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.