Law Society of Ontario greenlights local ex-terrorist’s attempt to practice law

A Toronto man who was convicted of participating in a failed terrorist plot to set off a series of bombs in 2007 has been cleared to practice law by an Ontario bar court.

Saad Gaya, now 34, was 18 when he was arrested in 2006. He spent almost 10 years in prison, five of them in maximum security. But after a three-day ‘good character’ hearing earlier this month, where he was backed by an ‘impressive list of witnesses’, the three-lawyer panel said he was fit to become a lawyer.

“We have no doubts about Mr. Gaya’s good character today,” Bar Tribunal President Malcolm Mercer wrote in the preliminary reasons provided by the panel to declare him fit to become a lawyer. “His insight, remorse and acceptance of responsibility are evident in his testimony and his actions – of what he overcame and accomplished.”

Gaya is a “remarkable young man” with a “lingering desire to make amends,” said Kayla Theeuwen, a partner at WeirFoulds who represented him at the good character hearing. “As the bar association noted in its preliminary reasons for decision, allowing Saad to become a lawyer ‘gives meaning to true correction and rehabilitation,'” she said.

In 2006, Gaya was a university student recruited by jihadist Zakaria Amara, who planned to bomb the Toronto Stock Exchange, the Toronto office of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and a military base, in an attempt to convince Canada to withdraw its troops. from Afghanistan. Over the following months, Gaya became more and more radical. The bomb plot was foiled by police, who arrested Gaya and others, called the Toronto 18, before he could be executed.

Gaya pleaded guilty to terrorism in 2009 and was sentenced to 12 years in prison. His sentence was increased to 18 years on appeal. He was paroled halfway through his sentence.

Gaya made the most of his situation in prison, according to preliminary reasons provided by the court for its decision. He successfully attended college by correspondence; worked with religious teachers and scholars on de-radicalization and finding a new understanding of his faith; helped law enforcement to counter religious extremism and radicalization; and graduated from college.

After prison, he earned a law degree at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, one of Canada’s top law schools.

“Gaya’s conduct since 2006 has been extraordinary under the circumstances,” Mercer wrote, adding that he “made terrible mistakes” but his “long and difficult journey home deserves recognition.”

“Our criminal justice system is not only based on denunciation and punishment, but also on correction and rehabilitation. Allowing Mr. Gaya to become a lawyer, despite his background, helps give meaning to true correction and rehabilitation,” Mercer concluded.

To be called to the Bar of Ontario and other jurisdictions in Canada, applicants must be “good character.” Anyone with a criminal background could go through a good character check and hearing before being approved for a law degree.

It is extremely significant to me that the Law Society Tribunal examines the detailed information available over the past 16 years and concludes that at the end of this long journey, my “insight, dedication and resilience” will serve the administration of justice,” Gaya said in a statement to Law.com International.

“I look forward to making a positive contribution to the profession and serving the public through the practice of law.

He said he was “eternally grateful” to those who supported him along the way, including supporters during his hearing: Inspector Marwan Zogheib, a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer who was part of the team that foiled the terrorist plot; a number of law faculty professors; his parole officer Joe Brathwaite; three imams, including Ramzy Ajem, known for his work in rehabilitating extremists; and his wife Saba Khan, a Toronto-area labor lawyer.

Since 2020, Gaya has been an intern (trainee) in a small litigation boutique. Partner Alexi Wood testified at the hearing and told Law.com International Gaya “he was an integral, highly respected and valued member of the St. Lawrence Barristers team. We look forward to working with him in this next phase of his career. »

She said clients and the profession “will benefit from her thoughtfulness, insight and compassion”.

Gaya said he had passed the bar exams but did not know when he would be called to the bar.

During his good character hearing, Gaya called the plot “disgusting” and a “terrible crime” for a “misguided cause”, according to Canadian newspaper the National Post.

“I have to live with this guilt and this shame,” he told the hearing, according to the newspaper’s account.

Two other convicted terrorists have applied to become lawyers in Ontario. In 2010, Parminder Singh Sainia Sikh activist who hijacked an Air India plane in 1984, was denied in his good character hearing.

But a bar panel in 2020 revealed that the former Tamil Tiger Suresh Sriskandarajahwho was sentenced to two years in prison in the United States in 2013 for providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization, showed “overwhelming” remorse and judged him be of good character. He is now an independent practitioner. practices technology and business law in suburban Toronto.