The federal government may feel hamstrung in dealing with the family members of the disgraced Tunisian ex-president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. But it has several legal avenues if it wishes to pursue actions against them. And where the law isn't sufficient, the federal government should consider amending it, so that current and future Ben Alis and their cronies do not start seeing Canada as a safe refuge for their surplus cash and family members.
The European Union is already moving to seize assets of Mr. Ben Ali and his wife. Canada has made statements that it will follow suit for those family members who may have benefited from the fortune Mr. Ben Ali collected by allegedly corrupt means. That could include Mr. Ben Ali's brother-in-law, Belhassen Trabelsi, a permanent resident of Canada who just arrived back in Canada last week. But Canada's promise must now be followed up with action.
The federal government could freeze the assets of Mr. Ben Ali's family members while investigations are under way. But it can go further. Quebec law allows for the forfeiture of property by and to the Crown where that property was "derived from or used to engage in unlawful activity." The burden of proof is the civil "balance of probabilities" standard, less than the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard.
Canada has no extradition treaty with Tunisia, and if an attempt to strip Mr. Trabelsi of his permanent residency is made, he may try to file a refugee claim, arguing that he is at "risk of persecution" because of his "membership in a particular social group or political opinion." Such a claim, once the situation in Tunisia settles down, could call into question the refugee determination process, which can drag on for months. The federal government should consider amendments to Bill C-49, already before the House, to preclude this kind of application from the family members of ex-dictators.
No country should simply ship unwanted permanent residents back to their country of origin without due process. But this affair shows that Canada and other countries need to band together and find a better way to bring deposed tyrants and their families to justice. The Tunisians are demanding justice, and Canada should help them get it.