VANCOUVER — John Nuttall hangs his head and promises he’ll do better next time. Covert video played in British Columbia Supreme Court from the spring of 2013 shows the man Nuttall calls his Muslim brother berating him for pitching a poorly researched terrorism plot to hijack a commuter train on Vancouver Island.
The problem: passenger service on the Via Rail line had been discontinued years earlier.
The video is part of the evidence heard by Justice Catherine Bruce, who is due to decide Friday whether the Mounties induced Nuttall and Amanda Korody, his common-law wife, to commit terrorist acts.
Nuttall’s plans for the train were caught on police surveillance video.
“It was just an idea I came up with off the top my head … as I was sitting in the truck,” Nuttall explains, averting his eyes. The methadone-dependent former drug addict, who lived on welfare with Korody in a Vancouver-area basement suite, typed up the plan several days before at the brother’s insistence.
“This thing has to be prepared. It has to be researched,” says the police officer posing as an Arab businessman and Muslim extremist.
Nuttall becomes more animated as he promises to do better, offering more ideas on top of others he had proposed, including hijacking a nuclear submarine, breaking Omar Khadr out of prison in Guantanamo Bay, and storming a Vancouver Island military base using AK47s and “Teflon-coated” bullets.
“I’m here to make what you have in your head become true, what you want in your heart to be reality,” says the undercover RCMP officer, who is part of an elaborate sting operation.
On Canada Day of 2013, Nuttall and Korody were arrested and charged with multiple terrorism-related offences after planting what they believed were pressure-cooker bombs on the B.C. legislature grounds in an effort to kill as many people as possible.
A jury found the pair guilty, but their conviction wasn’t recorded while lawyers argued whether police manipulated the couple into committing the crime. If Bruce rules they were not entrapped, then the pair’s guilt will be registered and a date will be set for their sentencing hearing. If she decides they were entrapped, a stay of proceedings will be issued and Nuttall and Korody walk free.
The case sets two competing versions of the same story against one another.
In the narrative presented by defence lawyers, the RCMP acted on unreasonable suspicions to exploit two vulnerable people, herding them towards a manufactured crime that was planned, prepared and all but carried out by the police.
Nuttall’s lawyers said substance abuse and mental health played a role and that was highlighted in one video clip played at the trial where Nuttall encourages Korody to wilfully forget the name of their new friend — the undercover officer — so as not to endanger him should they be captured and tortured for information.
The Crown argues that the Mounties acted on reports about a man openly espousing views and plans to commit violent jihad, or holy war. They say police went undercover to gauge Nuttall’s seriousness, before gently guiding him towards one of the many plans he had proposed but which would pose the lowest threat to the public.
Crown counsel insisted undercover officers offered Nuttall and Korody numerous opportunities to abandon their plans.
In a telephone interview, Crown attorney Peter Eccles acknowledged Bruce faces a difficult decision that pits public safety against the acceptability of police tactics.
“The tension is between society’s expectation that we are going to be kept safe from (lone-wolf terrorists), and the reality that doing so, taking the investigative steps to ensure these individuals don’t act on their fantasies of violence and visions of hate and murder, is problematic,” he said.
“Restrictions on the police’s ability to investigate these things are necessary to some extent. But we also don’t want to gut their ability to deal with (the threat).”
Lawyer Marilyn Sandford, who represents Nuttall, said a finding of entrapment in such a serious case would be highly unusual, but it could have repercussions for how police conduct undercover operations.
If the arguments from Nuttall and Korody’s lawyers hold sway, this will be the first terrorism case to end in entrapment in North America, said Kent Roach, a University of Toronto law professor and anti-terrorism expert.
TIMELINE OF B.C. TERRORIST BOMB PLOT
Feb. 23, 2013: The primary undercover officer involved in the RCMP sting, posing as an Arab businessman, first makes contact with John Nuttall. They reportedly lock eyes in a convenience store near Nuttall’s residence. Two days later the officer approaches Nuttall with a request to help him look for his lost niece. Nuttall reveals to him that same day his desire to wage holy war on behalf of Islam.
May 5, 2013: The undercover officer drives Nuttall and Korody to Whistler, B.C., so Nuttall can drop off a hard drive to one of the officer’s supposed associates containing an outline of his alleged plot to hijack a Via Rail passenger train on Vancouver Island. During the drive it quickly becomes apparent that Nuttall has not begun work on the document. The three spend several hours in a Whistler parking lot as Nuttall types up an outline. The undercover officer later scolds him for coming up with a poorly researched plan after it’s revealed that the targeted rail line stopped operating years earlier.
June 16 to 19, 2013: Officers set up Nuttall and Korody in what the pair believe is a protected hotel room in Kelowna, B.C., where they are told they can relax and work on their terrorist plot in peace. When the primary undercover officer learns Nuttall made no progress on the plan, he chastises him for not being invested enough in his terrorist plot, calling his actions a “sign of disrespect.”
June 29, 2013: Nuttall and Korody meet with an undercover officer posing as a high-ranking terrorist liaison. The couple is at first unsuccessful at persuading him to provide C4 plastic explosive for the pair to arm their pressure-cooker bombs but he eventually agrees to help. Nuttall and Korody disguise themselves with headscarves and film a jihadist video, which they intend to have released once their mission is complete. In it they outline their reasons for carrying out the bombing.
July 1, 2013: Nuttall and Korody covertly stash sports bags containing homemade pressure-cooker bombs under bushes flanking the B.C. legislature shortly before 4 a.m. They head to a hotel after taking a ferry back to the B.C. mainland but soon become agitated when news of the explosions doesn’t air on television. The two leave the hotel at 2 p.m., and are immediately arrested by police.
Feb. 2, 2015: A jury trial begins on whether Nuttall and Korody are guilty of four counts of terrorism-related offences: conspiring to commit murder, conspiring to place explosives on behalf of a terrorist group, facilitating terrorist activity and possessing explosives on behalf of a terrorist group. The judge later dismisses the third charge of facilitating terrorist activity, citing legal reasons.
June 2, 2015: After nearly three days of deliberations, a jury finds Nuttall and Korody guilty of plotting to bomb the B.C. legislature on Canada Day of 2013. B.C. Supreme Court Justice Catherine Bruce agrees to a request from the pair’s lawyers not to enter the convictions until defence has the opportunity to argue that police entrapped the pair.
July 13, 2015: Lawyers begin their arguments in B.C. Supreme Court into whether the RCMP entrapped Nuttall and Korody.
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Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press