Toronto court rules woman must remove niqab to testify

Judge says veil would obscure ability to assess woman’s demeanour


Source: CBC News

An Ontario judge ruled today that a woman accusing two family members of molesting her as a child must remove her face veil during testimony.

An Ontario judge ruled today that a woman accusing two family members of molesting her as a child must remove her face veil during testimony. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters)

An Ontario judge has ruled a woman must remove her niqab to testify in a Toronto sexual assault case.

Justice Norris Weisman announced his decision after applying a new testset out by the Supreme Court of Canada dealing with witnesses wearing a veil. The woman at the centre of the case is known only as N.S.

“I conclude that to permit N.S. to testify at the preliminary inquiry with her face obscured by the niqab will impair defence counsels’ ability to assess her demeanour, as well as the [judge’s] ability to assess her credibility,” Weisman said.

The woman has been fighting for six years for the right to wear her niqab during the trial of her uncle and cousin, who are accused of sexually assaulting her when she was a child in the 1980s.

Weisman had first ruled in 2008 that N.S. must remove her niqab during testimony. That decision was appealed all the way up to Supreme Court.

The test set out by Canada’s top court in December includes four issues a judge must consider, including: the potential witness’s depth of religious belief, and whether the veil could lessen the fairness of the trial.

The preliminary hearing for the two relatives accused of sexually abusing the woman is scheduled to begin next week, but her lawyer said the ruling on the niqab will be appealed.

About to turn 75, Judge Weisman is set to retire on May 1.


Does al-Qaeda have a network in Canada?

Militant Islamist group remains an inspiration to many would-be extremists



Source: CBC News(Andre Mayer)

Security experts say a thwarted plot to derail a passenger train between Toronto and New York is proof of the lingering influence of al-Qaeda in Canada.

“I would say its influence now is as great or greater than it’s ever been, though more in an indirect sense,” says Lorne Dawson, co-director of the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society.

Dawson says that one of the achievements of the group behind the Sept. 11 attacks was inspiring like-minded organizations and setting “an example to all these groups around the world on how to reach out and communicate” to would-be extremists.

Part of its indirect influence has been to inspire “self-appointed jihadis” who take it upon themselves to seek out people willing to carry out attacks, and then pass these individuals up the line for further training by someone else.

The alleged train attack plot “appears to be a manifestation of what [Osama] bin Laden advised the world some years ago — namely, that there are a handful of countries that he had wanted struck,” said David Harris, an Ottawa-based lawyer and director of Insignis Strategic Research.

“Canada was among them, and Canada remains the only one of the lot yet to be hit on the scale that al-Qaeda has desired,” he added.

On Monday, RCMP charged Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montreal, and Raed Jaser, 35, of Toronto, with conspiracy to carry out a terrorist attack and “conspiring to murder persons unknown for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a terrorist group.”

U.S. law enforcement and national security sources told Reuters that these individuals were targeting a rail line between Toronto and New York.

RCMP Assistant Commissioner James Malizia said the two accused were getting “direction and guidance” from al-Qaeda elements in Iran.

The evolution of al-Qaeda

Since the details of the plot were revealed on Monday, many commentators have remarked on how unusual it is that al-Qaeda, a Sunni Muslim organization formed by Osama bin Laden, would have a presence in Iran, a country made up largely of Shia Muslims.

Canadian security expert Wesley Wark says the notion of al-Qaeda as a centralized command structure that authorizes and carries out attacks in Western countries is “a thing of the past.”

He says that even before bin Laden’s death in 2011, the group had splintered off into localized factions, such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, that were more focused on insurgencies in countries such as Mali or Yemen.

“From my perspective, I don’t think al-Qaeda affiliates are likely to target Canada. I think their operations will be primarily on regional environments,” says Wark.

What’s fuelling prospective Muslim radicals in Canada, he says, is the “al-Qaeda narrative” — namely, the legacy and inspiration of bin Laden.

In 2004, Momin Khawaja became the first Canadian charged under Canada's Anti-terrorism Act.

In 2004, Momin Khawaja became the first Canadian charged under Canada’s Anti-terrorism Act.(Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)

Wark says this narrative had a great influence on the Toronto 18, a group that attempted to create an al-Qaeda-type cell in Toronto and carry out attacks on Canadian landmarks; as well as on Mohmin Khawaja, the Canadian-born computer programmer who was convicted in 2008 of financing and facilitating terrorist activities in London.

‘Self-appointed jihadis’

Dawson, who is based in the department of sociology and legal studies at the University of Waterloo, has looked at case studies of extremists and heard from many experts in the field of radicalization.

He says that in the absence of a top-down recruitment drive, the self-appointed jihadis inspired by al-Qaeda often become “middlemen,” taking it upon themselves to seek out people willing to carry out attacks.

