New Brunswick potato farmer Henk Tepper has been held in a Beirut jail since March. His family wants Canada to help bring him home, but so far the federal government has been unable to secure his release.
Now, two Liberal senators who visited Tepper's jail cell in Lebanon last week say that bringing the farmer back to Canada can be a relatively simple process. Pierrette Ringuette and Mac Harb met with Lebanese officials in Beirut and said they were told all Canada needs to do is send a formal letter requesting Tepper's release.
"When this crime supposedly took place, he was not in Algeria, he was in Canada. Therefore, under Canadian law he should be facing Canadian justice," said Harb.
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Diane Ablonczy says the matter is more complicated than the senators suggest: "The Lebanese government specifically dismisses the allegation that a simple letter would release Mr. Tepper," she said, "and affirms that it must act in accordance with Lebanon's international legal obligations when faced with a request for extradition."
Tepper allegedly shipped bad potatoes to Algeria in 2007 and forged documents from the Canada Food Inspection Agency to boost the spuds' on-paper quality. A CBC story later clarified that while the CFIA had concerns about potato rot, tests showed the shipment was, in fact, fine.
This past March, the New Brunswick farmer went to Lebanon with a Canadian trade mission. Before Tepper left, the RCMP interviewed him. He was arrested by Interpol in Beirut and has been in jail ever since.
Ringuette and Harb were given access to the farmer on their visit last week. They say while the farmer has lost 40 pounds since first entering the prison nine months ago.