Via suspect still unable to find lawyer willing to push for Qur'an-based trial

TORONTO – The cases of two terror suspects charged in an alleged plot to attack a Via Rail passenger train couldn’t move forward Tuesday because one of the men cannot find a lawyer.

Chiheb Esseghaier and Raed Jaser briefly appeared separately in court via video from detention centres and are set to return Aug. 19.

Crown Attorney Sarah Shaikh told the court that she had hoped to be able to schedule a judicial pre-trial for both, but it wasn’t possible since Esseghaier has no lawyer.

Esseghaier has said at previous appearances that he does not want to be judged by the Criminal Code, rather he wants the Qur’an to be used for his judgment.

“I want that the lawyer help me to change the reference of my case from the laws used by humans to the laws of the holy book,” he told the court at his previous appearance earlier this month.

Tuesday marked the first appearance since Esseghaier’s arrest in April that he did not take an opportunity to decry the Criminal Code. He spoke only to say he understood what Shaikh said. Esseghaier has been able to secure legal aid.

Both Esseghaier and Jaser have received their first wave of disclosure and a second set is coming, Shaikh told the court.

The men were arrested in April and face several terrorism-related charges in what police allege was a plot guided by al-Qaida in Iran to attack a Via train that runs between Toronto and New York City.

Police stressed at the time of the arrests that there was no imminent threat to the public.

Jaser is represented by John Norris and Brydie Bethell. Norris has denied the allegations against his client.

Esseghaier, a PhD student doing doctoral research on nanosensors, is facing five charges, including instructing someone to carry out an activity for the benefit of a terrorist group.

Both he and Jaser are charged with conspiracy to murder for the benefit of a terrorist group, participating in a terrorist group and conspiring to interfere with transportation facilities for the benefit of a terrorist group. Esseghaier faces an additional count of participating in a terrorist group.

If convicted, they could be sentenced to life in prison.

A third man named Ahmed Abassi is facing terrorism charges in the U.S. and prosecutors allege he had “radicalized” Esseghaier.

American authorities also say Abassi did not support the alleged Via Rail plot and was pushing for a different plan that would contaminate the air or water with bacteria and kill up to 100,000 people.