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Foreign nationals to have harder time getting pardoned in wake of Via terror plot

Raed Jaser, 35, was brought into Toronto’s Old City Hall court building in the back of an RCMP cruiser shortly after 8am on April 23, 2013. He faces three charges: conspiracy to interfere with transport facilities; participating in a terrorist organization, and conspiracy to commit murder.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

The Harper government is tightening access to criminal pardons for foreign nationals after reviewing the files of two men accused of scheming to attack a VIA Rail train.

Raed Jaser, one of the men arrested by the RCMP in April, became a landed immigrant after obtaining pardons for several offences in Canada including fraud and uttering threats.

The Conservatives have asked officials to prepare legislation that would prevent foreign nationals without status in Canada from availing themselves of the pardon system.

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"It is unacceptable that inadmissible foreign nationals are able to get criminal record suspensions. We are taking steps to ensure that they are not able to use this loophole to further abuse Canada's fair and generous immigration system," Andrew McGrath, press secretary to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, said.

On April 22, the RCMP charged Mr. Jaser 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.

Mr. Jaser thwarted deportation nearly a decade ago by arguing he was a stateless Palestinian born in the United Arab Emirates, and there was no place for Canada to send him.

Mr. Jaser 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. This saved him from deportation.

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Before his fraud convictions, Mr. Jaser had arrived in Toronto as part of an Arab family of five who flew in on false passports.

In 2009, he applied to the federal parole board for a pardon for convictions including fraud and uttering threats. He obtained the pardon and went on to successfully obtain permanent residency.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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