This is episode 2 of a story about life insurance and the law. If you haven’t read episode 1, start here.
Javeed’s first day in court lasts all of ten minutes. The crown prosecutor—Vinod Dasgupta, JD—requests a three-week delay, to March 14. Justice Mackenzie grants the request. Javeed is disgusted that Darren doesn’t object. “Javeed, bud, there’s a simple thing called playing by the rules.”
Rex vs. Amiri. On the morning of March 14, Javeed finds himself at Darren’s elbow listening to the theory of his life according to Mr. Dasgupta. The Crown will show that although Javeed purchased life insurance for himself as soon as he was married, he did not suggest a policy for his wife. That the marriage began to deteriorate in the fall of 2086, when the couple came under financial pressure as interest rates rose sharply after they bought their condo. That an expected year-end bonus from Javeed’s employer failed to materialize, and so did a hoped-for promotion. That Javeed was chronically over-optimistic about his prospects, and clueless about the financial health of his employer. That, unlike Javeed, Laila made an astute career move, landing a better-paid and more responsible job in the emergency ward where she worked. That Javeed urged her not to take the promotion; in fact, implored her to cut her working hours, even leave the workforce entirely, despite the couple’s obvious inability to meet their obligations on his salary alone. That Naser, the couple’s friend, who worked as a paramedic at the same hospital, helped Laila make her move, and tried his best to help Javeed see that it was in their interests. Tried in vain.
The Crown will also show that Javeed neglected to go in for a refresher scan on his policy’s anniversary date, although he continued to pay the premium, thereby ensuring his old backup would remain on file. That there was no plausible motive for this failure to update, other than Javeed’s belief, confirmed in his journal, that it would allow him to evade responsibility for his actions.
The Crown will further show that Javeed’s life continued downhill in 2087. That in April, his company laid him off because of declining business. That Javeed did not seek new employment, although urged to do so by his wife and friend, but clung to hope that he would get his job back. That Javeed refused to look at a likely opportunity which was laid at his feet by the good offices of Naser. Although Delmar, to be sure, recalled Javeed in November, the company would lay him off again a mere four months later.
While he was unemployed, his wife earning all the family income, Javeed began frequenting Islamic social networking sites. He also began to attend mosque.
At this point Darren raises an objection. “My client’s religion is irrelevant to this case.” Mr. Dasgupta answers that Javeed’s religion is most relevant to the prosecution theory, and the judge grants him permission to proceed.
“I’m not religious,” Javeed whispers to Darren, who just shrugs.
At mosque, the prosecutor continues, Javeed fell under the influence of co-religionists of an extreme bent. They put ideas, antithetical to Western values, into his mind. Such as the idea that any woman brought up in the West, regardless of her family and heritage, a girl who went through elementary and high school in North Vancouver, has been exposed to values, influences and ideas which make her unsuitable to be the wife of a Muslim man. That she inevitably has been corrupted. That such a young woman, despite her marriage vows, could never be trusted not to contemplate adultery. And that it was probably too late; the signs of adultery were already present.
“Those are lies!” Javeed whispers too loudly, attracting a pointed glance from the prosecutor and an admonition from the judge. Darren apologizes for the outburst. Stony-faced, he places a hand over Javeed’s wrist, pressing it hard against the table.
“They were lies,” the prosecutor concedes mildly. But Javeed, he says, believed them.
Darren takes a note.
Javeed believed them because of the signs which his radical co-religionists brought to his attention, connecting the dots where necessary. Sign 1: Naser originally introduced Javeed and Laila; perhaps he was already entangled with her and seeking an out. Sign 2: Naser helped Laila get a promotion. Sign 3: Laila did not defer to her husband, but often disagreed with him openly, which a good Muslim wife would not do. Sign 4: She visited Naser in his apartment, alone.
“Laila,” Javeed starts to whisper, but Darren tightens his grip on Javeed’s wrist, pointing to a pad and pen. Laila doesn’t love Naser! Javeed prints. He was just a friend, he adds, and underlines it.
