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Man convicted in Via Rail terror plot seeks to appeal sentence

Chiheb Esseghaier arrives at Buttonville Airport just north of Toronto on Tuesday, April 23, 2013.

Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A man found guilty of plotting to derail a passenger train between Canada and the U.S. is seeking to appeal his sentence as well as his conviction, saying mental illness previously kept him from making rational decisions about his case.

In an amended inmate notice of appeal filed Wednesday with Ontario's top court, Chiheb Esseghaier said his original notice targeted his conviction alone because he was unable to understand the severity of his life sentence.

"At the time I filed that notice, I was very ill. I suffer from schizophrenia," he wrote.

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"I was suffering from delusions and believed that I would die and my soul would ascend to heaven on December 25, 2014. Because of this delusion, I did not believe that the life sentence imposed was real and did not want to acknowledge the existence or legality of the sentence by appealing it."

Esseghaier began taking anti-psychotic medication after he was transferred to a prison in British Columbia and eventually realized the gravity of the sentence, he said.

He now lists four grounds for appeal, two of them related to his mental state. He alleges his mental illness had an impact on his conviction and sentence, and goes on to argue that he was unfit to stand trial.

Esseghaier, a deeply religious Muslim, also alleges an undercover agent incited him to plan the attack by giving him money and meals, and argues he ought to have been judged by the rules of the Qur'an. He had demanded throughout his legal process to be judged by the holy Islamic book.

The Tunisian national is asking the court to give him more time to launch his expanded appeal.

Esseghaier and his co-accused, Raed Jaser, were found guilty in 2015 on a total of eight terror-related charges between them.

They were sentenced to life in prison, with no chance of parole until 2023. Jaser is also appealing his conviction.

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Concerns about Esseghaier's mental state were raised during the sentencing phase of his trial.

Two psychiatric assessments found he likely had schizophrenia but Esseghaier, who refused a lawyer and represented himself at trial, disagreed with the findings and one of the psychiatrists who assessed him still found him fit to be sentenced.

Justice Michael Code, who presided over the case, was asked to postpone sentencing until it could be determined if Esseghaier could be treated but the judge refused, saying there was "no causal link" between Esseghaier's mental state during sentencing and his behaviour at the time of the offences.

During Esseghaier and Jaser's trial, a jury heard that an undercover FBI agent gained the men's trust and surreptitiously recorded their conversations, which made up the bulk of the evidence in the case.

The two were recorded speaking about terror plots they would conduct in retaliation for Canada's military actions in Muslim countries, including the derailment of a Via Rail train travelling between New York and Toronto.

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