Canada has confirmed that last week it was Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's brother-in-law, Belhassen Trabelsi, who arrived in Montreal last week with his wife, 4 children, and their nanny--and not his son-in-law, Mohamed Sakhr El Materi and family as some thought. Trabelsi was the leader of the banking, communications and transport sectors of the Tunisian economy which he exploited on behalf of the Ben Ali-Trabelsi clan. Allegedly he has billions of dollars in assets outside of Tunisia. All family assets in France and Switzerland have been frozen by Tunisia with the cooperation of those countries.
After arriving by private jet to a Montreal airport, the Belhassen Trabelsi family took up residence in a nearby luxury hotel, the Chateau Vaudreuil. As the family had permanent residency status, they went through customs and immigration with no problems, and looked to be staying for a long time.
Photograph by: Rogerio Barbosa, AFP/Getty ImagesThe Chateau Vaudreuil Suites Hotel, where it is believed the Trabelsi is staying, is pictured outside Montreal city in Vaudreuil-Dorion, Quebec, Canada. [The family were staying there until this afternoon when they left for an undisclosed location within the country]
However, the Canadian Tunisian community has been calling for freezing assets, arrest, and extradition to Tunisia. There was great chagrin that the family's permanent residency status, and Canada's inaction were combining to give the family a potential safe haven with great freedom of speech, including political speech, in Canada.
Canada has now revoked the family's permanent residency status, obtained through major business investor category in the 1990's, seemingly using the legal provision that the family had not resided sufficient time in Canada to maintain that status, instead living all or almost all that time in Tunisia.
In response the family have applied for refugee status, requesting political asylum. This, combined with the fact that they were once deemed acceptable immigrants to Canada, could see them reside in Canada for the duration of a long process of legal manoeuvres and appeals. Once a refugee claim has been made, a refugee has the rights to reside and work in Canada and to receive social supports.
Photograph by: John Mahoney, Montreal GazetteA Sûreté du Québec patrol car parked outside the Chateau Vaudreuil hotel in Vaudreuil, west of Montreal. The police were there to monitor any protest activity by local Tunisians upset at the rumoured presence of relatives of the ousted president of Tunisia. There had been a protest Wednesday evening by approximately 60 local Tunisians.
The Tunisian ambassador in Ottawa has called on the government of Canada to freeze the family assets, and the Tunisian community has called for Trabelsi to be arrested and extradited to Tunisia for trial. The Canadian government has stated that it will freeze assets after due international process, and consider extradition under international aegis. Neither of these processes has been completed so far.
As events in Tunisia move to further inculpate the Ben Ali-Trabelsi clan, to reject their political supporters, and contain their personal militia, the international case against them grows stronger. However, the US and other former Western supporters of the regime seem to wish to see similar persons in power, and the political structure remain essentially intact. This will perhaps make extradition from Canada less likely, in particular as Canada has no extradition treaty with Tunisia, and does not extradite when there is the risk of the death penalty, as exists for crimes against the state in Tunisia.
Photograph by: Rogerio Barbosa, AFP/Getty ImagesThousands of Tunisians from Montreal, came to rally in the downtown streets of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. More than a thousand people rally to the embassy of Tunisia in Montreal, through the streets in downtown Montreal in solidarity with protesters in Tunisia and to protest the violent riots in their home country. Canada expressed regret Saturday over the loss of life as a result of unrest in Tunisia but welcomed elections in the near future, its foreign minister said. Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon issued the statement after President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the country in the face of mounting protests against his 23-year rule.
The Canadian front of the Tunisian "Jasmine Revolution" is moving more slowly than events in Tunisia, but it is evolving. The question remains of how long it will take Quebec's Liberal government, and Canada's Conservative one to act in concert and switch their former allegiances to the new demands of Tunisians.
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Tunisia's "Jasmine Revolution": One Month of Popular Uprising; President Ben Ali Flees to Saudi Arabia
Les Ben Ali-Trabelsi Chez Nous! Ben Ali's Relatives Arrive in Canada as Permanent Residents: The Tunisian Community Calls for Freezing Their Assets