Javeed’s co-religionists had an ulterior motive in making him suspicious of his wife. Their malevolent aims were, first, to make the young man desperately unhappy…
Darren makes another note.
…and second, to turn him against Western society. These were radical jihadists, whose sole interest was to wage war on the West. For that, they needed recruits. Immigrants who could be persuaded to blame their personal misfortunes on a society they were taught to regard as alien. Young men who could be made miserable enough to sacrifice their own lives.
Here Mr. Dasgupta pauses dramatically. “Or so it was until the advent of restorative life insurance in recent years. These days, a suicide bomber no longer has to sacrifice his life. That made the jihadists’ task infinitely easier when working with material like Mr. Amiri, whose attachment to religion was perhaps weaker than his attachment to life.”
All eyes in the courtroom (except Darren’s) suddenly fall on Javeed. The words “suicide bomber” ricochet from wall to wall of his consciousness, making it hard to hear the rest of the prosecutor’s speech. “…target was the Commodities Exchange. But on this point alone, the jihadists failed to convince Mr. Amiri, because the Exchange had nothing to do with his central concern, which was his wife…” “…supplied a vest which appeared to be made of warm, thick fleece, suitable for the season…” “Consumed by jealousy, the accused took it on himself to choose the time and place of his action. He asked Naser for help, saying he now knew it was unrealistic to hope for his old job back. He invited his wife and friend to give him advice, over hot chocolate, on how to kickstart his stalled career. The date he chose? Remembrance Day. It is a measure of the accused’s contempt for the values of our country, Canada, that he chose the day when we honour those who died—who died –” the prosecutor repeats with emphasis, somehow evoking the ponderous boom of the guns that ended so many lives forever, “defending our freedoms. His single, treacherous act encompassed both murder and terrorism. Motivated by personal jealousy and a diffuse rage, his attack was directed equally against the two individuals who cared for him the most, and the free and open society that had generously welcomed him into its midst with all the opportunities for which most immigrants are grateful.” Mr. Dasgupta nodded to the judge, as though to show his own gratitude.
Darren brings Javeed pizza for lunch. Really good pizza, compared to the fodder in the DC. “When,” Javeed asks between mouthfuls, “do we get to set the record straight? What a load of freaking bullshit! That guy he’s describing isn’t me! I’ve always worked hard. I wouldn’t go for months without…doing something! Man, that religious stuff! Don’t get me wrong, I see some good in religion, it had its time and place, people needed something, but can’t we move on? Those long-beards out of the madrasas, those freaking ignorant rag-heads”—Javeed laughs manically, mid-chew—“I hate everything they stand for. I mean, they’re anti-progress, anti-science, anti-Canada, they’re really anti-U.S. And, and, to think that I would…take orders from them and…destroy…the two people I love, more than…” Javeed is amazed by the sudden flow of tears down his nose into the mozzarella and sun-dried, and the heaving sobs that follow. It’s Ramadan, he suddenly remembers, I should be fasting. If I still believed that stuff.
Darren pats his hand squeamishly. “We get a shot this afternoon, bud.”
The defence, Darren informs the court, does not dispute the facts laid out by his ‘friend’ the crown prosecutor. Even Javeed can hear the sarcasm in Darren’s legal courtesies. The defence will show that the accused was not responsible, by reason of insanity. That the unexpected setbacks faced by the young engineer, with the pressures of a new marriage, the burden of a mortgage the bank should never have granted, and the ongoing challenge of adapting to life in Canada, so different from the circumscribed culture he grew up in, with rules for every eventuality, were overwhelming. Javeed was not prepared for freedom. When things went wrong, he sought the security of simple answers—and found them, unfortunately, among extremists. Enemies of freedom, who played on Javeed’s anxieties, pushed his buttons, took charge of his thoughts, told him what to do and what to be. Who polluted his mind with warped religion, a distorting lens which so disoriented Javeed that he no longer knew the nature and quality of his acts, or right from wrong. “Criminal fanatics, plain and simple, who exploited my client’s mental weakness for their own ends.”
