Tunisian billionaire a no-show at immigration appeal
Published Monday, April 23, 2012 5:54PM EDT
Citing concerns for his safety, the billionaire brother-in-law of Tunisia's ousted ex-president was a no-show at his Immigration and Refugee Board appeal Monday.
Belhassen Trabelsi and his family are believed to have been living quietly in Montreal since they fled to Canada in January, 2011, just as former Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's 23-year rule was ended in a popular uprising.
Trabelsi, who used his status as a permanent resident to gain entry to Canada, had his residency revoked soon after. Because he filed an appeal, however, his status has remained valid meaning he can continue to live in Canada legally.
The hearing Monday was set to decide on that appeal.
But as proceedings got underway, Trabelsi's absence prompted debate over whether he needed to be present for it to go ahead.
Arguing that Trabelsi has behaved more like a "tourist" than a permanent resident, the federal lawyers argued that his security concerns are unfounded and that his absence should mean a summary rejection of the appeal.
Trabelsi's lawyer countered that his presence should have no bearing on whether the hearings can go ahead.
In the end, the commissioner agreed to hear the case based on evidence already on file.
"(Trabelsi) says he wants to stay in Canada, but has also spoken out in the media about wanting to return to Tunisia," CTV Montreal's Stephane Giroux said from outside the Complexe Guy-Favreau on Monday.
"His lawyers were asked to respond to the allegations, and they did not," Giroux added, explaining that it will now be up the the judge to issue her ruling later in the spring.
Trabelsi is the eldest brother of former Tunisian first lady Leila Trabelsi, wife of the ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
At the time of Trabelsi's arrival in Canada, then-minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon told reporters the government would do its utmost to comply with requests he be extradited to Tunisia.
"He is not welcome. We will seek to find, obviously within the context of existing legislation, the fastest possible methods which will permit us to comply with the Tunisian government's request," Cannon said in French.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper echoed those comments, relating the same message to reporters in Morocco.
"Canada will use all tools at its disposal to co-operate with the international community in dealing with members of the former regime," Harper said during a trip to Rabat.
"They are not welcome. Let me be very clear: we do not welcome them in our country," he said.
Under IRB rules, permanent residents of Canada must live here for at least two years out of every five.
To live outside Canada and keep permanent resident status, people must either be in the company of a Canadian citizen or work full-time for a Canadian business, government or public service.
Trabelsi has also applied for refugee status in Canada, meaning he could be in Canada for some time pending the lengthy decision-making and possible subsequent appeal process that will only get underway once his residency status is resolved.
In the event his refugee claim is denied, Trabelsi could then appeal to the Federal Court. Ultimately, if the court rules against him, his case would be put to a potentially years-long Immigration Department risk assessment.
Tunisia's new government has already charged, tried and convicted Trabelsi in absentia. In addition to a 15-year sentence and $500,000 fine for corruption, unlawful trade of precious metals and currency transfers, he's been sentenced to 21 months for the unlawful possession of archaeological artifacts.With files from The Canadian Press