MONTREAL — A Quebec man was found guilty Monday of attempting to leave the country to participate in activities of a terrorist group — becoming just one of a few Canadians convicted of a charge that carries a maximum 10-year sentence.
In handing down his ruling, Quebec court Judge Serge Delisle said Ismael Habib's version of events lacked credibility.
"Did Ismael Habib intend to participate in or knowingly contribute to a terrorist activity?," Delisle wrote in a 15-page judgment. "The entirety of the evidence demonstrates the answer is yes."
The Crown accused Habib of attempting to leave Canada with a plan to join Islamic State in Syria.
The case presented by prosecutors demonstrated that Habib, 29, told an undercover RCMP officer twice on camera and recordings during an elaborate sting operation in February 2016 he wanted to travel to Syria to join Islamic State.
He told an RCMP agent acting as the boss of a phoney passport ring that religious beliefs were behind his decision to leave for Syria to join ISIL: that he wanted to live in a Muslim majority country that practised Sharia law.
Habib said he was prepared to do everything except commit an act of terror on Canadian soil.
His lawyer argued the confessions obtained through a Mr. Big sting operation were unlawful — an argument Delisle rejected.
The judge picked apart the defence's position that authorities coerced a confession out of his client and that he was desperately trying to reunite with his wife and children somewhere in the Middle East after being denied a passport.
"There is no doubt in the present case that the intention to leave Canada is implicitly conceded elsewhere (in the evidence) by the accused," Delisle ruled.
"The court concludes that even though he wanted to join his wife and children ... his goal was to go and fight with IS."
There is relatively little jurisprudence related to the charge as it was only added to the Criminal Code in 2013, federal prosecutor Lyne Decarie told reporters.
"The Crown is of course satisfied because we were asking that he be found guilty and we didn't think his version was credible," she said.
Habib is the first adult in Canada to be convicted after going to trial on the charge, but there are two other cases involving the charge — one of an Ontario man who pleaded guilty and another of a Montreal teen convicted following a trial in youth court.
Defence lawyer Charles Montpetit believes there is room for clemency for Habib, considering he "wasn't necessarily a man who was motivated to do bad things here in Canada."
Montpetit says he isn't ruling out an appeal.
Habib was found guilty in May of the other charge he was facing in the indictment: giving false information to obtain a passport.
That charge carries a maximum sentence of two years in jail.
Sentencing arguments have been scheduled for Aug. 17.
Habib was originally arrested in an unrelated domestic violence case in Gatineau, Que., leading authorities to charge him with the terror-related counts in Montreal.
He is due in court on June 29 in Gatineau in the other case.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press