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'He understands what's going on:' Accused Edmonton attacker fit to stand trial

EDMONTON — A man accused of attempted murder in a knife attack on a police officer has been found fit to stand trial, but an assessment on his mental state at the time of the alleged assault is not yet complete.
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EDMONTON — A man accused of attempted murder in a knife attack on a police officer has been found fit to stand trial, but an assessment on his mental state at the time of the alleged assault is not yet complete.

Abdulahi Hasan Sharif, 30, was in provincial court Friday to face charges related to a Sept. 30 attack outside a football game in Edmonton.

Const. Mike Chernyk was injured when a driver crashed through a barrier, got out of his vehicle, pulled out a large knife and began stabbing the officer.

Sharif also faces dangerous driving charges related to a speeding cube van that hit and injured four pedestrians a few hours later as it raced through the city's downtown with police in pursuit.

His lawyer, Karanpal Aujla, said an assessment at Alberta Hospital, where his client remains, has found that Sharif is currently fit to stand trial.

"He's fit in the sense that he understands ... what's going on. He understands the proceedings. He understands the jeopardy he's facing and everything around the proceedings," Aujla said outside court.

Sharif's case has been delayed for another 30 days to complete an assessment on whether he could be found criminally responsible in a trial.

Aujla said it's important to know his client's mental state at the time of the alleged offences.

"He could be in a state of flux in the sense he may be fine now, and he's doing better now," he said. "However, maybe at the time of the offences that may not have been the case. That's what the second assessment is going to determine.

"I hope once the final assessment is done, we'll be in a better position to know what we are looking at."

Sharif is to be back in court Feb. 12.

Immediately after the Edmonton event, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it a "terrorist attack" and police suggested they were investigating terror charges. An Islamic State flag was found in the car used in the attack, but no terrorism charges have been laid against Sharif.

Wesley Wark, one of Canada's leading experts on national security, intelligence and terrorism, said it's not unusual for terrorism charges to take some time.

"The challenge is that the Crown has to decide whether they can prove that the alleged individual acted for a political, religious or ideological motive," he said. "Very often, the question of laying specific terrorism charges or not will come down to that."

Wark said while it matters in public discourse, Sharif is already facing some serious charges.

"They are probably pretty closely aligned — attempted murder versus a very serious terrorism charge, which could carry up to a life imprisonment," he said.

The Crown could be waiting on the results of the second assessment before determining whether further charges are laid.

"In this particular case, given that the psychological assessment is still underway, I am sure they have to wait on that first," said Wark, a visiting professor at the graduate school of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa.

"Until they make a determination there, they can't possibly make a determination on the motives side."

Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press