In the News

Sep 08, 2019

Two men, Raed Jaser and Chiheb Esseghaier, had been arrested following Project Smooth, an RCMP national security investigation that began in 2012 and involved an undercover FBI informant who had infiltrated the alleged plot.

They were tried and convicted of terrorism in 2015, and lawyers get to work preparing for an appeal. Last week, they finally won the right to an appeal based on the type of jury selection chosen.

The case had been cited by the government as a successful disruption of a terrorist attack, as well as an example of the ongoing interest in targeting trains and rail infrastructure – but that was before the Court of Appeal overturned the conviction to allow a new trial.

According to the Government of Canada's Report on the Terrorism Threat:

"Individuals inspired by terrorist or violent ideologies continue to pose a significant threat to Canada, Canadians and Canadian interests. While Canada's terrorist threat environment remains stable, we are not immune to the threat of ideologically-inspired violence.

"[…] The Government also continues to list new terrorist entities under the Criminal Code, work to counter online threats, undertake efforts to counter radicalization to violence, and take a range of other measured steps to protect Canadians.

"Above all, the Government of Canada continues to counter terrorism in a manner consistent with the expectations of Canadians – to protect its people and its allies in a manner that reflects our shared values, rights and freedoms."

Canadians must be wondering if the courts share the interpretation that the law exists to protect public safety.

(6 Sept 2019)

Appeal court got it wrong

By Christie Blatchford

This OpEd by Christie Blatchford details the recent Court of Appeal decision to overturn the conviction of two men found guilty of terrorism in 2015 (for a plot to attack Toronto-bound passenger train) and order a new trial over what the defence argued was improper jury selection.

What on earth was the Ontario Court of Appeal thinking when it released a decision in the Via Rail terror trial, wonders Christie Blatchford in the National Post. Blatchford had covered the trial in 2015 and remarked "the trial was ghastly, but in the end, it was I thought remarkably fair." The two accused were convicted and sentenced... but their lawyers kept busy pulling at every possible thread to get an appeal.

"It wasn’t because there was a shred of evidence the trial had been unfair, but rather because at the time of jury selection, the lawyers and prosecutors agreed that because of pre-trial publicity, prospective jurors should be screened for potential bias (against people of colour, or against Muslims) or because they already had formed an opinion as to guilt." Blatchford details the process and explains why that type of jury selection was the right call, but ultimately, this is where the Court of Appeal ruled differently.

(27 August 2019)

Men found guilty in Via Rail terror plot win new trial over improper jury selection

By Stewart Bell and Andrew Russell

The Ontario appeals court has thrown out the convictions of two men sentenced to life over an alleged al-Qaida-linked plot to attack a Toronto-bound passenger train.

In a unanimous ruling, the appeals court said “a legal error by the trial judge” had deprived Jaser of his preferred method for selecting jurors.


(Feb 2015)

Train derailment plot 'very simple idea,' Via Rail terror trial hears

The two men were arrested in April 2013 for a plan to derail a train travelling between the Canada and the U.S.

It was a “very simple” idea that would kill scores of people and pave the way for more acts of terrorism, the trial of two men accused in the alleged plot heard Tuesday.

The proposed attack was characterized that way by Chiheb Esseghaier in an audio recording of a conversation he had with an undercover FBI officer while the pair were on their way to meet his co-conspirator, Raed Jaser.

The FBI officer also told the court of Esseghaier's other idea, to recruit a Muslim chef to poison troops on an army base, but acknowledged that little progress had been made on that project.

(March 2015)

Guilty verdicts for men accused in Via Rail terrorist plot

After 10 days of deliberations, the 12-member panel found Raed Jaser and Chiheb Esseghaier guilty of a terror-related conspiracy to commit murder. Jurors also convicted the men of two counts of participating in, or contributing to, the activity of a terrorist group.

(Sept 2015)

Jaser, Esseghaier sentenced to life in prison

Judge Michael Code dismissed psychiatrists’ findings that Esseghaier is severely mentally ill, actively psychotic, and probably suffering from schizophrenia. He also rejected arguments that entrapment was an issue in the case.

The two defendants were sentenced to life in prison without parole for at least 10 years.

Crown Prosecutor Croft Michaelson reiterates there is “no evidence” Esseghaier was unfit to stand trial or mentally ill when he conspired to derail the train.