These middlemen “are pretty adept at using the internet, they’ve had conversations in chat forums and they become sort of entrepreneurs,” says Dawson.

“They’re the ones that get in contact with younger people. Conversations are had, and they discover whether they’re dealing with a young person somewhere and whether their commitment [to the cause] is sincere. ”

Once the middleman is convinced the recruit is serious, Dawson says it could lead to a “referral” to a more senior operative who could provide the young radical with training and guidance.

The radicalization problem

Jabeur Fathally, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, believes this country’s experiences with radicalization can be partly attributed to the fallout of the Arab Spring, as well as Canada’s generous immigration policies.

Under such former authoritarian leaders as Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, for example, people that these regimes deemed radical Muslims were often persecuted and denied passports.

But since the overthrow of such strongmen, many Islamist parties have come to power in the Middle East, and have encouraged many of their previously persecuted citizens to study, work or otherwise do business in immigrant-friendly countries such as Canada.

While not all of them are radicals, Fathally says that at least some have sympathies with more hardline, Islamist thought.

“These people can fly easily, they can go to Turkey, they can move easily to Europe, and they can come easily to Canada,” says Fathally.

However, despite the recent media coverage of al-Qaeda-inspired plots in Canada, Wark doesn’t believe that these individuals pose the same existential threat that bin Laden’s group did in its heyday.

“I think they are a lesser threat than an organized, professional, trained network of the kind that al-Qaeda once was,” he says.

“It’s a challenge to uncover them, but the danger that they present is of a smaller degree.”



Canada train plot suspects in court; to fight charges



By Allison Martell and Randall Palmer

TORONTO/MONTREAL (Reuters) – Two men charged with an alleged al Qaeda-backed plot to derail a Canadian passenger train made their first court appearances on Tuesday, and the lawyer for one said his client would fight the charges vigorously.

Raed Jaser, 35, of Toronto and Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montrealface charges that include conspiring with each other “to murder unknown persons … for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a terrorist group.”

They were arrested on Monday in separate raids after what police said was a joint Canada-U.S. investigation that started in the middle of last year after a tip from a member of the Muslim community.

Officers detained Jaser at his home, a semi-detached house in a north Toronto neighborhood, and arrested Esseghaier at a McDonald’s restaurant at Montreal’s main train station.

Canadian police said the plot involved a passenger train route in the Toronto area, and that there had been no immediate threat to rail passengers or to the public.

U.S. officials said that the suspects were believed to have worked on a plan involving blowing up a trestle on the Canadian side of the border as the Maple Leaf, Amtrak’s daily connection between Toronto and New York, passed over it.

They said investigators on both sides of the border were trying to establish if the suspects had associates in the United States, especially in New York City. One source said Esseghaier, in particular, was believed to have made several trips to the United States. CBC Television said Canadian police had tracked him for a year, including on a visit to a conference in Mexico.


Jaser, heavily bearded and wearing a black cap, was remanded in custody after a brief hearing in Toronto. Media were barred from giving details of Jaser’s hearing under a publication ban requested by his lawyer.

“He denies the allegations and he will vigorously defend them,” said the lawyer, John Norris, who has represented Canadian Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr, as well as Asad Ansari, one of a group of Toronto-area men charged in 2006 with planning attacks on Canadian targets.

Norris would not disclose Jaser’s nationality, saying the publication ban precluded discussing Jaser’s personal circumstances. He said Jaser has been a resident of Canada for 20 years.

Norris questioned the timing of the arrests, given a statement by police that the suspects posed no imminent threat. He noted that the arrest coincided with debate in Canada over a vote that would revive parts of the anti-terrorism act, which is supported by the Conservative government.

“The timing of the arrest is a bit of a mystery,” he said.


Outside the courtroom, a middle-aged man and a woman in a cream-colored hijab identified themselves as members of Jaser’s family, but would not answer questions.

With them were two younger men, and two women in full black niqab face veils, who fled when confronted with a throng of reporters, photographers and television crews.

Neighbors of Jaser told Reuters that he mostly kept to himself and attended a Masjid al-Faisal, a mosque in a refashioned house a short walk from his home.

“He was a normal attendee. If he’s coming he says ‘salaam’ to us and we say ‘salaam’ to him. Nothing more special, nothing more unusual, nothing more abnormal,” said Rana Khan, a congregant at the mosque. His alleged involvement in a plot was “a very, very shocking news for all of us over here.”

Esseghaier, a Tunisian-born doctoral student at a Montreal-area university, was flown to Toronto on Monday, but was quickly returned to Montreal to meet a legal requirement that he appear in a Quebec court within 24 hours of his arrest.

