelhaleem, the fourth and final bombing suspect, tried to suggest during cross-examination that Elsohemy jumped at the chance to profit from his undercover exploits. His strategy flopped. Badly.

It turns out Elsohemy was co-operating with Canada’s spy agency, free of charge, as far back as January 2006. The issue of payment only surfaced when CSIS shared their well-placed mole with the Mounties—and the cops asked him to work as an agent and leave his entire life behind. “I was asked to think about it and come back at another date and talk about numbers,” Elsohemy testified.

He kicked off negotiations with an offer of $15.4 million, ensuring his family a “comfortable lifestyle.” According to documents viewed in court, both sides eventually settled on a figure worth up to $3.99 million, including $1 million in “pure awards” and $135,000 worth of vehicles. But as Elsohemy pointed out during cross-examination, his family actually received less than $3.99 million. Some of the items promised by the RCMP included an “up to” clause (ie. up to $900,000 for a new house, up to $50,000 for debt repayment). But that doesn’t necessarily mean his current home cost $900,000, or that he had exactly $50,000 worth of debts. “That number has not been used in totality even up until today,” he said.

When asked how much they specifically received, Elsohemy wasn’t sure. “Honestly, I have never calculated the numbers myself.”

Whatever the final tally, it was worth every penny.

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