POLITICS

Via Rail terror suspect unlikely to find Qu'ran-based lawyer, Crown says

10/21/2013 11:02 EDT | Updated 12/21/2013 05:12 EST
TORONTO - It's unlikely a man accused of plotting to attack a Via Rail passenger train will be able to find a lawyer willing to follow the Qu'ran rather than the Criminal Code, a prosecutor said Monday.

The comment came during a brief hearing for Chiheb Esseghaier to set a date for judicial pre-trial.

Crown lawyer Croft Michaelson told Ontario Superior Court Justice Ian Nordheimer that Esseghaier, 31, is a "self-represented accused" due to his insistence on retaining a lawyer willing to follow the Qu'ran.

"The likelihood that he'll be represented by counsel is pretty slim," Michaelson said.

Esseghaier will next appear Dec. 9 for a judicial pre-trial, a hearing that will be closed to the public, along with his co-accused, Raed Jaser.

The purpose of the hearing will be to allow more expeditious proceedings, the Crown said.

Unlike in previous appearances, Esseghaier, of Quebec, said little during the hearing, except to answer that he knew what was going on.

"Yes, I understand all that," he said.

Also Monday, Jaser's bail application was postponed until Nov. 20 after his lawyer, John Norris, said an issue with a key surety had emerged.

"I learned last week that a surety is not in the country at the moment," Norris told the court.

He said there was "no creative way" to proceed without the person, whom he refused to identify.

Jaser, 35, a permanent resident of Palestinian descent who lives in Toronto, faces four charges, including conspiracy to murder for the benefit of a terrorist group.

Esseghaier, a Tunisian national doing doctoral research on nanosensors, is facing five charges, including participating in a terrorist group.

The duo were arrested in April and accused of plotting to attack a train that travels from New York City to Ontario.

Police have released few details but have called it Canada's "first known al-Qaida plan of attack."

At a previous hearing, the Crown announced it would proceed by way of a direct indictment, avoiding a preliminary trial.

Outside court, Norris said he was "disappointed" with that decision and said he was reviewing it to see if there was any prejudice to his client.

One benefit, however, could be that a trial could be held more quickly, Norris said, although it's unlikely to happen for at least a year.

A third man, Ahmed Abassi, is facing terrorism charges in the U.S. Prosecutors allege he "radicalized" Esseghaier.