Bearded and bespectacled and wearing a shabby blue-and-black winter jacket, handcuffs and leg shackles, he told the judge there that conclusions had been drawn from facts and words “that are only appearances.”

A spokeswoman for the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique near Montreal confirmed to Reuters that Esseghaier was a doctoral student at the research institute.

At the hearing he was remanded in custody, and federal prosecutor Richard Roy said he expected Esseghaier to be flown back to Toronto later on Tuesday for a court appearance there.

Esseghaier represented himself at the hearing, which was not covered by a publication ban.

Canadian authorities have linked the two men to al Qaeda factions in Iran. But they said there was no indication of Iranian state-sponsorship of the plan, which police described as the first known al Qaeda-backed plot on Canadian soil.


“Had this plot been carried out, it would have resulted in innocent people being killed or seriously injured,” Royal Canadian Mounted Police official James Malizia said on Monday.

Iran had some senior al Qaeda figures under a form of house arrest in the years following the September 11, 2001, attacks, but there has been little to no evidence to date of joint attempts to execute violence against the West.

However, a U.S. government source said Iran is home to a little-known network of alleged al Qaeda fixers and “facilitators” based in the city of Zahedan, very close to Iran’s borders with both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Iran reacted angrily to being tied to the arrests. Canada last year severed diplomatic ties over what it said was Iran’s support for terrorist groups, as well as its nuclear programmed and its hostility towards Israel.

“No shred of evidence regarding those who’ve been arrested and stand accused has been provided,” Iranian Foreign Minister spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said, according to the Mehr news agency.

(Additional reporting by Alastair Sharp and Mark Hosenball; Writing by Cameron French; Editing by Janet Guttsman and David Storey)

(This story is refiled to exclude ‘with each other’ from quotation marks in second paragraph)

Canadian security forces arrest two and thwart terrorist plot to derail New York to Toronto trains at Niagara Falls with the help of al-Qaeda leaders in IRAN




  • Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montreal, and Raed Jaser, 35, of Toronto, were arrested today
  • Suspected received orders and got guidance from al-Qaeda leader in Iran
  • Planned to target New York-bound trains in Toronto
  • May have scouted targets in New York

Canadian security forces have thwarted an al-Qaeda-backed terrorist plot to derail a passenger train from New York City as it crossed the Niagara River, just a few miles from Niagara Falls.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police today arrested Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montreal, and Raed Jaser, 35, of Toronto, who they say took orders and received guidance from al-Qaeda operatives in Iran.

Officials reportedly watched the men for more than a year and say the plot never got past the planning stages. Canadian counter-terrorism officials say the public was never in danger, the the men would have carried out the attack if they had not been stopped.

Neither of the men are Canadian citizens, but security officials wouldn’t say where they were from or why they were in the country.

Targeted: Authorities say Via Rail trains, Canada's national passenger rail service, were targeted by two accused terrorists Targeted: Authorities say two accused terrorists conducted surveillance on Via Rail trains, Canada’s national passenger rail service, with the intention of derailing one of the trains

A U.S. law enforcement source told Reuters the alleged plot was not linked with last week’s Boston Marathon bombings.

The two men allegedly planned to derail an Amtrak or Canadian Via train as it crossed over the Whirpool Rapids Bridge from the United States into Canada.

The historic arch bridge spans the Niagara River 225 feet above the water.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation said the operations was conducted with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the FBI.

A source told Reuters that the Amtrak Maple Leaf line, which runs from New York City to Toronto, was targeted. Canadian officials declined to confirm which trains were targeted.

‘Today’s arrests demonstrate that terrorism continues to be a real threat to Canada,’ Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told reporters in Ottawa.

‘Canada will not tolerate terrorist activity and we will not be used as a safe haven for terrorists or those who support terrorist activities.’

Perhaps the biggest surprise to come out of the announcement is that the orders were given by al-Qaeda leaders in Iran.

Iran, a Shi’a-majority country, is a strange ally for the fiercely Sunni Muslim terrorist group.

CNN reported last month that the few surviving members of Osama bin Laden‘s inner circle currently reside in Iran.

Some of bin Laden’s family are said to be under house arrest in Tehran. Others – including top advisers – live in the ski resort city of Chalus on the Caspian Sea.

Canadian authorities, though, were careful to make clear that this was not an instance of state-sponsored terrorism.

The arrests follow not only the Boston bombings but revelations that Canadians took part in an attack by militants on a gas plant in Algeria in January.

It also recalls the arrests in 2006 of a group of more than a dozen Toronto-area men accused of planning to plant bombs at various Canadian targets. Eleven men were eventually convicted of taking part on the plot.

Announcement: Authorities gave few details about the plot, but said the public was never in dangerAnnouncement: Authorities gave few details about the plot, but said the public was never in danger

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