Mental weakness! Javeed could barely stop himself from throwing something at Darren.
“My client has lost everything he cared about. His lovely wife. His lifetime friend. The two people who, more than anyone else, helped him get by in his new and challenging life, who helped him cope. His job, which gave his life structure, meaning, and dignity. And now his freedom. Let there be no misunderstanding—there were not just two victims of this tragedy. My client is also a victim.”
“I’m not weak!” Left alone briefly with Darren before the sheriff comes for him, Javeed fairly screams. “My job wasn’t a sheltered workshop! And I’m no loony-tunes!”
“What do you want me to say, bud?” Darren responds truculently. “Deny what the camera saw? Claim your evil twin brother did it? An insanity defence sometimes actually works.” Darren’s mouth twists, as though having bitten into something unpleasant. “Works better with a jury, though.”
The Crown’s expert witness next day is someone Javeed recognizes—the neuropsych who assessed him a few weeks ago, a stooped man with a shining skull fringed in white. The prosecutor’s questions are well-prepared, and Dr. Jones’ answers fall efficiently into place. All Javeed’s results were in the normal range. He is perfectly sane. “Told you,” Javeed whispers, to annoy Darren.
Darren begins his cross-examination with, “How many times did you test my client?”
“Just the one time.”
“Just once. So your assessment was of my client’s mental condition on the day you saw him?”
“In your clinical experience, Dr. Jones, does a person ever test normal at one time, but later—years later, after he undergoes devastating life-changing experiences— can the same test applied to the same person yield an abnormal result?”
“That can happen. Within limits.”
“You agree it can happen,” Darren cuts him short.
“Yes it can.”
“I have no further questions, my Lord.”
The Crown calls Colin Honeywell, Javeed’s supervisor at Delmar. Colin’s smile, oddly supplicating, is unfamiliar to Javeed. “Letting Javeed go was not a reflection on his work, not at all. There were business reasons—Delmar lost some critical accounts—actually, the competition was eating our lunch. Javeed got along well with everybody. I was sorry to hear—I don’t understand what happened.” Colin clears his throat, and blinks helplessly.
When it’s Darren’s turn, he asks Colin whether he led Javeed to believe he would be rehired.
“I hoped we could take him back. I didn’t promise anything.”
“Did Javeed look up to you? Besides being his supervisor, weren’t you his mentor?”
“I assume so. Tried to be.”
“Did he trust you?”
“I never gave him reason not to.”
Darren looks severe. “Don’t you think Javeed may have thought of you as a lifeline?”
The prosecutor rises. “Objection, my Lord—the witness is being led.”
The judge sustains the objection, and Darren continues in milder tones. “You said Javeed trusted you. In what ways did he trust you?”
“Not to bullshit him—sorry, I mean just to tell him straight facts. And to help. In work-related ways.”
“To tell the truth. And to help him in work-related ways.”
“You told this court the company was in trouble. The competition was eating your lunch. Did you mention that to Javeed?”
Honeywell looks taken aback. “Not in so many words. You don’t say those things to staff. They could damage morale.”
“So you led Javeed to believe the company was in better shape than it actually was. You strung him along on false hopes, month after month.”
“Objection, my Lord!”
Darren’s shoulders slump, and his lip curls into a sneer. “Do you think,” he asks Honeywell, “that Javeed may have eventually lost faith in you and your company?”
Following intently, Javeed starts to see Colin in a new light. Colin is not really a friend, never was. He’s just a weak man trying to do his job juggling a complex agenda, a man with divided loyalties, but loyal first and foremost to his personal interests. Like everybody.
The next Crown witness, a heavy, bearded man in an orange prison jumpsuit, is led in by a sheriff. “Mr. Al-Kahtani, do you know Javeed Amiri?”
“Can you point him out in this courtroom?”
