A southern Ontario man who challenged authorities to charge him for his Canadian coin artwork will have his first court appearance in April.
Angus resident Khaled El-Kurdi, 36, was charged on March 10 with defacing a current coin and uttering a defaced coin. He's scheduled to appear in an Orangeville courtroom for a first appearance on April 6.
“One charge is for defacing the coin by altering the coin from its original state and the second is for offering that defaced coin for sale," Caledon OPP Const. Ian Michel told BarrieToday.
Michel said police were alerted to the situation through a public complaint after the accused was seen on Tik Tok selling the items.
Meanwhile, El-Kurdi also spoke to BarrieToday about the charges and said he was contacted by police on March 10 to turn himself in.
“I thought it was a joke, to be honest. But they said it was real and I had to be there before 4 p.m.,” he said. “I went to the Caledon OPP station and within two hours I was charged and released.”
In a video with news publication Vancouver Is Awesome published on Aug. 31. 2022, El-Kurdi explained what he does with the coins and said he knew it was illegal.
“I said in that video, I welcome the challenge if they want to challenge me for my art,” he said. “Now I am being challenged for my art and I feel like it needs to be discussed.
"I’m not the only person doing something like this," El-Kurdi added. "How many museums and other places have you seen that have those penny-flattening machines?”
El-Kurdi provided BarrieToday with 10 links to people who take Canadian coins and use them to make jewelry or other artwork.
“It's not even like what I’m doing to the coin is permanent, it can come off," he said. "All these other people are doing the same or more, but I’m being charged?"
He claims he spoke with the RCMP and law professors before any of this happened.
"The RCMP laughed and said they didn’t care. The law professors all said there’s no precedent and it shouldn’t stick," El-Kurdi said.
Even the OPP officer who spoke to BarrieToday said, “I have to say, this is a new one for me.”
El-Kurdi said he will likely retain counsel and his next steps depend on what happens after his first court appearance.
“I’m fairly versed in law. I’m not a lawyer or anything, but I did study for a few years. It honestly depends on how far they take this,” he said.
He says the punishment could be up to 12 months imprisonment and a $2,500 fine.
“That's the maximum, all because I engraved a total of maybe $40 of my own coins — money that was sitting in a jar for months at my house,” El-Kurdi said.
El-Kurdi says he makes a lot of different laser-engraved images on a variety of products, including signs for corporate branding and promotional products. He also repairs and modifies the machines he uses and teaches others how to use them.
“I tried it on a coin one day and it garnered so much attention on my social media that I thought, 'well, if this is getting me views right now, this is what I’ll do.' I did about a month's worth of art and the coins are for sale on my site,” he said.
“But I did it for about a month and nothing ever happened, and after I had stopped I got a call from someone I think was a cop, telling me to stop and that it was illegal," El-Kurdi added. "I thought, 'don’t tell me what to do' and I did it more. But the time between the last piece done and being charged was six months.”
His website, www.thelaserguy.co, still has two-dollar coins with his artwork for sale. Each coin is $20 and has a variety of engravings on them, from a picture of Sitting Bull to one with the message 'Free Palestine.' Many contain messages against the British monarchy.
El-Kurdi said he considers himself a political activist of sorts.
"I don’t believe in government. I don’t believe the government has our best interests in mind," he said. "I definitely don’t believe that the state of capitalism where it is now is where it’s at. I’m really big on controversy and I don’t care about doing controversial things, as long as I get a conversation going.”
El-Kurdi says he started his coin art around the time that the grounds of former residential schools were being investigated for bodies of Indigenous children who were taken from their homes and placed there. He admits that he may have started the art as a way to push against the monarchy, but also admitted “I just like to stir shit up.”
One of El-Kurdi’s Tik Tok videos shows him doing the engraving art on coins on top of the paperwork he was given detailing his charges in a move he admits was "petty."