Residency of Tunisian leader's relative revoked

CBC News has learned the federal government has revoked the Canadian residency held by the ousted Tunisian president's brother-in-law, Belhassen Trabelsi.

Tunisia's ambassador asks Canadian authorities to freeze Ben Ali family assets

Belhassen Trabelsi, who is the brother-in-law of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia's former dictator, is believed to be in a hotel on the outskirts of Montreal. ((CBC))

The federal government has revoked the Canadian residency held by the ousted Tunisian president's brother-in-law, Belhassen Trabelsi, CBC News has learned.

Trabelsi and his family arrived in Montreal last week on a private jet. The billionaire businessman is the relative of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia's former dictator now believed to be in Saudi Arabia, and who is the subject of an international arrest warrant.

Mouldi Sakri, Tunisia's ambassador to Canada, said he has asked Canadian authorities to freeze the assets of the members of the Ben Ali family and their allies.

Trabelsi has applied for political asylum in Canada, and until Thursday was believed to be camping out with his family at a hotel in Vaudreuil, west of Montreal. The CBC's Dan Halton reported that late Thursday, Trabelsi was believed to have fled the hotel.

The Tunisia effect

Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali stepped down on Jan. 14 following a month of violent demonstrations over worsening economic conditions, corruption and political repression. The protests started after Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit vendor, set himself on fire after police seized his goods. He later died.

The Tunisian uprising has touched off a wave of similar demonstrations in the Middle East and North Africa. Here is a quick look at some of the unrest in the now-volatile regions.

Sakri said Tunisia has also asked Canada to issue an arrest warrant against Trebelsi, to help Tunisian authorities bring him to justice.

"We are turning the page in Tunisia," Sakri said in a French interview with Radio-Canada. "This is a rebirth."

To be granted asylum, Trabelsi would have to prove he needs to stay in the country in order to avoid persecution in Tunisia.

Trabelsi had permanent residency status in Canada, which he had obtained in the mid-1990s.

Under Canadian law, permanent residency can be lost if it is not used. For example, if a person is not in the country for a certain period of time.

Trabelsi's presence in Montreal has angered Tunisian-Canadians, because he is accused of stealing large amounts of money from their native country.

Payam Akhavan, a professor of international law at McGill University in Montreal with an interest in human rights and war crimes prosecutions, suggested Canada needs to be seen to be on the right side of the Tunisia issue.

"I think that this is a moment of truth for Canada," he said Thursday. "We cannot send [the] message that Canada is [a] refuge for corrupt tyrants and officials."