Esseghaier mentally ill but fit for sentencing, psychiatrist tells court

A sentencing hearing is set to resume today for two men found guilty in a plot to derail a passenger train travelling between Canada and the U.S.

Via Rail terror suspect Chiheb Esseghaier's mental health has come under question during sentencing

Chiheb Esseghaier is pictured spitting in court Wednesday. The terror suspect is fit to be sentenced even though he likely suffers from a mental illness, a psychiatrist told a courtroom. (Pam Davies/CBC) (Pam Davies/CBC)

The second psychiatrist to assess the mental state of a man found guilty in a terror plot to derail a passenger train says he likely suffers from a mental illness.

But Dr. Philip Klassen adds he nonetheless thinks Chiheb Esseghaier is fit to be sentenced.

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 -- and six other terror-related charges between them. Their sentencing hearing is currently under way.

During their last court session in July, the Toronto judge presiding over the case ordered a second mental health assessment for Esseghaier after concluding that an earlier one had "serious flaws."

In that first assessment, Dr. Lisa Ramshaw said she believed Esseghaier was unable to participate in his sentencing hearing because he is likely schizophrenic.

Klassen is testifying that he also thinks Esseghaier is likely schizophrenic but, unlike Ramshaw, believes Esseghaier understands the nature of his court proceedings and is fit to be sentenced.

Klassen also noted that his assessment had to be conducted without interviewing Esseghaier because the man refused to meet with him. He based his assessment on court documents, interview transcripts and Esseghaier's previous mental health assessment.

'You are lying'

An angry Esseghaier vehemently disagreed with Klassen's opinions Wednesday, spitting at lawyers in court to get the judge's attention before launching into a loud argument.

"You are lying," he told Klassen. "Which delusion, which schizophrenia and which mental illness? We are before December 2014, because I am alive. If you say it's a delusion then the Qur'an is a delusion."

Esseghaier has said in court before that he believes he will die and his soul will be taken up to heaven on Dec. 25, 2014. Because that has not yet happened, he said he doesn't believe it is currently September 2015.

He has often gone on rambling rants in the courtroom and even prayed in the prisoner's dock, but his mental state only became an issue in the case after Ramshaw's assessment was presented in court.

Justice Michael Code also expressed his dissatisfaction with Ramshaw's report last month, saying there was not "a scintilla of evidence" from the pretrial and trial record to suggest Esseghaier was unfit to stand trial.

He called Ramshaw's report on Esseghaier an "unsatisfactory psychiatric assessment" to which he could attach little or no weight.

Klassen noted that his own assessment of Esseghaier agreed with Ramshaw's "a fair bit" in the areas of mental health diagnosis, but differed in the area of legal decisions into fitness.

 Both Esseghaier and Jaser face the prospect of life in prison.