By Randall Palmer
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada must review its deportation policy in light of a pardon that was granted to a Canadian resident once threatened with deportation and now accused in an alleged al Qaeda plot to derail a passenger train, a government minister said on Friday.
Raed Jaser, one of two men charged in connection with the suspected plot, argued in a 2004 deportation hearing that Canada should not deport him because he was stateless and no country would take him in.
Canada had sought to deport him because he had convictions on several counts of fraud, immigration board documents show.
Jaser was later pardoned, and he then became a permanent resident in Canada, the equivalent to holding a U.S. green card.
"The reality is that he was pardoned, and that repealed his criminal inadmissibility to Canada," Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told reporters. "That raises for me an important policy question. Why should a pardon override criminal inadmissibility?"
"That's what I'm looking at with my officials - to see whether we can make a policy change. It seems to me, I don't care whether you get a pardon or not, if you commit a serious criminal offense in Canada, you should be kicked out - period," Kenney said.
Jaser, 35, of Toronto, and Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, a Tunisian studying for his doctorate near Montreal, face several charges, including conspiracy to work with a terrorist group.
U.S. officials have said the suspects, who were arrested in separate raids on Monday, were believed to have worked on a plan to blow up a trestle on the Canadian side of the border as a train between Toronto and New York passed over it.
Jaser, who denies the charges, is a Palestinian who was born in the United Arab Emirates, but is not a UAE citizen.
He arrived in Canada with his family in 1993 as refugee claimants, but racked up five convictions for fraud and two for failing to comply with supervisory orders, according to the transcript of a 2004 immigration hearing.
Canada cited Jaser's criminal record when it tried to deport him in 2004. He was released after he argued he was stateless.
Kenney said he was reviewing the case with his officials to see what lessons could be learned and whether there were legislative gaps that needed to be filled.
He said the Conservative government had already tightened the system to make pardons harder to obtain.
(Additional reporting by Allison Martell in Toronto and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Janet Guttsman and Peter Cooney)