New Brunswick farmer Henk Tepper has languished in a Lebanese jail cell for 48 days.
OTTAWA -- A journalist, a tourist and a potato farmer are among the Canadian citizens being held prisoner or captive in the Middle East and North Africa.
Henk Tepper, a New Brunswick potato farmer, has been locked in a Lebanese jail cell for 48 days because Algeria -- a country he's never even been too -- accuses him of trying to sell that country potatoes in 2007 unfit for human consumption.
Algeria convinced Interpol to issue a Red Notice for Tepper, and he was picked up in Lebanon earlier this year when he travelled there.
"He hasn't seen the sunlight in 45 days," said Rodney Gillis, Tepper's lawyer in Canada. "He's totally frustrated because he hasn't committed a crime. He's never even been to Algeria. The irony is they can allege he's committed a crime in Algeria, give something to Interpol and he gets arrested in Lebanon, and the government of Canada says, 'You fellas work it out.'"
Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai, who is with the Department of Foreign Affairs, appeared on Sun News Network's Daily Brief Monday, where he said Canadian officials are keeping a close eye on Tepper's case.
"We have received consular access to him, so we are in touch with his laywer, with his family and making making periodic visits to ensure... he's well looked after," Obhrai said. "We are in touch with the Lebanese authourity at the highest level, telling them we have an interest in this case and... we want to see a transparent, fair trial as quickly as possible."A written statement from Foreign Affairs emphasized that Canadian intervention can't go much further.
"The Government of Canada cannot intervene in the judicial affairs of a sovereign country, nor can it seek preferential treatment or try to exempt Canadian citizens from the due process of local law," wrote spokesperson Ann Matejicka.
But Gillis said Foreign Affairs has been next to useless, and should be pressuring Interpol to drop the Red Notice for Tepper, which Gillis said would likely lead to the Lebanese releasing him and sending him home.
Tepper isn't the only Canadian languishing in a foreign land on bogus charges.
Dorothy Parvaz, a Canadian journalist from British Columbia who entered Syria to cover the anti-government protests there for Al Jazeera, was arrested as soon as she entered the country on April 29 and hasn't been heard from since.
A Facebook group has been set up appealing for Parvaz's release, and Al Jazeera has dedicated a portion of its website to her. Since Parvaz holds Canadian, US and Iranian nationalities, all three governments are pressuring the Syrian government to release her.
In her case, Matejicka said the government is "concerned" about her whereabouts.
"Officials at the Canadian Embassy in Damascus are in contact with senior level Syrian authorities to gather additional information and to provide consular assistance, as required," she wrote.
And Colin Rutherford, a Canadian tourist from Toronto who travelled to Afghanistan on his own, was taken captive by insurgents there in October. On Sunday, the Taliban released a video of Rutherford showing him to be in good health. The group of so-called Mujahadeen fighters who have kidnapped Rutherford accuse him of being a spy.
Foreign Affairs insists they are working for Rutherford's release.
"Canadian officials are working with Afghan authorities to assist the family in securing the safe release of their loved one. We ask that the media respect the privacy of the family," Matejicka wrote.
For Gillis, the worst case scenario for Tepper is that he'll be extradited to Algeria.
While his cramped cell in Lebanon is bad -- there is no window, no toilet except a hole in the floor, no toilet paper and he shares his space with murderers -- Gillis worries it'll be "much worse" in Algeria.