FREDERICTON – A New Brunswick farmer who languished for more than a year in a Beirut jail cell on allegations he shipped rotten potatoes to Algeria is suing the Canadian government, arguing it didn’t protect his Charter rights.
In a statement of claim filed Monday with the Federal Court in Ottawa, Henk Tepper says the government didn’t do enough to try to secure his freedom, and therefore his right to life, liberty and security of person were violated.
“The defendant blatantly disregarded the repeated requests of Tepper, his family members, his legal counsel and the Lebanese authorities for assistance in securing Tepper’s release,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit, which seeks $16.5 million in damages, also says the RCMP provided private information including the annual sales of Tepper’s farm and value of his home to Algerian authorities in contravention of the Privacy Act.
The claims in the lawsuit have not been proven in court.
A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs declined to comment on the lawsuit because it is before the courts. The RCMP also declined to comment.
Tepper, 46, said he launched the lawsuit because he felt let down by his own government.
“I lost 373 days of my life,” he said in an interview from his farm in Drummond, N.B.
“I missed my family, my daughter had her graduation, birthdays, Christmas, everything you can imagine in one year. I basically had hardly any communication with my family.”
Tepper was arrested in Lebanon on March 23, 2011, when he travelled to the Middle East on an agricultural trade mission to promote seed potatoes from Canada.
He was detained on an international arrest warrant on allegations he exported rotten potatoes to Algeria in October 2007 and forged export documents. He denies the accusations.
Tepper was held in a basement cell that measured about five metres by 10 metres. He said it was dark and infested with cockroaches and spiders.
“I still have nightmares,” Tepper said. “It will stick with me for the rest of my life.”
He returned to Canada on March 31, 2012, after receiving a Lebanese presidential decree.
Tepper’s lawsuit says that on April 15, 2009, Algeria requested that the RCMP obtain a statement from him.
The Mounties went to his home, but Tepper requested that his lawyer be present, at which point the RCMP chose not to proceed with the interview, the statement of claim says.
“It then advised Algeria that Tepper was not willing to co-operate with their investigation, which was untrue,” the lawsuit says.
Algeria issued an arrest warrant in December 2009 and in May 2010, Interpol issued a red notice saying Tepper was a fugitive wanted for prosecution.
The lawsuit says that while the RCMP were aware of the red notice, they never notified Tepper of it.
“Had the defendant warned Tepper of the red notice, Tepper would not have travelled to Lebanon and would not have been imprisoned,” the statement of claim says.
The Attorney General of Canada has 30 days to file a statement of defence.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said Interpol issued a red notice for Tepper’s arrest four months after Algeria issued its arrest warrant.