SAINT JOHN, N.B. — A New Brunswick MP says the federal government can’t intervene in the judicial affairs of a sovereign country, significantly hindering Ottawa’s ability to return a New Brunswick potato farmer detained in Lebanon to home soil.
The federal government has obtained consular access to monitor the health and welfare of Henk Tepper.
The Grand Falls-area potato farmer has spent about 50 days behind bars in a jail in the Middle Eastern country.
But Conservative MP Mike Allen says it will be up to Tepper’s lawyers to fight the Algerian government’s allegations that the potato exporter tried to ship spuds into that country that were unsafe for human consumption.
Tepper has been detained since entering Lebanon on March 23 when he travelled to that country to market his farm’s tablestock potatoes to importers.
Tepper was detained under a criminal warrant issued by the International Criminal Police Organization, or Interpol, at the request of the Algerian government.
“The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade’s responsibility is to ensure due process and health and welfare,” Allen said. “What (the department) can’t do is get into the judicial affairs of a sovereign country.”
“That is the challenge, you just can’t parachute in there and pluck somebody out. It would be like us allowing Lebanon to come here and tell us what to do from a judicial standpoint. You can’t do that.”
Rodney Gillis, Tepper’s Canadian lawyer, has said his client had received no assistance from Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, nor from the Canadian Embassy in Beirut since being detained for a potato deal with Algeria in 2007 that went bad.
“I want to see him home as much as everyone else does,” Allen said. “In terms of the legal case, that is the responsibility of Mr. Tepper’s lawyers to make, which I understand they are making that case.
“If there comes a time when we can make diplomatic representations then obviously we will do that. It is important that the legal dialogue goes on.”
Catherine Godbout, spokeswoman for Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Diane Ablonczy, has echoed that sentiment, saying Ottawa is in touch with senior Lebanese authorities.
“Canadian officials in Lebanon have been actively providing consular assistance and support to Mr. Tepper since his arrest,” Godbout said in an email.
“Consular officials maintain regular contact with Mr. Tepper’s lawyer in Lebanon and his family to provide them with assistance, support and updates on the case.”
(New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal)