RCMP gave potato farmer's financial details to Algerians
Potato farmer has been held in a Beirut jail since March
The RCMP sent business and personal information to Algerian officials about a New Brunswick farmer now being held in a Lebanese prison over a shipment of potatoes to Algeria, CBC News has learned.
The police force tried to interview Henk Tepper in 2009, but he said he wanted a lawyer at the meeting, and they never returned, according to documents obtained by the CBC's Laurie Graham. The documents show the RCMP closed the file – eight months after the force sent Tepper's financial information to Algerian officials.
Algerian authorities suspect Tepper forged Canadian Food Inspection Agency documents in 2007 to say his potatoes were a better quality than they were.
He has never been charged and says he's innocent.
The documents show the RCMP economics division compiled financial details about Tepper's farming business, as well as personal information about his wife, their house and their assets. The information was provided to Interpol Algiers, run by Algeria's civil police force.
Tepper's lawyers now believe that exchange of information helped lead to the Algerian warrant and Tepper's arrest in Lebanon.
"I think a fair conclusion to draw from that is it did help the Algerians in determining whether or not they wanted to place a red notice on Mr. Tepper," said James Mockler, one of the lawyers.
Standard part of investigation
The RCMP says it's a standard component of an Interpol investigation to share with other Interpol countries, Graham reported.
But Tepper's sister, who just returned from visiting her brother in jail, questions where that information was sent.
"It's none of their business from Algeria as to what Henk owns or how much money he has, what kind of equipment he has," Harmien Dionne said. "That has nothing to do with the load of potatoes Henk sold there."
Mockler says Tepper was willing to sit down with the RCMP, but he didn't get that chance.
"He was willing to co-operate with them. Given the opportunity with instructions from his counsel, he may have in fact provided information that Algeria was looking for," Mockler said.
The RCMP knew about the Algerian warrant but say, as a matter of procedure, they didn't tell Tepper.
Ten months after the warrant was issued, Tepper boarded a plane for Lebanon as part of a trade mission paid for by the federal government.
He was promptly detained under that warrant.
'Human rights record is suspect'
The RCMP should have told Tepper what they'd done, Paul Cavalluzzo says.
Cavalluzzo was lead counsel for the Mahar Arar inquiry and, as with Arar, he says the RCMP should have been more cautious in the Tepper case.
"If you're dealing with very personal information and you're dealing with a country whose human rights record is suspect, then you've got to be very, very careful," he said. "We are Canadian citizens, we have rights under the Charter of Rights, and the RCMP must respect that."
Arar was arrested in the U.S. and sent to Syria after the RCMP provided wrong information about him to U.S. authorities. He was repeatedly tortured in Syria before being returned to Canada more than a year later. The inquiry cleared him of any wrongdoing and the federal government paid him $10.5 million in compensation. The RCMP later issued a qualified apology for anything the force "may have contributed" to the ordeal.
Family and friends have been pushing for months to get Tepper home, as have opposition politicians.
"If there's nothing in that file, by goodness! The Canadian government should have since early April requested the return of the Canadian citizen," said Pierrette Ringuette, a Liberal senator from New Brunswick.
The government has said it's looking into Tepper's case, but declined to comment.
On Tuesday, a New Brunswick court extended creditor protection for Tepper's farm, which is $10 million in debt.
- This story has been edited from an earlier version to remove a reference to "bad" potatoes. In fact, although the shipment was initially flagged by CFIA over ring rot concerns, later tests cleared the produce. The Algerian allegations are related to forgery of documents over the quality of the potatoes.Nov 30, 2011 10:25 AM ET