Some things don't change, though. The accused were smeared in the media, and the new norm (at least for Muslims) is to presume the accused are guilty until they are proven innocent. Treatment of the accused is tantamount to torture; a few have been held in solitary confinement for almost two years (a breach of international treaties).
A few journalists are giving the case some decent coverage, and I believe this will improve as the case continues to fall apart. But can the accused expect justice? And will it happen before some suffer permanent physical or emotional harm?
Terror case begins to emit ripe aroma
Two years ago, this country received a rude shock. On June 2, 2006, the Star reported that police had arrested 17 young Toronto-area Muslim-Canadian males (an 18th would be picked up a few weeks later) on charges of terrorism.
The allegations that dribbled out over the next few weeks were sensational.
Some reports said that the group had planned to attack Parliament and behead Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Others talked of a plot to blow up CBC – or maybe the Canadian Security Intelligence Service – headquarters in Toronto. There were lurid accounts of a jihadist training camp near Orillia.
Police said that some of the accused had tried to purchase enough fertilizer to make three Oklahoma City-style bombs.
In the media, security experts said the arrests proved that Canada was not immune to terrorism, while diversity experts wrung their hands and asked what the country had done wrong.
It was widely assumed that the Toronto 18 were all guilty of plotting heinous crimes.
Two years later, matters are much less clear. The Crown has, in effect, dropped all charges against seven of the 18 – including a man convicted in the original gun-smuggling case that helped bring the group to police attention. The trial of the one remaining minor still charged with an offence is just getting underway.
What has been allowed to emerge from various court hearings (the case is subject to a sweeping publication ban) suggests that whatever was going on may not have been as spectacular as had been first suggested.
The training camp appears to have been a sorry affair in which the alleged jihadists spent most of their time complaining and trekking to a local doughnut shop.
The threats against politicians seem to be based, in part, on a brief, desultory conversation during a 10-hour car ride during which some of the accused debated among themselves just who exactly the Prime Minister was.
Much of the case seems to rest on the testimony of two RCMP moles, one of whom was later criminally charged in an unrelated matter, both of whom received hefty payments for their work.
Curiously, a preliminary hearing to determine whether there was enough evidence to charge the adult accused was abruptly terminated by the Crown just as defence lawyers were preparing to cross-examine one of those moles.
The trial proper of the 10 remaining adult accused has still not started. When it does, most analysts expect a bevy of procedural and perhaps constitutional challenges from defence lawyers attempting, among other things, to ascertain the exact role of CSIS in the case.
Estimates of how long the entire trial could take range from a few months (the government's guess) to several years.
Defence lawyer Paul Slansky, who represents 20-year-old Saad Gaya, says he expects the trial will take five to seven years to finish.
All of this raises questions of timely justice. In the 1990 Askov case, the Supreme Court ruled that unreasonably lengthy criminal proceedings may contravene the Constitution's Charter of Rghts and that, in such situations, defendants are to be released without charge.
The top court set no firm time limit. But seasoned lawyers are already catching a whiff of Askov in the breeze.
"We defence counsel talk about cases getting to be charter-ripe," says Toronto lawyer Paul Copeland, who does not represent any of the 18. "I would think this terror case is getting close to ripe."