The man’s eyes lift, scan, and lock on Javeed’s. Javeed is instantly repelled—Al-Kahtani looks like he has handed over the keys to his own intelligence. Not the kind of guy Javeed would want to know. According to Darren, a fanatic. “He’s sitting over there,” says Al-Kahtani in a flat, uninterested tone—and Saudi accent.
The prosecutor is dressed very neatly in a grey suit, the corner of a white handkerchief peeking from the breast pocket. His hair is shiny, black, and perfectly combed. “Mr. Al-Kahtani, by what name did Mr. Amiri know you in the months leading up to November 2088?”
“He called me ‘Pilgrim’.”
“Pilgrim,” Mr. Dasgupta repeats, “a peaceful-sounding, pious name. But you were charged with terrorism, murder, and aiding and abetting murder and attempted murder. You pled guilty to the latter charge and stand convicted, isn’t that correct?”
An inclined head.
“Please speak up, Mr. Al-Kahtani.”
“I was convicted.”
Expertly, the prosecutor draws out the witness’s account of his dealings with Javeed. Someone with the handle shafted3210 was showing up on IslamicConnection with increasing frequency. Chatting, Al-Kahtani discovered a young man crying out for spiritual guidance. They met in person at the Islamic Centre. Javeed, Al-Kahtani learned, was raised as a Muslim. He never renounced the faith, but he had fallen away.
“Do you mean that Mr. Amiri fell under the sway of Western values? Canadian values?”
“Of course that is true,” the witness responds quietly.
“But you say Mr. Amiri never renounced Islam. Mr. Al-Kahtani, what punishment does the Qur’an prescribe for a Muslim man who renounces his faith?”
“Such a man must be killed.”
“Killed.” The prosecutor’s perfectly groomed eyebrows rise dramatically. “To the best of your knowledge, Mr. Al-Kahtani, who influenced Mr. Amiri with those Western values?”
A heavy shrug. “The whole city of Vancouver influenced him. This corrupt society used him for its ends.”
“I see. But which individuals, representing a Western point of view, would you say had the most influence?”
“His friends. His employer. His wife, certainly. She was brazen.”
“What do you mean by ‘brazen’, Mr. Al-Kahtani?”
An exasperated sound escapes the bearded man. “She was outspoken, like all Western women. And immodest.”
Javeed is infuriated. Who is this hairy ignorant dirt-licker to call his wife immodest? What does he know—blinded by the spittle of mullahs?
“And his friends?” Mr. Dasgupta presses. “Was there one friend in particular, who influenced Mr. Amiri?”
“Yes. His boyhood friend, Naser Yavari, who preceeded him to this city. And lured him here.”
“Who lured him from Iran to Vancouver?”
The prosecutor gleans testimony that both young men were from Isfahan, both brought up in Islam. As boys, they prayed side by side. “Did Mr. Yavari observe the Muslim faith in Vancouver?”
“No. Javeed told me Naser mocked it, as a fairy tale. A big lie.”
“Did you take that to mean that Mr. Yavari had renounced Islam?”
“And therefore deserved death?”
The witness is silent.
Mr. Dasgupta looks thoughtful. “You told this court that a Muslim man who renounces Islam must be killed, did you not?”
“That is according to sharia law. Islamic law.”
“Well…and what authority is sharia law based on?”
“God’s authority. There is none other.”
“Hm. And what about Mr. Amiri’s wife? Did she deserve to die?”
The bearded face smiles ironically. “She did not die, apparently.”
“Well, the device blew her up. But because she had insurance, she is alive again. Did you and Mr. Amiri talk about his wife?”
“Many times. She caused Javeed much sorrow.” A ponderous sigh. “I told him it could not succeed. A girl raised in Canada is not fit to be the wife of a Muslim man.”
“In what way not fit?”
“She argued with her husband.”
“She was a…she was sexually experienced.”
Javeed winces at this mention of Laila. “Do you mean before she met Mr. Amiri?” the prosecutor presses. “How do you know that?”
