A Quebec man who was sentenced to four years in a Cuban jail following a boating accident that killed a fellow tourist isn’t being allowed to return to Canada even though his conviction has been overturned, his wife said Wednesday.
Kahina Bensaadi says her husband Toufik Benhamiche is no longer charged with any crime, but has not been allowed to leave the country because the case is still under investigation.
“He’s no longer convicted, he’s no longer charged, he’s no longer anything, but they don’t want to let him leave,” she said in a phone interview.
Benhamiche, 47, was driving a small boat as part of a tourist excursion in July 2017 in Cayo Coco when it veered out of control and fatally struck a woman from Ontario.
A Cuban court found the Mascouche resident guilty of criminal negligence causing death and sentenced him to four years in prison.
But in June, Cuba’s highest court found flaws in the lower court’s handling of the case and reversed all its decisions including the conviction, Bensaadi said.
She said the judge’s decision recognized the arguments in Benhamiche’s defence and that it suggested bringing charges against those who were responsible for renting out the boat.
“(The decision) clearly stated the responsibility of other people in violating all norms and procedures, and explained the violation of all these norms of conduct probably led to the accident,” she said.
She says that while the family was originally thrilled with the news, the elation turned to despair when they realized the judge’s decision means the case had been returned to the prosecutor and must be reinvestigated – a process she believes could take years.
Now Bensaadi is calling on Canadian immigration officials to help allow her husband to return home while Cuban authorities decide whether to bring new charges.
She says she’s been offered no help so far, and accuses the Canadian government of choosing to abandon her husband rather than ruffle feathers with Cuban officials.
“It’s not normal that the Canadian government continues to favour diplomatic relations to the detriment of the rights and liberties of its own citizens,” she said.
The MP representing Behamiche’s riding also issued a statement blasting Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland for failing to resolve what he called an “appalling” situation.
“You go for a week’s vacation with your family to have fun for seven days in Cayo Coco and end up with four years in prison,” Quebec Debout MP Luc Theriault said later in a phone interview.
“Is anyone going to wake up and get him out of there?”
Bensaadi said the year-long ordeal has devastated the family both financially and emotionally.
Benhamiche has lost his engineering job near Montreal, and she has been forced to care on her own for their two daughters, aged six and eight, while trying to pay for lawyers and flying to Cuba for her husband’s court dates.
“If we had wanted to destroy our family, we could not have done better,” she said.
The family has also filed a lawsuit in Canada against travel company Sunwing, alleging Benhamiche was given little instruction on how to operate the craft and was assured it was easy to use and by no means dangerous.