2 Via Rail terror plotters sentenced to life in prison

Raed Jaser and Chiheb Esseghaier, the men convicted earlier this year on terrorism charges for plotting to derail a Via passenger train, were both sentenced to life in prison today in a Toronto courtroom.

Judge says terror plot was 'designed to result in indiscriminate killings'

Via Rail terror plotters sentenced to life in prison

7 years ago
Duration 2:24
Raed Jaser and Chiheb Esseghaier were convicted in March of terrorism charges

Raed Jaser and Chiheb Esseghaier, the men convicted earlier this year on terrorism charges for plotting to derail a Via passenger train, were both sentenced to life in prison today in a Toronto courtroom.

In passing sentence, Superior Court of Justice Judge Michael Code said the unusual gravity of terrorism offences means he had to send a strong enough message to deter others considering carrying out similar crimes. He said there was little evidence presented that mitigates the presumptive sentence of life in prison.

"These are the most serious of terrorism offences, designed to result in indiscriminate killings of innocent human beings," he said.

"I am satisfied that life imprisonment is the appropriate sentence," the judge added, noting that the men would receive credit for time already spent in custody.

He said both men have not renounced their violent, jihadist ideology and have shown no remorse.

Crown sought life sentences

In March, both men were found guilty of conspiring to commit murder for the benefit of, at the direction of or in association with a terrorist group.

Esseghaier, of Montreal, was found guilty of all charges against him, while Jaser, of Toronto, was convicted of all but one charge. The jury also found the men guilty of six other terror-related charges between them.

The Crown was seeking life sentences for both men. 

John Norris, Jaser's lawyer, argued for a sentence of 5½ years in jail which would include three years for time already served. Esseghaier made no sentencing submission. 

  Norris said he was disappointed with the outcome of the case and already had instructions to appeal both  Jaser's conviction and sentence.

"We do view it as excessive," Norris said of the sentence, adding that Jaser was "somewhat stunned" by Wednesday's developments. 

"He is a resilient man. He is trying to remain positive."

  Crown lawyers had asked for life sentences for both men and expressed their satisfaction with Code's decision.

"There was one message that was made loud and clear today," said Crown prosecutor Croft Michaelson. "That message is if you commit terrorist offences in Canada, with the intention of causing indiscriminate killing, you're going to pay a very heavy price."

  After the sentences were delivered, Jaser shook his head, closed his eyes at one point and held his face in one hand.

Esseghaier crossed his arms and leaned back in the prisoner's box as Code read out his 53-page sentencing decision.

'Sentence doesn't have any meaning'

"The life sentence doesn't have any meaning for me," Esseghaier told the judge after his sentence was delivered, adding God was his "master."

A copy of the ruling was offered to Esseghaier after it was read by the judge, but he threw it back.

Regarding Esseghaier, the judge addressed in detail questions about his mental health, including Esseghaier's assertion that it is currently the year 2014 and that he and his soul, will be released from jail on Dec. 25 of that year.

The judge called them "realizations" not "delusions" and said he's skeptical Esseghaier is schizophrenic​. In short, he said, Esseghaier's mental health was not a mitigating factor in the sentence.

"The evidence is overwhelming that he was not delusional or psychotic at the time of the offence," Code said. "It is unprecedented to adjourn a sentencing hearing indefinitely to await treatment."

Code said it was "unnecessary to arrive at any firm conclusions regarding Esseghaier's alleged mental illness."

The most important evidence in the case was 25 hours of secretly recorded conversations between the two men and an undercover FBI agent. The agent posed as a wealthy Egyptian-American real estate developer whose views had supposedly become more hard line in recent years and who was a willing accomplice in the conspiracy.

The court heard conversations in which Jaser and Esseghaier discussed their ideologies, the plot to derail a Via Rail train travelling between New York and Toronto and other ideas for potential attacks. 

Jurors were also shown aerial surveillance of the two accused and the undercover officer scouting a railway bridge in September 2012 in broad daylight as several trains passed by only metres away.

In passing sentence Wednesday, Code rejected Jaser's argument that he was entrapped by the undercover FBI agent, saying both he and Esseghaier were predisposed to carry out violent acts before the agent was introduced to the group. 

  "My overall impressions of Mr. Jaser are that he is intelligent,devious and untrustworthy," said Code. "He has not yet accepted responsibility for the offences, not yet expressed remorse, not yet renounced his violent and racist beliefs."

Both men must serve 10 years before they are eligible for parole.

With files from The Canadian Press


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?