One of the two men facing terrorism-related charges in an alleged al-Qaida in Iran plot to attack a Via Rail train that runs from Toronto to New York City maintains he can't get a lawyer, or at least not the right lawyer.
Chiheb Esseghaier, a 30-year-old Tunisian national, has repeatedly said he needs to be represented by a lawyer who agrees he shouldn't be tried under Canada's Criminal Code, but rather judged in accordance with the Qur'an.
Since he has no defence counsel, his charges, which include conspiracy to murder for the benefit of a terrorist group, participating in a terrorist group, conspiring to interfere with transportation facilities for the benefit of a terrorist group and instructing someone to carry out activity for the benefit of a terrorist group, keep getting remanded in a Toronto court. In several of those remand appearances, he launched fiery denunciations of the Criminal Code as "a book written by humans," adding that he wants to be governed only by "the laws of the holy book."
Ontario Legal Aid has agreed to provide funding for his defence. His co-accused, Raed Jaser, has long since retained legal counsel. But still, Mr. Esseghaier fails to retain counsel and seizes every opportunity at his court appearances to decry the Criminal Code.
Mr. Esseghaier is manipulating the criminal justice system. The parade of remands must stop. If he can't find a lawyer to his liking by his next scheduled remand date in August, the court should select one for him.
There's a good reason why no lawyer has agreed to take on the job of defending Mr. Esseghaier.
Lawyers are advocates within the confines of the law, the case and the courtroom. Vouching for a client's beliefs beyond those parameters isn't part of defence counsel's duty. A lawyer can't, ethically, be a glorified flack for an accused, promoting his religious beliefs and political agenda at every turn. But that's precisely what Mr. Esseghaier wants of his lawyer.
Mr. Esseghaier has the right to a lawyer who will secure his right to due process of law and to be judged fairly. But that advocacy does not extend to adopting the client's rhetoric of militant Islam. He'll likely not find a lawyer who'll agree to jettison his or her professional judgment and submit to being a mere mouthpiece.
The court should realize it's being made a party to Mr. Esseghaier's little game. Failing a lawyer appearing on his behalf at the next remand, it should appoint counsel for him so his prosecution moves forward apace.