TORONTO (Reuters) - Two men found guilty of terrorism charges in 2015 for an attempted bombing aimed at derailing a VIA Rail passenger train two years earlier, have been granted a new trial, a provincial court in Canada said on Tuesday.
Canadian police had arrested and charged Raed Jaser, now 41, and Chiheb Esseghaier, 36, ahead of the planned attack, saying the operation was backed by the al Qaeda militant group in Iran.
U.S. officials said at the time that the attack would have targeted a rail line between New York and Toronto, a route that travels along the Hudson Valley into New York wine country and enters Canada near Niagara Falls.
In February, the two accused asked for a new trial, citing errors made in the case as well as rejection of a request they had made pertaining to jury selection.
The appeal, led by Jaser’s lawyers, argued that the jury should have been selected by rotating triers instead of static triers, a request they made at the time that was denied by the judge.
Triers are independent members of the public who screen and select jurors based on panel interviews. Static triers screen all potential jurors but do not sit on the jury, while rotating triers serve on the jury and rotate out as more jurors are sworn in.
Megan Savard, a partner at Addario Law Group in Toronto who represented Jaser, called fair juries a “hallmark” of the Canadian justice but “with very high levels of pre-trial publicity it can be hard to find impartial jurors” in high-profile cases such as her client’s.
The distinction between static and rotating triers “may seem to some like a meaningless difference,” Savard said. But “in the same way that a jury of 12 is more fair than a jury of four,” rotating triers improve the chances of impartiality by involving more people in the decision-making process.
The Ontario Court of Appeals said on Tuesday that it agreed with the accused and ordered the 2015 conviction to be set aside.
“Mr. Jaser’s grateful to the Court of Appeal for the chance to have a fair trial in front of a jury that’s been chosen legally,” Savard said.
VIA is Canada’s equivalent of Amtrak in the United States and operates passenger rail services on tracks owned primarily by Canadian National Railway Co.
Reporting by Moira Warburton; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Richard Chang