Thursday, March 4, 2021

Crown seeks six years in jail for military reservist who crashed through Rideau Hall gates

Crown seeks six years in jail for military reservist who crashed through Rideau Hall gates

The prosecution is seeking a sentence of six years for a Manitoba military reservist accused last summer of crashing through the gates of Rideau Hall while heavily armed, and trying to track down the prime minister near to where he lives.  

In a hearing on Tuesday at an Ottawa courthouse broadcast via Zoom videolink, Crown attorney Meaghan Cunningham appealed for Corey Hurren, 46, to be sentenced to six years in jail, along with a lifetime ban from owning any firearms and forfeiture of the guns seized on the scene. She argued that “his actions that day were far from benign” and that he had braced for a deadly confrontation. She noted that he had left behind a note in his truck explaining his actions. Mr. Hurren’s defence lawyer Michael Davies asked for a sentence of three years. 

The presiding judge, Ontario justice Robert Wadden, reserved sentencing for the afternoon of March 10.

On July 2, a heavily armed Mr. Hurren rammed his Dodge pickup truck through the visitors’ entrance of Rideau Hall, and proceeded on foot towards Rideau Cottage, home to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.). Mr. Trudeau had been frequently holding press briefings about the pandemic near his residence. After a 90-minute standoff with police who sought to de-escalate the situation, Mr. Hurren was arrested “without incident.” He has been in custody since July 2. 

Earlier this month, Mr. Hurren pleaded guilty to eight charges, including possession of prohibited weapons and a high-capacity magazine without authorization, and mischief by wilfully damaging property, resulting in $100,000 worth of damages. He initially faced 21 weapons charges, along with making a threat to “cause death or bodily harm” to the prime minister. Mr. Hurren had driven from his home in Manitoba to Ottawa.

The Crown dropped the charges to which Mr. Hurren did not plead guilty.

The prosecutor said Mr. Hurren would have been charged differently had the Crown been able to prove that he had intended to harm Mr. Trudeau.

A former Canadian Forces reservist, Mr. Hurren was part of the unit that is dispatched to the northern and remote regions of Manitoba.

According to an agreed statement of facts, Mr. Hurren said his intention had not been to attack anyone, but that he was there to “arrest” the prime minister as a way of registering his opposition to the government’s pandemic-control measures and its recent move to ban assault-style guns, as reported by The Canadian Press. 

Regardless of what his intentions were, Mr. Hurren’s actions risked “catastrophic harm” to himself and others, because he had chosen to “arm himself” with loaded firearms, Ms. Cunningham told the court.

In appealing for a reduced sentence, Mr. Davies noted that Mr. Hurren had, prior to the incident, been a hard-working citizen who had made contributions to his community, both through his work as a small business owner and as a military reservist. He noted the pandemic had “dealt blows” to Mr. Hurren’s livelihood, as he was forced to mothball his business selling sausages. He had lost his other job in 2019.

Mr. Davies said Mr. Hurren “made one correct decision” that day by choosing to put down his weapons.

Both the prosecution and defence cited a doctor’s assessment of Mr. Hurren, which noted that he did not suffer any delusions that led him to breach Rideau Hall, but was suffering from depression because his livelihood was threatened.

A letter written by the gunman obtained by Global News cited his grievances with the lockdown measures, which jeopardized his business, GrindHouse Fine Foods. The letter reportedly said that he was concerned Canada was under turning into a “communist dictatorship” under Mr. Trudeau.

“With the firearms ban and seeing more of our rights being taken away, on top of bankrupting the country, I could no longer sit back and watch this happen. I hope this is a wakeup call and a turning point,” he wrote.

The Trudeau government moved to restrict ownership of certain assault-style weapons through an order in council in May. The accompanying legislation, introduced last week, stopped short of forcing owners of those guns to turn them over in exchange for compensation, and instead made the buy-back program voluntary. 

Mr. Hurren also told the police he wasn’t able to qualify for the emergency benefit programs set up to help businesses weather the pandemic. Other reports documented that Mr. Hurren appeared to have long been captivated by websites including far-right conspiracy website InfoWars that peddle conspiracy theories.

Amarnath Amarasingam, a professor at Queen’s University who studies extremism, previously told The Hill Times he did not assume there was necessarily a direct link between Mr. Hurren’s visits to such websites and his storming of Rideau Hall. 

“We don’t know enough about his worldview to suggest that he was embedded in online spaces that would have spurred him along to violence,” he said at the time.

The breach at Rideau Hall has brought into sharp focus concerns about the rise in political violence amid the proliferation and normalization of hateful language online. Threats faced by Mr. Trudeau and his cabinet, in particular, surged by 30 per cent in the first half of 2020 during the same time frame the year prior, with the RCMP logging 130 threats, according to Toronto Star.

Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna (Ottawa Centre, Ont.) has also been a frequent target of hateful, misogynistic attacks. Last August, a man hurled vulgar comments at one of her female staffers after he was told that the constituency office was closed to the public due to the pandemic. The year before, that same office was vandalized. 

In response to concerns about the threats faced by politicians, the House Board of Internal Economy Committee last fall approved new funding to boost security measures for MPs while outside the Parliamentary Precinct. 

MPs were to be provided with a mobile device equipped with an alert system that would notify a third-party monitoring centre when triggered. The committee also agreed to cover costs associated with security home assessments, setting aside $4.3-million in one-time expenses and $778,524 annually. 

The Hill Times

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