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LIVE | Jailed farmer's family on Parliament Hill

12/20/2011 10:07 EST | Updated 02/19/2012 05:12 EST

Two Liberal senators and the wife and sister of Henk Tepper made an emotional appeal to the federal government Tuesday, asking for help to bring the New Brunswick potato farmer jailed in Lebanon back to Canada.

They repeated their claim that all that is needed to free Tepper from a Beirut prison is a letter of request to the Lebanese government.

Tepper's sister Harmein said they want to start 2012 on a positive note and as a complete family.

"It's time that the Canadian government brings Henk back home," she said.

Tepper's wife Ella, wiping tears away throughout the press conference on Parliament Hill, spoke only briefly because she said she finds it difficult to speak in public.

"The hardest thing is trying to be strong for your kids. It's very hard when you have to try to put your kids to sleep at night when they're crying, trying to make them feel better but there is only one thing that would make them feel better, is to have their dad home for Christmas," she said.

Senators Pierrette Ringuette and Mac Harb also struggled to keep their composure as they recounted their recent visit to Lebanon to see Tepper with his lawyer and pleaded for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to intervene in the case.

"Why is Stephen Harper not acting for Henk? Is he a second-class citizen because he was not born in Canada?" Ringuette said. "Stephen Harper has to do the right thing. He needs to bring Henk Tepper home, and now."

"We have to take serious action," said Harb. "I am appealing to the prime minister to take the leadership necessary to make the official request."

"This is absolutely appalling for a country like my country that doesn't stand up for one of its citizens," he said, his voice shaking. "This is absolutely horrible."

Ringuette, Harb and Tepper's lawyer, Jim Mockler, met with high-ranking Lebanese authorities, including the country's justice minister during their trip.

They say they were told the Canadian government should write a letter asking that Tepper not be extradited to Algeria and sent home instead. When the issue was raised last week in the House of Commons, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dianne Ablonczy said that the government of Lebanon dismissed the idea that a simple letter is needed to bring Tepper home and that it said it has international legal obligations to uphold when faced with an extradition request.

She said the federal government is concerned about Tepper's case and doing everything possible to help him.

The senators said Tuesday, however, that they were told firsthand, in three different languages by Lebanese government officials that a letter from the Canadian government asking for Tepper to be sent back to Canada would take precedence over all other requests. They had templates Tuesday of letters they say other countries have used in similar cases and they also obtained a copy of the Interpol red notice alert issued by Algeria.

Tepper, 44, has been behind bars in Beirut with no charges against him since March. He was arrested on the Interpol warrant while on a trade mission trip sponsored by the Canadian government.

The New Brunswick farmer is accused of forging paperwork over a shipment of potatoes and exporting a rotten shipment to Algeria in 2007. Tepper says he is innocent and his lawyers argue that the potatoes were inspected in Canada and met Algerian standards.

Harb said that the crime Tepper is accused of committing would have happened on Canadian soil, not Algerian or Lebanese, and he should be brought home to face the Canadian justice system.

Ringuette questioned why the RCMP didn't arrest Tepper when it received Algeria's red notice in May 2010. She said Tepper travelled in and out of Canada several times after that notice for his arrest was issued yet he was never stopped by immigration or border security officials.

"Who decided not to arrest him in Canada?" she said. "Some have told me that it looks like a set-up."

The CBC's Laurie Graham reported last month that the RCMP sent personal and business information about Tepper to Algerian authorities and his lawyer believes that exchange of information helped lead to the Algerian warrant and Tepper's arrest in Lebanon.

The RCMP said it's a standard component of an Interpol investigation to share with other Interpol countries, Graham reported.

Ringuette also said that Tepper had launched a lawsuit against the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in 2008 alleging it was responsible for financial losses related to his trade business with Algeria. That case was due to be heard in July according to Ringuette but it is now on hold due to Tepper's detention.

"Is this a sign of a cover-up?" she asked.

The senator also said she has been asking the federal government for documentation related to Tepper's case, using access-to-information legislation and all she has received is press clippings.

"What are they hiding? Is this a cover-up?" she said.

A spokesman for Albonczy said again Tuesday that the government is monitoring Tepper's case.

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