Chapter 14 – Sentencing the Toronto 18: Lessons from Then, Lessons for Now


  • Michael Nesbitt


Eleven of the Toronto 18 were eventually charged and tried for terrorism offences. All of them were found guilty and received various lengthy custodial sentences. This chapter considers the enduring importance of these ground-breaking sentencing decisions, including what they have meant for future cases in terms of the length of sentence, how aggravating and mitigating factors are to be considered in the context of terrorism offences, and how the fundamental principle of sentencing is to be conceived in cases of terrorism. It finds that the Toronto 18 sentencing decisions have had lasting importance on subsequent terrorism sentencing decisions, especially since they were amongst the very first and thus, precedent setting terrorism sentencing decisions, there were so many of them relative — even now — to the total number of terrorism cases in Canada, and their logic has been adopted by subsequent judges. But this judicial logic also comes under scrutiny.
While each sentencing decision was tailored to the individual, varied in length and analysis, and clearly gave longer sentences for the lead actors, they also diverged in approach from the usual application of the “fundamental principle.” Instead, the analysis of terrorism offences in the Toronto 18 sentencing decisions was often portrayed through the broader lens of terrorism and the threat it poses conceptually; the result was a downplaying of individuality, which in turn caused certain fundamental mitigating considerations – such as youth and prospects for rehabilitation – to be turned into neutral, or even aggravating, factors. The result seemed to skew the normal balancing of individual moral culpability with the seriousness of the offence (the fundamental principle) towards the latter consideration, with a view to elevating denunciation and deterrence as the preeminent sentencing goals in terrorism cases.