Raed Jaser, who is accused of plotting an "al-Qaeda-supported" scheme to kill people by derailing a Via passenger train, was jailed in Toronto nine years ago and facing deportation.
Records show that, in 2004, he had been convicted five times of fraud and had adopted several fake names in the course of his petty crimes.
Federal agents who jailed him on an outstanding deportation warrant argued that, even though he had called Canada home since arriving as teenager in 1993, his criminal record meant that he had to go.
Yet Mr. Jaser, now 35, marshalled a crucial counterargument during his hearing: He was stateless.
And he said Canada could not send him back to his homeland because no country on Earth had ever claimed him.
"I am a Palestinian by blood; that does not give me any rights whatsoever in my place of birth," Mr. Jaser told an adjudicator at the 2004 hearing, according to a transcript.
He explained that he was born in the United Arab Emirates to migrant Palestinian workers, but that the UAE never gave such people citizenship.
The situation is hardly unique. Federal officials frequently wrestle with thorny questions about how to remove deportees to homelands that choose not to recognize them.
To solve such dilemmas, officials can press foreign diplomats to issue passports for people tied to foreign lands by birth or heritage. But experts say such extraordinary efforts often depend on whether the government views a deportee as inherently dangerous and worth the effort or a tolerable risk to Canada.
Before his fraud convictions, Mr. Jaser arrived in Toronto as part of an Arab family of five who flew in on false passports.
Court records show that Mr. Jaser's father, Mohammed, sought asylum claiming he had suffered successive waves of persecution: first as a Palestinian when the Israeli state was created; then in the UAE, where he was a migrant worker for 24 years; then in Germany when a racist mob tossed a Molotov cocktail at his family home while they were seeking asylum in Europe.
In Canada, the family got a break – officials gave them immigration status even though they didn't find the claims persuasive. But Raed Jaser was deemed deportable in 1998 because of his criminal record.
It took government agents six years to catch up with him. In 2004, he was arrested pending a deportation hearing.
At the end of the hearing, an Immigration and Refugee Board adjudicator ordered Mr. Jaser released on $3,000 bail to live with his uncle while pursuing his appeals.
"He is a person who is stateless at this time," reads the adjudicator's ruling. He ordered that Mr. Jaser "not engage in any activity that may result in a conviction under an Act of Parliament."
On Monday, the RCMP charged Mr. Jaser – now a permanent resident of Canada – with three counts of violating the Anti-Terrorism Act. He and a Tunisian acquaintance, Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, are accused of conspiring to commit murder and acts of terrorism under the guidance of shadowy figures in Iran.
On Tuesday, the UAE embassy to Canada circulated a press release stating that both suspects "are not nationals of the United Arab Emirates."
On Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Mr. Jaser has flown to the UAE several times on a Jordanian passport.