Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon says Canada will do all it can to comply with the new Tunisian government's request to extradite the brother-in-law of deposed dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.
Billionaire businessman Belhassen Trabelsi and his family arrived in Montreal last week on a private jet.
"He is not welcome. We are going to find – in the context, obviously, of current legislation – ways to assure, as quickly as possible, that we might comply with the demand from the Tunisia government," Cannon told reporters in Val d'Or, Que., on Friday.
Tunisia's ambassador to Canada, Mouldi Sakri, said he had been instructed to ask that Canada issue an arrest warrant for Trabelsi.
Tunisian-Canadians in Montreal have been outraged by Trabelsi's presence because he has been accused of stealing large amounts of money from Tunisia. They want his Canadian assets frozen by the government, and to see his extradition to Tunisia.
It's possible, however, that Trabelsi could claim refugee status, which would give him the right to a hearing before the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. That could take many months.
Executing an arrest warrant for Trabelsi could put Canada in a difficult situation, said Montreal immigration lawyer Patrice Brunet.
"Sending him back to Tunisia … may tarnish the reputation of Canada because he may be tortured, he may be even killed."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said that family members of Ben Ali are not welcome here.
"Canada will use all the tools at its disposal to co-operate with the international community in dealing with members of the former regime," he said in Rabat following a meeting with Morocco's prime minister and foreign minister.
"They are not welcome — I'll be very clear — we do not welcome them in our country," Harper said.
An earlier version of this story said Canada would extradite Belhassen Trabelsi. The federal government has not yet complied with any extradition request.Jan 28, 2011 4:08 PM ET