VANCOUVER—A man who was acquitted of terrorism-related charges for posting online comments celebrating lone-wolf terrorists will remain locked up in British Columbia after the Immigration and Refugee Board ruled his release would endanger the public.
Adjudicator Trent Cook of the board’s immigration division said Thursday in an oral ruling that Othman Hamdan’s behaviour and online activity make it necessary to keep him incarcerated pending the outcome of an immigration review.
“While your posts may not be criminal, I cannot pretend that they do not exist. Nor can I ignore the impact that I think they are likely to have on those who read them and in turn on the Canadian public,” Cook told Hamdan.
“In my view, anyone who actively promotes and calls on people to engage in terrorist activity is engaging in behaviour and conduct that puts the Canadian public in danger, regardless of if that conduct meets the standard necessary to obtain a criminal conviction.”
A date has not yet been set for Hamdan’s admissibility hearing to determine if he should remain in Canada.
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Hamdan, 35, is a Jordanian national of Palestinian descent who came to B.C. after living in the United States and was granted refugee status following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
A B.C. Supreme Court judge found Hamdan not guilty in September of allegations of encouraging murder, assault, and instructing a person to carry out a terrorist activity, ruling that Hamdan’s comments might be offensive but they didn’t constitute inciting terrorism.
The allegations stemmed from 85 Facebook posts between September 2014 and July 2015, one of which reads, “Lone wolves, we salute you.”
“He was trying to highlight what he perceived to be hypocrisy and injustice, support some of the actions of (Daesh) in its defence of Sunni Muslims in Iraq and Syria and promote discussion about these issues,” B.C. Supreme Court Justice Bruce Butler said of Hamdan in his ruling last month.
At the time of his arrest in July 2015, Hamdan was living in the northern B.C. community of Fort St. John. He described himself in court as a non-practising Sunni Muslim.
Cook said Thursday that he acknowledges Hamdan was found not guilty, but the acquittal was “by no means an absolution of your conduct.”
Without a release plan or any support network, Hamdan would also likely disregard any conditions the Immigration and Refugee Board might impose, Cook added.
“Other than going to work to provide for the basic necessities of your life, it seems that your time is ultimately dedicated to internet research and the posting of material,” he said.
“Promoting your ideology online is basically your life’s work. I find that it actually borders on obsession and I cannot see how someone with your track record is willing to employ much self-censorship.”
Hamdan was in the hearing room for the decision wearing a red sweater and sweatpants with white, Velcro sneakers. He was mostly passive while Cook read the decision, whispering occasionally to his lawyer from behind a tissue he held in front of his mouth.
The Immigration and Refugee Board has the power to detain permanent residents and foreign nationals it believes may pose a threat to the Canadian public while their immigration matters play out.
Cook emphasized that immigration detention is separate from criminal detention because it is preventative, not punitive.