Al-Kahtani shrugs. “She attended school here. From K to 12 and university. They are taught sex in school, male and female together in one room. I opened Javeed’s eyes to this.” The man looks painfully uncomfortable. “They are taught to masturbate! I told him, just google ‘sex ed video,’ and watch.”
Javeed feels his own cheeks flush. Could it be true?
“You also are not from here,” the witness continues, watching the prosecutor carefully through heavy-lidded slits. “Although you are an infidel, you may care about your children.”
There is a confused pause. Javeed feels the prosecutor is at a loss for words. Justice Mackenzie intervenes, instructing the witness to just answer the questions, not to elaborate. Mr. Dasgupta draws himself up, clasps his hands, and asks Al-Kahtani whether he supplied Javeed with an explosive vest.
“I told that to the other court.”
“Yes, but it also needs to be on the record of this court. Rest assured, you are not on trial today. Did you supply the vest?”
“And what was its purpose?”
“Javeed agreed to wear it to the Commodity Exchange at noon the following day. And detonate it.” He looks at Javeed again, this time reproachfully.
“So, Mr. Al-Kahtani, tell the court more about your plan.” Skillfully and efficiently, Mr. Dasgupta draws out details. Although ‘Pilgrim’ was Javeed’s handler, he did not act alone; decisions were made by committee. The action was planned for Friday, November 12th, at 12:05. The vest, in the use of which Javeed was trained, was given to him 24 hours in advance. He seemed calm and resolute, “like a martyr,” the witness concluded.
“Mr. Al-Kahtani, were you and the others surprised by the news reports of the explosion in the Cormorant Café, just three hours after you gave Mr. Amiri the vest?”
Still fixed on Javeed, the witness’ gaze is suddenly animated. “We were betrayed! Yes, by surprise, do you need to ask?”
“Do you think Mr. Amiri acted on impulse?” Mr. Dasgupta presses. “Or could he have set off the explosion accidentally, out of nervousness?”
A soft snort. “Javeed asked for the vest on the 11th, so as to draw less suspicion on the mosque, he said. I handed it to him in a dry-cleaning bag. Unknown to me, he had already invited his wife and friend to meet him. He waited in the library for two hours, during which he actually altered the vest.”
“Really? Mr. Amiri altered the vest?” This surprises Javeed too.
“He removed most of the charge,” Al-Kahtani relates glumly. “If he had not, the roof would have blown off that café and everyone would have died, not just three people.”
“He did that in the library?”
“In the restroom. He is an engineer. He hid the leftover explosives in the garbage. Then he put the vest on and walked across the street. That’s all. I’m sorry to say, he played us for fools.” Again, Javeed sees an unmistakeable look of reproach on the face of this mad stranger.
On the final day of the trial, Mr. Dasgupta summarizes the Crown’s case. Javeed was not only sane when he planned and carried out his action, he was highly effective. He deceived and manipulated his handlers to his own ends. He acted with professional competence, coolly disarming the device while seated on a toilet in the library men’s room, modifying and reassembling it. He considerately left a note for the janitor about the surplus explosives. His timing was exquisite, his performance flawless. He accomplished exactly what he set out to do.
“My learned friend would have us believe that Mr. Amiri was psychologically damaged. That his impairment resulted from extreme mental anguish, caused by insupportable circumstances. And those circumstances were? Being out of work for several months. Financial worries. Marital stress, and perhaps a suspicion of infidelity. Circumstances which affect many, many others, and which make them unhappy, but which do not induce them to set off bombs. Well, according to my learned friend, although other people may be made of sterner stuff, such circumstances may nevertheless have been insupportable to a person whose psychological stability was fragile. Let’s examine that possibility.”
