ON TARGET: Media turns teen’s holdup into terrorist act

Last Wednesday, a Montreal teenager appeared in court to plead not guilty to charges of terrorist activity.

As the boy is only 15, this makes the unnamed accused the first youth to be arrested under Canada’s new anti-terror legislation.

The genesis of these allegations stems from an Oct. 11 incident when the accused allegedly held up a convenience store. The robber wore a ski mask and brandished what was described as a long knife. The store owner did not resist and, as instructed, emptied his till of approximately $2,200 in cash. This is where the plot thickens.

The bandit allegedly hid the money in his backyard. Unfortunately for the accused terrorist mastermind, his concealment skills were somewhat lacking, as his father soon found his stash. When confronted with the bag of stolen money, the boy allegedly disclosed that he intended to use it to purchase an airline ticket to an (as of yet) undisclosed Middle Eastern country. Once there, it was his alleged intention to join up with an extremist faction of jihadists.

Knowing that his son had displayed some signs of radicalization and perhaps had committed armed robbery, the father — with good intentions — notified the authorities. The RCMP claimed to have found jihadist propaganda on the boy’s computer, and what had been a case of underage felony suddenly ballooned into full-out charges of terrorist activity. The youth is facing up to 10 years imprisonment, and if tried as an adult — as some are pushing for — he could be looking at a life sentence.

What was somewhat astonishing was the manner in which the media hyped this case to maximize fear mongering. When reporting on the alleged intention of this young individual to fly to the Middle East to join jihadists, TV reports rolled a steady stream of footage portraying fierce-looking masked ISIS fighters in Iraq, armed with an assortment of heavy weapons. To a casual observer, the actual threat of a single teenager armed with a knife was magnified into a legion of Kalashnikov-toting terrorists.

Experts weighed in on the subject, admitting that they had no proof to support any actual link between the suspect and Islamic extremists but still stating that this was proof of ISIS’s success in using social media to recruit volunteers.

The reality of this case is that a confused 15-year-old boy allegedly held up a convenience store owner at knife-point. I’m sure that for those few moments he was being robbed, the victim was terrified, but no more so than any other victim of crime.

And simply having enough money for a flight does not make a plan to travel to the Middle East actionable. Because the boy is under the of age 16, he would not have been able to obtain the necessary passport or visas without parental consent.

It is also evident from his responsible actions that the father was aware his son was confused and needed help to set him straight. Due to the prompt action of the father, the boy was apprehended for allegedly committing an armed robbery.

Tagging this incident with a terrorist label, based upon what a 15-year-old fantasized he might do, gives this case a magnitude it does not deserve. It will also send a chill to any other parent who may have concerns about their child being radicalized, if they know authorities will use that information to lay terror charges and seek life sentences rather than attempting counselling and psychiatric rehabilitation.

Coincidentally, news of these charges came as Montrealers commemorated the 25th anniversary of the massacre at the l’Ecole Polytechnique. On Dec. 6, 1989, gunman Marc Lepine went on a shooting spree that killed 14 women and left another 14 people wounded. Rather than surrender to police, Lepine took his own life. The rationale for Lepine’s murderous rampage was that he hated women. The word terrorism was never used to describe his attack.

We are now dropping the word terror at every opportunity, and that only serves to frighten the population into believing we are all in imminent danger.

A delusional kid held up a grocery store with a knife — end of story.