Montreal

Quebec tourist detained in Cuba after fatal boating accident returns home

Toufik Benhamiche has returned home two years after he was first charged with criminal negligence in a boating accident that killed Jennifer Ann Marie, a mother of three from Woodstock, Ont.

Toufik Benhamiche had not been allowed to leave Cuba for 2 years

Toufik Benhamiche addressed the media Friday in the offices of his local MP, Luc Thériault of the Bloc Québécois. Benhamiche returned to Canada last Saturday after two years in Cuba. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

A Quebec man has returned home two years after he was first charged with criminal negligence causing death in Cuba in a boating accident that resulted in the death of an Ontario woman.

Toufik Benhamiche was convicted last December and given a four-year suspended sentence after the boat he was driving in July 2017 on a tourist excursion veered out of control and killed Jennifer Ann Marie, a mother of three from Woodstock, Ont.

He returned to Canada last Saturday a free man after Cuba's Supreme Court granted an exceptional authorization to leave the country, annulling a sentence by a provincial court.

Speaking to journalists Friday, Benhamiche said he was relieved to finally be home with his family in Mascouche, Que.

"I want to thank all Quebecers who supported us," he said at the offices of his local MP, Luc Thériault of the Bloc Québécois, who had championed his case.

Quebecer Toufik Benhamiche returned to Canada last Saturday a free man after Cuba's Supreme Court granted an exceptional authorization to leave the country, annulling a sentence by a provincial court. (Submitted by Kahina Bensaadi)

Benhamiche had been serving his sentence in the community in Cuba because his case was subject to appeal. 

"It was quite a difficult period of pressure and demands, and back-and-forth memos before he was allowed to get on the plane," Benhamiche's Montreal-based lawyer, Julius Grey, told CBC News.

"Right now, all I can think of is, 'thank God that this ordeal is over.'"

The conviction last December came after a previous conviction against him was overturned in July, when Cuba's top court cited flaws in a lower court's handling of the case.

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 boat, and was assured it was easy to use and not dangerous.

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.

Grey said his client will continue to pursue the suit, saying he "suffered serious damages."

With files from Sarah Leavitt and The Canadian Press