Bob Rae wants more help for Canadian stuck in Cuba
Liberal MP Bob Rae rises to question the government during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Thursday, June 17, 2010. (Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
The Canadian Press
Published Friday, July 23, 2010 9:13PM EDT
TORONTO - Liberal MP Bob Rae is weighing in on the case of a 19-year-old Canadian who has been held in Cuba for more than three months.
Cody LeCompte, of Simcoe, Ont., has been living at a seaside resort waiting for a court to determine if he faces charges related to a car accident he was in while driving during a family vacation in early May.
"The problem is the length of time that it's taken," Rae said Friday after speaking with Danette LeCompte, who is with her son in Cuba. "I think it's been bewildering for him and for his mother."
The ordeal has cost the family more than $25,000 so far.
A trial date for Cody will likely be set sometime next week, Danette LeCompte said when reached by phone Friday at the Gran Club in Santa Lucia.
Even then, it's not likely the trial will take place soon, she said. If he is convicted, Cody could face time in a Cuban prison.
Rae sent an email to Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, asking that the government provide more "vigorous representation" for the LeCompte family.
"Canadians abroad need to know they're being represented and know they're being helped," Rae said.
"I had no trouble getting through to her this morning," he said. "I'm not sure why Lawrence Cannon can't pick up the phone as well and just speak to her directly."
Three days into their vacation in early May, Cody and Danette went for a day trip to a nearby village with her cousin and his Cuban fiancee.
As they passed through an intersection, a dump truck slammed into the passenger's side of the car. The car spun around and was struck again on the driver's side where Cody sat, Danette said.
Police did not show up at the crash site, but came to the hospital to question them.
Everyone in the car suffered internal bruising, but were eventually released from hospital. The cousin's fiancee was severely injured and needed an operation to remove part of her liver. She has since fully recovered.
The driver of the dump truck was not injured.
Danette was later told that drivers must be 21 to rent a car, but the rental agency allowed Cody to drive even though his licence showed him to be 19.
A few days later they tried to catch a flight home, but Cody was told that he could not leave the country.
Rae heard about their situation this week when the family's story was featured on a radio show.
He said cases like the LeCompte's require special attention and a more efficient response from the government.
"The challenge is to get the case dealt with quickly," he said, noting the need for a better system of communicating with Canadian families that find themselves in similar situations.
Cannon's assistant, Darryl Whitehead, said the Foreign Affairs Department has been "doing all it can to bring Cody home as quickly as possible."
"This is not a political issue and it's sad that Mr. Rae is trying to make it one," Whitehead wrote in an email.
Whitehead said the government was "actively providing full consular service to Cody and his family from the very beginning."
However, Danette LeCompte says it took at least three weeks for a Foreign Affairs official to respond to her request for help.
Deepak Obhrai, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, met with senior Cuban officials and raised LeCompte's case directly at the recent African Union Summit in Uganda.
Dana Cryderman, a spokeswoman for Foreign Affairs, said the "Canadian Government cannot interfere in the judicial process of a foreign country," but noted that Canadian consular officials are following the case, and are in contact with Cuban authorities and the LeCompte family.
Cryderman also noted the department's travel advisory for Cuba warns against driving in the country.
The advisory says accidents are a frequent cause of arrest and detention of Canadians in Cuba, and accidents resulting in death or injury are treated as crimes.
The onus is on the driver to prove innocence.