Saad Khalid has spent the past three years locked inside Unit 1K, a maximum-security prison wing reserved for select members of the “Toronto 18.” He is still living there today—surrounded by fellow terrorism suspects—despite his sudden decision to plead guilty and throw himself at the mercy of the courts.
It is easy to assume that Khalid, now 22, would have been whisked away to a different location as soon as he entered his surprise plea on May 4. Not only is he the first to break ranks and confess, but he is the first to confirm that a core group of the accused—himself included—plotted a bomb attack on Canadian soil. However, Khalid’s lawyer says his client has no reason to feel threatened and no reason to request a transfer. “He has not made a deal with the Crown to testify,” says Russell Silverstein. “[The others] understand that he is not going to be implicating anyone.”
Not directly, at least. Although Khalid isn’t selling out his cellmates in exchange for leniency, his guilty plea is a clear attempt to secure the lightest sentence possible—and to downplay his involvement at the expense of others. Maclean’s has learned that the Crown and the defence, as part of a negotiated agreement, are crafting a series of “uncontested facts” that will be read into the record during Khalid’s sentencing hearing June 22 (for now, those details are protected by a publication ban). But because lawyers for both sides cannot agree on the central question—was Khalid a leader or a follower?—they will have to argue that point in what is known as a “Gardiner hearing,” a mini-trial of sorts. Simply put, Khalid has pleaded guilty to a single count of “intent to cause an explosion,” but it will be up to a judge to decide how much he knew, how much he didn’t, and how much more jail time he deserves as a result.
“He knew that what he was doing was with a view to assist a terrorist pursuit,” Silverstein says. “But we’re going to try to demonstrate that his involvement in this offence was toward the far less significant end of the spectrum.” Which would mean that someone else—a cellmate, perhaps—is even more guilty.