Via Rail terror plotter to appeal life sentence after undergoing mental health treatment

Chiheb Esseghaier, one of two men sentenced to plotting with al-Qaida in Iran to derail a train in Canada, arriving at Buttonville Airport just north of Toronto on April 23, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Chiheb Esseghaier, one of the men found guilty in a terrorist plot to derail a Via Rail passenger train between Canada and the U.S., wishes to appeal his life sentence after undergoing treatment for schizophrenia.

Esseghaier and his co-accused, Raed Jaser, were found guilty in March 2015 of a total of eight terror-related charges between them — including conspiring to commit murder for the benefit of, at the direction of or in association with a terrorist group.

Only Esseghaier was found guilty of conspiring to derail a Via Rail passenger train heading from New York to Toronto by drilling a hole into a railway bridge under cover of darkness.

READ MORE: Via terror trial: Jaser, Esseghaier sentenced to life in prison

They were sentenced to life in prison in September 2015 after being found fit to stand trial, with no chance of parole until 2023.

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Erin Dann, a court-appointed amicus or legal assistant, said Esseghaier is currently serving his time in a British Columbia prison and is taking antipsychotic medication for schizophrenia.

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“He has told me that he wants to appeal his sentence so he will be making an application to the Court of Appeal to extend the time to file a notice of appeal against the sentence,” she said Wednesday, adding the notice would be filed in the very near future.

“The basis for his request is essentially that he has been treated with antipsychotic medication and now sort of understands the severity of the sentence and wishes to appeal it.”

During the trial, Judge Michael Code dismissed two forensic psychiatrists’ findings that Esseghaier is severely mentally ill, actively psychotic, and probably suffered from schizophrenia.

Code said he wasn’t convinced Esseghaier, who has insisted on representing himself, was schizophrenic — and instead believed he was just a religious extremist.

VIDEO: Two men convicted of a deadly plot to derail a VIA Rail passenger train sentenced to life in prison (Sept. 23, 2015)

Previously, the amicus appointed to advise the court on Esseghaier’s behalf had asked for Esseghaier to be hospitalized and treated for his illness, and for him to be assessed to determine to what degree, if any, mental illness influenced or was responsible for his actions.

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Code rejected that request and said during the trial that justice demands the two be sentenced as soon as possible. But he did agree to have a psychiatrist assess Esseghaier once he was in prison.

With files from The Canadian Press

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