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Toronto 18 suspects have laptops in jail, better TV access, court hears

BRAMPTON, Ont. - The Toronto 18 suspects at a detention centre west of Toronto have been treated better than other inmates at the facility, two correctional staff told court Monday.

BRAMPTON, Ont. - The Toronto 18 suspects at a detention centre west of Toronto have been treated better than other inmates at the facility, two correctional staff told court Monday.

A correctional officer and supervisor from the Maplehurst detention centre in Milton, Ont., testified at the sentencing hearing for Saad Gaya, who pleaded guilty in September to intending to cause an explosion for the benefit of a terrorist group.

Gaya, 22, was among 18 people arrested in June 2006 in a massive terror plot to wreak havoc on several targets, including Parliament and RCMP headquarters.

He is one of four of those people to plead guilty.

Gaya and Saad Khalid, who also pleaded guilty, were arrested while unloading bags labelled "ammonium nitrate" from a truck driven by an undercover police officer. But Gaya did not have knowledge of the magnitude of the explosive force of the purported ammonium nitrate, nor did he know the group's leaders intended for him to drive a van loaded with fertilizer bombs, according to an agreed statement of facts.

A non-communication order between the co-accused was lifted in June 2007, meaning they were no longer in segregation, and could mingle in a common area in the wing that housed only them.

Since that time they get several hours a day of free time in the common area, where they could watch television. Normally in the detention centre there are 32 inmates per TV, whereas in the Toronto 18 suspects' wing there were 10 people clamouring for one TV, and they got a remote while other inmates did not, said officer Don McCaffrey.

The terror inmates have also had laptops with them in their cells because of an order that they have 24-hour access to the evidence in their cases.

Special accommodations were also made for the men's Muslim faith, including visits usually twice a week with an imam, which is a privilege not afforded to other inmates, McCaffrey said.

"They're the only ones that had the religious leader come right onto the unit itself," he said.

Covers obstructing a guard's view of the whole cell are usually not permitted, but covers were fashioned for the toilets during the men's prayer time, as they would otherwise be kneeling and praying toward the uncovered toilet, said manager Kevin Murphy.

Both men said they agreed with Crown attorney Croft Michaelson's assertion that the Toronto 18 inmates have been receiving better treatment than those elsewhere in the detention centre.

Court heard that during the year in segregation the men were taken out of their cells one at a time for a shower, 20 minutes in the yard and were allowed two phone calls a day of about 20 minutes each.

Lawyers for some of the men who have pleaded guilty have asked for three-for-one credit for time served due to the hardship of segregation, but the court so far appears to have opted for the standard two-for-one credit.

However, the federal government is moving to end the practice of giving a prisoner credit of two days for every one spent in pre-trial custody.

The correctional staff also testified Gaya was immature when he was first arrested 3 1/2 years ago, but has since matured into a well-behaved young man.

"He's a very quiet individual," McCaffrey said. "It's unusual in a detention centre that you get any quiet individuals, but he was one of them. (He) didn't cause me any grief."

Murphy added Gaya appears to have a strong family support system.

"He's very respectful of his family ... of the people in the unit, of the staff and the job they have to do," Murphy said.

"I think now he's just a bit anxious as (his case) is coming to a head."

The sentencing hearing is scheduled to continue Tuesday and Wednesday.

 
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