Quebec tourists face jail time in Cuba because of a fatal boating accident


Photos of the Toufik Benhamiche family leaflet.

Kahina Bensaadi

A Canadian tourist faces four years in prison in Cuba after being convicted for the second time due to a fatal boating accident in 2017, the latest legal round in what the male lawyer called a "Kafkaesque" nightmare at a Caribbean resort destination.

Toufik Benhamiche was sentenced this week by a provincial court in Cuba for an incident in which the ship he was trying to get out of control in the beach resort of Cayo Coco. The ship crashed and killed other Canadian tourists.

Benhamiche and his Montreal lawyer, Julius Gray, said Monday's sentence came even though one of the judges fell asleep during the one-day trial and the evidence did not support the accusation of criminal negligence that caused the death.

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Gray said that he believed the Cuban authorities were trying to protect local companies from civilian responsibility, and Mr. Benhamiche is "scapegoat." He said Mr. Benhamiche was almost not given instructions about the operation of a motorboat and four people were allowed into the boat. while the maximum capacity is two.

"This seems to be the local court that made the decision beforehand, whose members slept on the bench, and who did not follow the evidence," Gray, a civil rights lawyer, said in an interview on Wednesday. "Every witness is by his side."

A Canadian embassy staff member in Cuba was present at the hearing, according to Mr. Gray and Mr. Benhamiche.

Legal issues Benhamiche starts after a arranged trip during an all-inclusive family vacation in July 2017. He rides the boat with his wife and two daughters. Moments after Mr. Benhamiche took control, the ship spun out of control and killed Jennifer Ann Marie Innis, a mother of three 34-year-old children from Ontario.

After the incident, Mr. Benhamiche was interrogated by the Cuban prosecutor and detained. His family flew home to Montreal. The lower court sentenced him to criminal negligence, but the verdict was canceled this year by the Supreme Court of Cuba, which found an error in the original verdict. The new court was ordered.

On Monday, after the second trial which lasted about five hours, the provincial court in Ciego de Avila sentenced Benhamiche again. He said he would appeal, which could mean another year in Cuba because he was required to remain in the country while filing an appeal.

Mr. Benhamiche is an engineer working for the city of Laval, north of Montreal. Since he was in Cuba, he has to pay legal fees and rent an apartment in the country; he was not arrested.

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"It's time for the Canadian government to take responsibility, because now, it cannot claim to not know what happened at the trial," he said in a statement on Wednesday.

His wife, Kahina Bensaadi, asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland to intervene and bring home her husband from Cuba, who welcomed more than one million Canadian tourists a year.

"My husband faces injustice," Bensaadi said in an interview. "I ask Canadian citizens to boycott Cuba, to show the Cuban authorities that they cannot abuse the rights of Canadian tourists like this."

Global Affairs Canada said it was aware of the court ruling this week.

"Canadian consular officials have contact with local authorities to gather additional information and continue to provide consular services to Mr. Benhamiche and his family," he said in a statement Wednesday. "Because of the provisions of the Privacy Act, no other information can be disclosed."


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