A Quebec man has been sentenced to four years in a Cuban prison, again, for a boating accident that killed a fellow tourist last year.
In July, Cuba’s top court overturned Toufik Benhamiche’s previous conviction of four years in prison for criminal negligence causing death, citing flaws in a lower court’s handling of the case.
He was driving a motorboat as part of a tourist excursion in Cayo Coco with his family in July 2017, when it veered out of control, striking and killing Jennifer Ann Marie Innis, a mother of three from Ontario.
On Dec. 10, he stood trial for the incident again. This time, a representative from the Canadian government was present, Benhamiche wrote in a statement posted to the Facebook group dedicated to bringing him back to Canada.
Benhamiche, a resident of Mascouche, north of Montreal, said he was “shocked” when he noticed a judge fell asleep during the proceedings, but felt things were playing out in his favour.
On Monday, his lawyer called to tell him about the conviction. He said it was as if “time had frozen, and 12 months hadn’t gone by since the last decision.”
Benhamiche was sentenced to four years, but is not in custody because his case is still subject to appeal, according to his lawyer in Montreal, Julius Grey. He must live in Cuba during this process.
Grey said the court disregarded the Supreme Court decision and “there was absolutely no reason for it.”
Plans to appeal
Benhamiche said he plans to appeal the decision, which means he will be in Cuba for at least another year, and has issued another call for Ottawa to intervene.
“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.
Grey said there’s no guarantee Cuba’s Supreme Court will overturn the decision again.
“The question is how much longer can this last?” he said in an interview in Montreal on Wednesday.
He said the Canadian government should threaten to issue a travel warning to travellers heading to Cuba to put pressure on the country.
“The result is that it is essential that the Canadian government — having watched this joke court, local court — intervene with Cuba and say enough is enough,” Grey said.
Benhamiche’s wife, Kahina Bensaadi, reacted to the decision in an interview with Radio-Canada, saying it appeared to have been “written in advance” and was “based on lies.”
Benhamiche’s family has also filed a lawsuit in Canada against travel operator Sunwing, alleging Benhamiche was given little instruction on how to operate the craft, and was assured it was easy to use and not dangerous.
After the lawsuit was filed in May, the travel operator said in a statement it did “not see merit in the legal action, as Sunwing Vacations does not own, manage or operate local excursions in Cuba.”
It noted the fatal accident took place during an adventure tour offered by local partner Gaviota Tours, which subcontracted the boat portion to another company, Marlin SA.