Mental health of man convicted in Via plot 'real issue': lawyer

Lawyer argues Chiheb Esseghaier needs to be assessed by a psychiatrist

TORONTO – A court-appointed lawyer is demanding a mental health assessment for one of two men found guilty of terrorism charges in a case involving a plot to derail a passenger train.

Lawyer Russell Silverstein says Chiheb Esseghaier needs to be assessed by a psychiatrist because the findings of that exercise could impact the Tunisian national’s sentence.

He says Esseghaier’s mental health is a “real issue” in the case and one that needs to be investigated.

“A psychiatrist appointed by the court would… be able to tell you whether these are all the behavioural manifestations of a religious zealot or whether there is an aspect to Mr. Esseghaier that falls under the Mental Health At,” Silverstein said.

“This is all about fairness.”

Esseghaier, who refused to participate in his trial because he wanted to be judged under the rules of the Qur’an, is telling the court he doesn’t mind talking to doctors because he’s always eager to share his religious values.

“This doesn’t mean that I approve that I have mental problems,” he said in court. “It’s my duty to invite people to God…that’s why I accept to meet with whoever person.”

Esseghaier said he was created by God to “warn mankind” about “hellfire” if they didn’t follow the messages of the Qur’an.

“God, out of mercy for humankind, he renew his warning through my case out of his own mercy,” he said. “That’s why he created me.”

Crown prosecutors are arguing that Esseghaier has fervent religious beliefs but say a mental health assessment isn’t necessary for the sentencing phase of the trial.

“Court should be really loathe to order an intrusive psychiatric assessment,” Crown prosecutor Croft Michaelson told the judge presiding over the case.

Esseghaier and his co-accused , Raed Jaser, were found guilty in March of a terror-related conspiracy to commit murder, which carries a sentence of up to life in prison. The jury also found the men guilty of six other terror-related charges between them.

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