TORONTO – The jury that will determine the fate of two men accused of plotting to derail a passenger train between Canada and the U.S. was warned Friday that it must carefully consider all evidence in the case with an open mind before coming to a verdict.
In the first instalment of what Justice Michael Code said would be a lengthy set of instructions, jurors were reminded that both Raed Jaser and Chiheb Esseghaier were presumed innocent despite their arrest and the charges they face.
“You have a direct and deciding voice in the administration of justice,” Code told the 14-member panel as he began his 250-page charge. “Your responsibility as jurors is to protect persons from unjust convictions and to protect the safety and security of the community.”
Jaser and Esseghaier both face multiple terror-related charges in the alleged plot to derail a Via Rail train travelling from New York to Toronto. Jaser pleaded not guilty and Esseghaier, who refused to participate in the trial, had a not guilty plea entered for him by Code.
Jurors were told that the details of the charges against both men will be gone over in detail on Monday, but on Friday Code emphasized that there was no burden on Jaser or Esseghaier to prove their innocence.
“The Crown must prove that Mr. Esseghaier and Mr. Jaser are guilty of any offence on which they are charged beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said, explaining that a reasonable doubt is one “based on reason and common sense” after all the evidence has been considered.
“It’s not enough for you to believe that Mr. Esseghaier or Mr. Jaser is probably or likely guilty. In those circumstances you must find him not guilty,” he said.
“If at the end of the case, after considering all the evidence, you are sure that Mr. Esseghaier or Mr. Jaser committed a particular offence, you should find him guilty of it.”
Code repeatedly reminded jurors that they must consider the evidence presented in the case “in its totality” and also cautioned the jury not to indulge in conjecture or speculation “in matters which have no evidentiary foundation.”
“Your inferences should be rational,” he said. “Speculation has no part in the judicial function.”
The Crown has argued there is an “overwhelming” amount of evidence against both Jaser and Esseghaier, and has urged the jury to find both men guilty on all charges.
Esseghaier, who is self-represented and has refused to participate in the trial because he does not believe in the Criminal Code, told jurors through an unusual closing address that only the Qur’an should be used to judge him.
Jaser’s lawyer argued that his client was never interested in carrying out terrorist activities but instead wanted to extract money from his co-accused and an undercover FBI agent who joined their alleged plot.
The court has heard hours of secretly recorded conversations between Jaser, Esseghaier and the undercover officer in which they discuss ideology and alleged terror plots — including the alleged train derailment plan.
The trial heard that Jaser and Esseghaier’s alleged attack was being planned in retaliation for western military action in Muslim countries. Court also heard that the pair scouted at least two railway bridges and mused about drilling a hole in a bridge in order to derail the train and kill those on board.
Jaser and Esseghaier were arrested in April 2013.