The wife of a Quebec man who has been stuck in Cuba for 14 months, after being involved in a boating accident that killed a fellow tourist, says she’s considering taking legal action against the Canadian government in a bid to help bring him home.
Kahina Bensaadi said Cuban authorities have refused to allow her husband to return to his home near Montreal even though a conviction and four-year sentence stemming from the accident were overturned and he is no longer in custody.
Her husband, Toufik Benhamiche, 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, Que., 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, Ms. Bensaadi said.
However, the decision means the case needs to be reinvestigated from the beginning, which could take months or even years in the Cuban justice system.
Ms. Bensaadi, who is struggling to care for the couple’s two young daughters, says she’s angry and disappointed that the Canadian government hasn’t done more to help despite her constant pleas.
"They have never deigned to lift a finger, not even to help us in the choice of a competent lawyer to represent us,” she wrote in an e-mail.
“We had no choice but to fend for ourselves, because in any case all our attempts to solicit their help proved futile, and all ended with emails [or] letters stripped of compassion to tell us that they can do absolutely nothing and that Cuban justice must follow its course.”
Human rights lawyer Julius Grey, who is representing the family, said they will decide in the next week whether to seek a declaratory action “similar to Khadr,” referring to former-Guantanamo-Bay inmate Omar Khadr.
In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled the Canadian-born Mr. Khadr’s human rights were being violated at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. military detention facility.
Ms. Bensaadi said the possible legal action would be aimed at compelling the Canadian government to meet what she sees as their obligations to help her husband.
"I find it deplorable to have to think about starting a legal proceeding against one’s own government to oblige them to give assistance when that would normally be their primary mandate,” she said.
Global Affairs Canada said in a statement that it is providing assistance to Mr. Benhamiche, "a Canadian facing travel restrictions in Cuba.”
"Consular officials in Havana, Cuba, are in contact with local authorities to gather further information on the status of his case,” reads an e-mailed statement.
The family has also filed a lawsuit in Canada against travel company Sunwing, alleging Mr. Benhamiche was given little instruction on how to operate the craft and was allegedly assured it was easy to use and by no means dangerous.