The case of the 17 Muslims arrested on terrorism-related charges in Toronto took a bizarre turn on July 13 when the police informant who had infiltrated the group went public with his role. Although it was already known to the Muslim community that he was a police plant, Mubin Shaikh went on CBC television to claim that he did it "to protect Canada". He further asserted that he wanted to protect the Muslims and Islam. Once his name became public, details about his murky past also began to surface. The day the CBC aired his interview, the Toronto Star had already mentioned that Toronto's Muslim community was aware of his identity, but they did not print his name.
It was his expose' in the Globe and Mail, another Toronto daily, on July 14 that brought to the fore what he had been up to. Shaikh, son of Indian immigrants, confessed that he became serious about Islam only ten years ago. He presented himself to the arrested youths as a "learned scholar", bolstering his image by presenting his one year of study in Syria as evidence of his learning. He began to give ‘rulings' on Islamic matters, some of them so bizarre that a number of youths became suspicious and began to distance themselves from him. Shaikh, however, persisted and continued to visit them at their homes, often waiting for hours outside their houses to "talk" to them about "jihad" and why it was their duty to participate in it. When some of the youths discovered that he was a chain-smoker, they were surprised because they did not expect someone who presented himself as a Muslim scholar could indulge in such behaviour. There are also reports that he urged some of them to sell drugs to make money.
Shaikh told the Globe and Mail that he worked undercover for the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) for more than two years. Both agencies deal with intelligence and security matters. "As a practising Muslim, the interests of the Muslim community are paramount," he was quoted by the paper as saying. "And as a Canadian, the safety and security of my fellow citizens is also primary." These noble sentiments, however, were somewhat tarnished by the revelation that he had already been paid nearly $80,000 by the agencies and that he was owed another $300,000. A committed Muslim, following the hadith of the noble Messenger of Allah, may peace be upon him, would not lead people to commit a crime. The particular hadith in question (a well-known text) says that if a person is doing something wrong, it is a Muslim's duty to stop it with his hands, that is, physically; if that is not possible, he should speak out against it. The least the Muslim must do, if he is unable to do any of the above, is to consider their actions bad. In Shaikh's case, he not only did not prevent the individuals from what they were allegedly planning to do, but participated in sessions urging them to undertake certain acts that were clearly illegal and criminal.
According to one lawyer for the defendants, Shaikh's involvement in the operation proves that there is "no terrorism in Canada." Lawyer Rocco Galati said that since the police did not have a case against the 17 suspects, they used an informant to "set everything up." Galati was even more forthright: "They have to fabricate it." He went on: "I've seen some other disgusting so-called terrorist cases, but the stench of this one is starting to exude even before we get into court." Galati's client, 21-year-old Ahmed Ghany, was granted bail on July 19, becoming the first adult of the 17 to achieve that. Two youths have been granted bail, but their names cannot be divulged because they are under 18. The rest are going through their bail hearings or will appear in court within the next few weeks.
Other murky details about Shaikh's past have also emerged. Together with his brother, he was charged with assaulting an aunt some years ago. Neither, however, was convicted; there was an arrangement within the family to settle the matter. His father, Saeed Shaikh, a technician with Bell Canada, was also accused by a Muslimah of fondling her when she consulted him for advice about her marital problems, according to the Globe story. The senior Shaikh is a member of a mosque board in Toronto's West end. He has also admitted to acquaintances that he works closely with the police, CSIS and the RCMP, and that he facilitates phone wiretaps for them without bothering about court warrants. If this is true, it is a serious breach of the law.
According to stories published by the Canadian press and broadcasts of the television channel, CTV News, Shaikh is reported to have said that last year he was asked by CSIS to try to infiltrate the Toronto group by befriending Fahim Ahmed, its alleged ringleader. He says he asked for the blessing of Muslim leaders before going undercover. These "Muslim leaders" have not been named, but it seems his own father may have been one of them. Once he gained Fahim Ahmed's trust, Shaikh said he helped lead what police allege was a "training camp" inRamara Township, Ontario, in December 2005. Because Shaikh had received military training as a reservist cadet in the Canadian army, he led the group in using the gun that he had brought to the camp. Shaikh also videotaped the "training" that was presented in court within the first few days when the defendants were brought there. After ten days the court slapped a publication ban on court proceedings.
What has perplexed members of the Muslim community is why Mubin Shaikh went public. His revelations have certainly not helped the prosecution's case, and defence lawyers will now be able to question him about his role when he appears in court to give testimony. There is speculation that he may have been in need of money that was probably not forthcoming from the intelligence agencies, or perhaps not in a timely fashion for his needs, so he decided to go public to convey the message that if he was not paid he would not cooperate fully. Others have speculated that he was coerced by the intelligence agencies to work for them because they had something on him and threatened to charge him. Whatever the truth is, the fact is that his admission of being an undercover agent has brought to light the seedier side of this whole sordid saga, and that there may be other revelations that will show there is more to the situation than meets the eye.
There is also strong suspicion within the Muslim community that there are other unknown informants among them. Community members suspect two individuals, one of whom has already given statements to the media to the effect that he will testify in court against some of the 17 defendants. Although it will be years before any of them appears in court for trial, the damage to the reputation of the Muslim community has already been done. Muslims in Canada are now viewed with great suspicion, and each one is considered either a terrorist or a potential terrorist.
Given this atmosphere of Islamophobia, actively promoted by certain vested interests and amplified by a racist media, the image of Muslims in Canada has been tarnished badly. A poll conducted by Leger Marketing in Montreal found that while 81 percent of respondents had a very positive or somewhat positive view of Christians, compared with 79 percent for Jews only 63 percent had a favourable view of Muslims; 24 percent had a negative or somewhat negative view of Muslims compared to merely 10 percent for Christians and nine percent for Jews. What is even more revealing about the poll, commissioned by the Association for Canadian Studies, and conducted between July 11-16, is that it was conducted when the Israeli onslaught against Lebanon was in full swing. There is a sizeable Lebanese community in Quebec in general, and Montreal in particular. Despite this, the negative views of Muslims are shockingly strong, especially in Quebec, which has traditionally been less hostile to Muslims than English-speaking Canada. When it comes to hating Muslims, it would appear that there is no longer any difference between English- and French-speaking Canadians.
This is a worrying thought. True to form, the media have asked the Muslims what they plan to do to improve their image, as if the situation were all their fault. Perhaps the media could start by being a little more honest and a little less racist when reporting the affairs of Muslims. Muslims are one of the most law-abiding communities in Canada, yet they are vilified because they are weak and virtually leaderless. Were Muslims really even just half as dangerous as they are painted, they would be treated with a great deal more respect than they are at present.