The prosecutor pauses for breath. “We heard the testimony of Dr. Jones, who examined Mr. Amiri one month ago. Dr. Jones found Mr. Amiri to be in excellent mental health. Well, my learned friend asked, can’t a healthy person get sick? Can’t the stress of changing circumstances impair someone’s mental health? And of course it can, as Dr. Jones agreed. But how likely is that in the case of Mr. Amiri? When Dr. Jones examined Mr. Amiri, he was not only out of work—he was in jail, charged with murder and terrorism. Not only was he under financial pressure—his home had been sold, and most of his equity had been spent on legal bills, with no end in sight. And his marriage was no longer in question—it was over. His wife refused to see him, and had initiated divorce proceedings. Why? Because, he learned, he had blown her up. His wife, whom he dearly loved and had—from his point of view—just married. And if all that weren’t enough stress for one man, he no longer had a friend in the world to turn to—because he’d blown him up as well! Yet—yet—Mr. Amiri was in sound mental health at that time. Mr. Amiri, it seems, is made of very stern stuff indeed. His troubles of last year, leading up to his crime, seem mild by comparison.”
Hearing a long, slow release of air, Javeed realizes Darren must have been holding his breath.
“When do I get to testify?” Javeed asks Darren at the break.
“That’s not in the cards.”
Javeed is shocked. “Judge Mackenzie needs to hear the truth about me. Me! Not whoever that was, whoever I became. I’m the one facing jail, not him. He murdered Naser and estranged me from Laila, probably forever, and he’s beyond the reach of the law. It’s not right that I should have to pay for his crime. Judge Mackenzie will see that, will understand that I am not him, if he just hears me.”
“Can’t do it, bud. You’d make the wrong impression. Hey, I dug up another precedent, nothing to do with life insurance. A guy, drunk, killed his wife on an impulse, then wondered what to do. So he swallowed one of those date-rape drugs. That causes short-term amnesia? Before it took hold he called 911. Came to himself the next day, the whole episode completely wiped out. He felt just like you. My wife? What? Dead? I did it? Impossible, I love her!” It didn’t fly, even with a jury. He was convicted of second-degree. Partly on his own testimony; the jury saw he was a jerk. Listen to me, Javeed! You can fire me and represent yourself. Some guys do that. Know how many beat the rap? Take a guess, Javeed. Zero-point-three percent. Like those odds? Your choice, man, your choice.”
Javeed’s trial ends with one saving grace—he is found not guilty on the terrorism charge. “I find insufficient evidence,” Mr. Justice Mackenzie rules, “that Mr. Amiri was a terrorist. Instead, it appears he used the terrorists to his own ends. He could have arranged to meet his wife and Mr. Yavari somewhere packed with people, perhaps even at the Commodity Exchange at noon-hour. He did not. He chose an unpopular restaurant at the quietest time of the afternoon on a semi-holiday. He reduced the force of the blast, so that not one bystander was killed or even seriously injured. He hurt only his intended targets: his wife, Mr. Yavari, and himself. Mr. Amiri’s motives appear to me to have been purely personal.”
The judge makes one other notable comment. “I find it strange that counsel did not see fit to call Mr. Amiri as a witness in his own defence. I would like to have heard this young man’s testimony about his intentions when he bought his life insurance policy three years ago. I do not suppose that evidence would have affected the verdict, but it could have a bearing on sentencing. I am forced to pass judgement knowing very little about Mr. Amiri’s present character.”
When Mr. Justice Mackenzie reads the sentence, he watches Javeed closely, his expression stern, but not unkind. For first-degree murder: life in prison, with eligibility for parole after 25 years. Javeed’s eyes close, shutting out the room. My life is over.
“It’s the minimum sentence,” Darren reminds him. “And don’t forget—not guilty of terrorism!”
Javeed groans. “Thanks for pointing out the bright side.”
“Just saying, it could’ve been worse. Javeed!” Darren taps his arm. “See you around.”
“How likely is that?”
“Like I said—should’ve had a jury. Oh!”—in the doorway, Darren stops in mid-stride—“I think you maxed out your credit line, that I’m billing. Don’t happen to have another line, do you bud?”
Javeed shakes his head. “Don’t call me bud. I’m not your bud.”
“Okay, asshole.” Shaking his head in disgust, Darren walks out.
Continued in episode 3…