POLITICS

Ten things the jury was shielded from at the Via Rail terror plot trial

03/11/2015 11:53 EDT | Updated 05/11/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - A Toronto jury has spent just over a month hearing the case of Raed Jaser and Chiheb Esseghaier who are accused of plotting to derail a passenger train between Canada and the U.S. Here's a list of details about the case that the jury was shielded from.

— QUR'AN VS CRIMINAL CODE: Esseghaier engaged in several outbursts in court before his trial began, particularly on the matter of using the Qur'an in place of the Criminal Code. When asked by Justice Michael Code, who presided over the case, if the Qur'an would come to different result about conspiracy to commit murder than a Canadian jury, Esseghaier cryptically said "just wait and see who is in truth and who is in falsehood."

— JASER'S SEVERANCE MOTION: Jaser sought to be tried separately from his alleged accomplice, arguing Esseghaier's religious tirades would taint both of them in the jury's eyes. His lawyer argued in a pretrial motion that Esseghaier's impassioned courtroom speeches about Islam posed "a serious risk of moral prejudice" to Jaser. The judge ruled there was no evidence to suggest Esseghaier would behave in front of a jury the same way he did before a judge alone.

— TAKING THINGS TO PARLIAMENT: Esseghaier suggested his arguments about being tried under the rules of the Qur'an should be submitted to Parliament for consideration if the judge didn't have the power to order the holy book to be used in the case.

— HAPPY IN JAIL: Esseghaier told the judge he had "completely disconnected" from his past life, a decision which cost him his PhD and his freedom, but he said he was "very happy" in jail because he "realized the truth."

— DAILY REMINDER: Every day of the trial, before the jury entered, the judge acknowledged Esseghaier's view that he considered himself a "a visitor who gives sincere advice to the people of the courtroom and not as an accused on trial."

— RELUCTANT ACCUSED: Just over a week before the trial began, Esseghaier said he didn't want to be present in court because, he argued, his presence at the trial would mean he approved of "a lot of things that God forbid in the Holy Qur'an." At one point he told the judge: "if you do not let me go, I will jump by myself and I will go to the door." The incident caused security officers to rush to his side and eventually resulted in Esseghaier being ordered to a separate room with a video feed of court proceedings.

— PROTECTING THE FBI OFFICER: Crown lawyers sought eight separate orders in a pretrial application to protect the identity of an undercover FBI officer who gained the trust of Esseghaier and Jaser. They included having the officer testify under the pseudonym he used with the accused and removing the public from the courtroom during his testimony, having them sit instead in an adjacent room where an audio and video feed would be sent without revealing the officer's image.

— HIGH STAKES: Two affidavits from senior police officials in Canada and the U.S. were used to support the Crown's application regarding the undercover officer, and were found to be "persuasive," the judge said when he approved all eight orders. He noted that the affidavits "set out the ongoing or anticipated undercover work" of the officer in terrorism investigations, as well as "the ongoing efforts of terrorist groups and of certain individuals operating Internet websites to identify the small number of undercover officers who are trained and suitable for these kinds of investigations."

— SCREEN OR DISGUISE: The judge had considered having the undercover officer testify behind a screen that would prevent him from being seen and also considered having him wear a "light disguise." The screen idea was dismissed because it "would arguably signal to members of the jury that there was some danger to witnesses." The disguise option was opposed by Jaser's lawyer, who wanted to be able to assess the officer's demeanour, a point the judge agreed with.

— PRESERVING NORMALCY: While the undercover officer testified, Code noted that police officers could also be present in the public gallery of the courtroom "to leave an impression of as much normalcy as possible for the jury."