VANCOUVER — The RCMP's conduct in its investigation of an alleged bomb plot at the B.C. legislature was a "travesty of justice" when officers continued to pursue the case against a couple who didn't have the means to commit an act of terrorism on their own, the province's Appeal Court said Wednesday.
A three-judge panel unanimously upheld a lower court finding that John Nuttall and Amanda Korody were manipulated by police to conduct the terror operation on Canada Day in 2013.
While the trial judge made some errors in her analysis, she made no mistake in finding they were entrapped by the Mounties, Justice Elizabeth Bennett says in the ruling.
"In this case, the police eventually knew Mr. Nuttall and Ms. Korody had little to no ability to commit an act of terrorism. Certainly, they were right to commence the investigation, and certainly they had reasonable suspicion that the two might commit a crime," she writes on behalf of the Appeal Court panel.
Bennett says the police "went far beyond investigating a crime," adding that they "pushed and pushed and pushed the two defendants to come up with a workable plan."
"This is not to suggest that Mr. Nuttall and Ms. Korody are harmless. They may be very dangerous. However, that danger was not apparent in the investigation," wrote Bennett.
"There was no danger because Mr. Nuttall and Ms. Korody had neither the means nor the ability to carry out any of the plans without substantial aid from the police."
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Catherine Bruce erred by directing the jury to acquit the couple on a charge of facilitating a terrorist activity, since it is possible that Nuttall and Korody facilitated one another. She also erred in telling the jury not to consider a second charge of conspiracy to commit an indictable offence, but the result would have been the same, Bennett says.
"I therefore agree with the trial judge that the overall conduct of this investigation was a travesty of justice."
The Appeal Court ordered a stay of proceedings.
Nuttall and Korody remain free on bail. Their lawyers are scheduled to appear Jan. 7 in provincial court on a peace bond application to determine whether the pair pose a risk to the public.
The Appeal Court also called the country's terrorism laws "unnecessarily complex."
"It would be beneficial if Parliament revisited the legislation, revamped it, and made it comprehensible, particularly for those members of the public who sit as jury members on such cases," the ruling says.
In a statement, the RCMP said it was aware of the decision.
"The RCMP respects the judicial process and the judgment determined by the court," it said.
Nuttall's lawyer, Marilyn Sandford, said her client felt "overwhelming relief" after the court's decision, adding it has significant implications for future police investigations.
"I think that the court has drawn a line and underscored that these type of American-style sting operations, very common south of the border, are not going to be tolerated here and that we have a strong and robust principle of entrapment that the courts are going to uphold," she said in an interview.
"This case went far over that line and the police, in manufacturing this crime, crossed a line that the courts aren't going to allow in the future."
Scott Wright, who represents Korody, said she is hoping to put the case behind her, but knows it won't be quick or easy to do so.
In June 2015, a jury found Nuttall and Korody guilty of conspiring to commit murder, possessing an explosive substance and placing an explosive in a public place on behalf of a terrorist group. The convictions were put on hold until 2016 when Bruce ruled the two had been entrapped.
The Crown argued at the Appeal Court hearing in January that Bruce had no basis to conclude the RCMP manipulated Nuttall and Korody into planting explosive devices. Documents filed by the Crown alleged they eagerly conspired to build improvised explosive devices and detonate them as an act of jihad to strike terror in the hearts of "Canadian infidels."
Lawyers for the couple argued the RCMP acted on unreasonable suspicions to exploit two vulnerable people. The trial heard that Nuttall's substance abuse and mental health played a role in the entrapment.
Nuttall and Korody were arrested on Canada Day 2013 after planting what they thought were pressure-cooker bombs at the legislature.
Amy Smart, The Canadian Press