A Canadian tourist faces four years in jail in Cuba after being convicted a second time for a fatal 2017 boating accident, the latest legal twist in what the man’s lawyer calls a “Kafkaesque” nightmare in the Caribbean resort destination.
Toufik Benhamiche was sentenced this week by a provincial court in Cuba for an incident in which the boat he was piloting spun out of control at the beach resort of Cayo Coco. The boat struck and killed another Canadian tourist.
Mr. Benhamiche and his Montreal lawyer, Julius Grey, say the conviction Monday came even though one of the judges fell asleep during the one-day trial and evidence did not support the charge of criminal negligence causing death.
Mr. Grey said he believes Cuban authorities are trying to shield local companies from civil liability, and Mr. Benhamiche is a “scapegoat.” He said Mr. Benhamiche was given almost no instructions about operating the motorboat and four people were allowed in the vessel while the maximum capacity was two.
“This appears to be a local tribunal that takes its decisions in advance, whose members sleep on the bench, and who don’t follow evidence,” Mr. Grey, a civil rights lawyer, said in an interview on Wednesday. “Every single witness was on his side.”
A member of the Canadian embassy staff in Cuba was present at the trial, according to Mr. Grey and Mr. Benhamiche.
Mr. Benhamiche’s legal troubles began after an excursion arranged during an all-inclusive family holiday in July, 2017. He boarded a boat with his wife and two young daughters. Moments after Mr. Benhamiche took the controls, the boat spun out of control and killed Jennifer Ann Marie Innis, a 34-year-old mother of three from Ontario.
After the incident, Mr. Benhamiche was interrogated by Cuban prosecutors and detained. His family flew home to Montreal. A lower court convicted him of criminal negligence, but the verdict was overturned this year by Cuba’s Supreme Court, which found flaws in the original ruling. A new trial was ordered.
On Monday, after a second trial that lasted about five hours, the provincial court in Ciego de Avila convicted Mr. Benhamiche again. He said he will appeal, which could mean another year in Cuba since he is required to remain in the country while appealing the verdict.
Mr. Benhamiche is an engineer who works for the city of Laval, north of Montreal. Since he has been in Cuba, he has had to pay for legal fees and rent an apartment in the country; he is not in custody.
“It is time for the Canadian government to take responsibility, because now, it cannot claim to be ignorant of what happened at trial,” he said in a statement Wednesday.
His wife, Kahina Bensaadi, is calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland to step in and bring her husband home from Cuba, which welcomes over one million Canadian tourists a year.
“My husband is facing an injustice,” Ms. Bensaadi said in an interview. “I’m asking Canadians to boycott Cuba, to demonstrate to Cuban authorities that they can’t abuse the rights of Canadian tourists like this.”
Global Affairs Canada said it was aware of the court ruling this week.
“Canadian consular officials are in contact with local authorities to gather additional information and continue to provide consular services to Mr. Benhamiche and his family,” it said in a statement on Wednesday. “Due to the provisions of the Privacy Act, no other information can be disclosed.”