Tunisia’s Mafia Family: The Canadian Connection
Until this last week, most Canadians (including yours truly) had never heard of Belhassen Trabelsi, his sister Leila Trabelsi, or her husband Ben Ali. Truth be told, most Canadians probably couldn’t find Tunisia on a map. I was definitely not aware of the Canadian connection to the revolution in Tunisia.
There are a few Canadians who know these names all too well. Canadians of Tunisian descent are outraged that Belhassen Trabelsi is seeking refugee status in Canada. Some of them fled their homes in Tunisia and came to Canada seeking refugee status to escape him. The reputation of the Trabelsi family in Tunisia has been described as “mafia-like.”
When this story first broke on Canadian news, our immigration officials stated that Mr. Trabelsi is entitled to due process, like any other refugee applicant. That seemed to the average Canadian to be a fair position for our government to take, since Mr. Trabelsi had reportedly gained permanent residency here almost twenty years ago. We didn’t know who he was, nor were we aware of his connections to the Tunisian elite.
But this week we know, and we join in with our fellow Canadians of Tunisian descent in their outrage that Belhassen Trabelsi was ever allowed to set foot in Canada. Obviously someone in the immigration office either covered up the reports, or they failed to run the requisite background checks for security and criminality that should have alerted Canadian officials to turn him away at the gates twenty years ago.
“It is likely nobody knew who he was when he first immigrated to Canada in the 1990s,” said Sergio Karas, a Toronto immigration lawyer. “He should have been excluded because of a reasonable suspicion he was involved in criminal activity.
Instead, the billionaire brother-in-law of Tunisia’s then President Zine al Abindine Ben Ali was allowed to thrive at the top of a family business empire, described by Western diplomats as “mafia-like,” that included luxury hotels, an airline and control over two private banks that were used, along with government coffers, to finance more business ventures.
Canadian immigration authorities should have noticed that in the past two decades Mr.Trabelsi has failed to live in Canada for two out of every five years as per the requirements of permanent residency here.
It wasn’t until Wiki-Leaks alerted the world to the atrocities committed by the Trabelsi family in Tunisia that Canadian officials finally took notice of this wolf that we have allowed to live among us. Belhassen Trabelsi’s permanent residency status was finally revoked last week. He promptly filed for asylum, claiming he will be persecuted if sent back to Tunisia.
Tunisian Canadians were understandably outraged that Canada even considered granting asylum for Trabelsi. He faces charges of embezzlement, money-laundering and abuse of power in Tunisia. He does not face persecution if deported back home, but rather prosecution for his crimes.
Thanks to loopholes in Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, Mr. Trabelsi was still able to fly to Montreal with his wife, children and nanny in their private jet, and check into a luxury lakeside resort outside Montreal. A bill to reform this Act, close the loopholes, and prevent further abuse is currently before the House of Commons.
In the meantime, Canada has no formal extradition treaty with Tunisia, so the Trabelsi family is apparently free to either stay here or fly their private jet wherever they choose.
I am feeling just a little ashamed of my country right now.