Canada is reviewing the country's deportation policies following revelations that a court decided nine years ago against deporting a man who was arrested last week on terror charges in an alleged plot to derail a train, the federal immigration minister said.
Raed Jaser, who arrived in Canada with his family as a teenager in 1993, was convicted in 1997 on fraud charges and in 2001 of threatening death or bodily harm, according to court records, which did not provide details on the cases. He served probation but was arrested in 2004 after authorities issued a warrant for his deportation. At a court hearing, Jaser argued that he could not be deported because he was a stateless Palestinian with nowhere to go. The court deferred the deportation order for Jaser, who was eventually granted a pardon.
Last week, Jaser was arrested along with a Tunisian citizen on charges of conspiring to carry out an attack and murder people in association with a terrorist group in a plot to derail a train that runs between New York City and Montreal. Investigators say the men received guidance from members of al-Qaida in Iran. Iranian government officials have said the government had nothing to do with the plot.
Federal immigration minister Jason Kenney said Friday that he will get a briefing from officials on the deportation issue.
He said he was "disturbed to learn a foreigner can get a pardon for serious criminal cases and then be allowed to stay."
"I don't care if you get a pardon or not. If you commit a serious crime in Canada, you should be kicked out, period," he told reporters outside of Parliament. "Why should a pardon override a criminal inadmissibility?"
Kenny noted that Canada has already toughened its deportation policies since Jaser's 2004 case. He said the government recently passed the Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act, which makes it easier to remove foreigners who served six months or more in jail by barring them from appealing a removal order.
Paul Dewar, a lawmaker with the opposition New Democrats party, said the case raised many questions.
"When it comes to, you know, preventing terrorism and concerns that people have around terrorism, it's all about coordination" between government institutions, he said. "And it would appear that someone dropped the ball here and that's what we'll be looking at is who exactly dropped the ball? How did this happen?"
Jaser, 35, was born in the United Arab Emirates to Palestinian parents but he is not an UAE citizen.
His parents initially filed for refugee status upon their arrival to Canada in 1993, according to court records. They were not granted refugee status but eventually were allowed to stay in Canada under a special program known as the Deferred Removal Order Class.
Jaser, however, was excluded from the program because of his convictions, according the records. The rest of the family eventually became Canadian citizens.
"I am a Palestinian by blood, that does not give me any rights whatsoever in my place of birth," he said at his 2004 deportation hearing.
The other suspect, 30 year-old Chiheb Esseghaier, is a Tunisian citizen who arrived in Quebec in 2008, according to the Tunisian Embassy, which described the man as a doctoral student.
The two men, who could face life in prison if convicted, are due back in court May 23.
Police, tipped off by an imam worried by the behavior of one of the suspects, say it was the first known planned attack by al-Qaida in Canada. Law officials in New York with knowledge of the investigation have said the train derailment was to take place on the Canadian side of the border.
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