Quebecer confined in Cuba says he’s been convicted in second trial

MONTREAL — A Quebec man who has been stuck in Cuba after being involved in a boating accident that killed a fellow tourist in 2017 says he is once again facing four years in prison following a second trial.

Toufik Benhamiche says in a statement that he was convicted in relation to the incident following a trial that took place on Dec. 10.

Benhamiche, 48, was driving a small boat as part of a tourist excursion in July 2017 in Cayo Coco when the vessel veered out of control and fatally struck Jennifer Ann Marie Innis, a mother of three from Woodstock, Ont.

The man from Mascouche, Que., was originally convicted of criminal negligence causing death but that verdict was overturned by Cuba’s highest court earlier this year.

The new conviction and sentence are a blow to Benhamiche and his family, who have long alleged that he is a victim of a judicial system that is determined to find him responsible at all costs.

“All the facts in the file show clearly the innocence of my husband and his lack of responsibility for this accident,” Benhamiche’s wife, Kahina Bensaadi, said in a phone interview.

Benhamiche’s lawyers have argued the rental company violated Cuban safety standards. They also allege that Benhamiche was given little instruction on how to operate the craft and was assured it wasn’t dangerous.

Bensaadi said the most recent trial included witness testimony from a provincial navy captain who said the vessel’s invalid navigation certificate meant the boat was allowed to become overloaded, which may have contributed to the accident. She also alleged that the boat’s shutdown system was not inspected following the incident.

“All the experts and all the witnesses gave strong and solid arguments that show why the accident happened and how it happened, and it was not the responsibility of my husband,” she said.

Benhamiche said in his statement that he had not yet been imprisoned, despite the new sentence.

He plans to appeal the conviction, which he said could mean having to spend at least another year in Cuba, in addition to the 17 months he has already spent there.

“It should be noted that in the case of a confirmation of the sentence, it will be six years, including two years for judicial proceedings and four years for the abusive sentence,” the statement read.

In the 17 months since the accident, Bensaadi has repeatedly called on Canadian government officials to intervene and bring him home.

The family filed a Federal Court motion last summer seeking to have the Canadian government come to Benhamiche’s aid.

“By their inaction, they’re giving Cuban authorities to the right abuse my spouse and bully my spouse with a sentence that is not founded on law,” Bensaadi said Wednesday.

In an email, Global Affairs Canada said it was aware of the latest decision against Benhamiche and was providing consular services.

The family has also filed a $340,000 lawsuit against Sunwing Vacations, the tour operator with which they had booked the vacation package.

Sunwing has previously said it will contest the lawsuit.

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