N.B. farmer jailed in Lebanon says Ottawa failed him
Henk Tepper says government 'didn't do nothing to help me get out of jail'
Henk Tepper, the New Brunswick potato farmer who spent more than a year imprisoned in Lebanon, says the federal government failed him when he most needed diplomatic intervention.
While Tepper's April homecoming to the town of Drummond was a sweet moment, he told CBC News in his first televised interview as a freed man that his release had nothing to do with Ottawa rallying for his cause.
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That was made possible only after a Lebanese presidential decree was issued.
At the Beirut Justice Palace detention centre, where he was held for allegedly exporting spoiled potatoes to Algeria in 2007, Tepper said he shared a cell with up to two dozen other prisoners and only had infrequent visits from Canadian Embassy staff.
"Embassy consul was right there when the judge explained to us what to do and they wouldn't do nothing," he said. "They said I had to be extradited to Algeria to be tried in Algeria."
Denies charges he sold bad potatoes
The 45-year-old career potato farmer has categorically denied charges that he tried to send rotten produce to Algeria.
During his 373 days in detention, Tepper's family and friends in Drummond protested, demanding the government do more to free him. His sister, Harmein Dionne, said she wrote about 50 letters appealing to the government but never got a commitment to intervene.
From the detention centre, Tepper said he watched fellow inmates getting diplomatic aid from their home countries. He also believed Lebanese officials were willing to help get him back to Canada.
"There was prisoners from Jordan where the embassy people would come to the prison and visit and were helping them, trying to get them out back to Jordan, to their home country," he said.
Tepper said he's relieved to be back home with his family, but he feels he owes nothing to Ottawa.
"They didn't do nothing to help me get out of jail," he said, adding he still suffers from sleepless nights.
Federal officials have maintained that they did their best to offer consular assistance, but their hands were tied as far being able to intervene in the judicial affairs of a sovereign nation.
Farm is millions in debt
Diane Ablonczy, Minister of State of Foreign Affairs, said diplomats did engage with Lebanese authorities.
"There were many, many representations made on the diplomatic front right from the beginning for Mr. Tepper," Ablonczy said. "What happens is that we leave the highest levels for later when we see how things are going."
Even in Canada, Tepper's troubles are far from being behind him.
The so-called Interpol "red notice" that landed him in detention in the first place still hangs over his head with the threat of another five years in prison. The Algerian government claims he altered shipping documents to send the allegedly bad potatoes, though Tepper denies those charges.
"No, I never altered no documents and the potatoes were suitable for human beings to eat," he said.
Tepper is also trying to rescue his heavily indebted potato operations from creditors. The farm is some $11 million in debt.