12/22/2011 05:44 EST | Updated 02/21/2012 05:12 EST

Ottawa Could Free Henk Tepper With A Letter


A letter from the federal government counters the claims of an expert in international law about how to free N.B. potato farmer Henk Tepper.

Tepper has spent nine months in a Beirut jail for allegedly exporting bad potatoes to Algeria.

Paul Cavaluzzo, a lawyer, says he can't understand why the Harper government is not acting swiftly to get Tepper back to Canada.

He also says two Canadian senators have said that Lebanese authorities would release Tepper if Canada sends a letter requesting he be returned. If that’s true, Cavaluzzo says, then Ottawa’s concern about interfering in Lebanon’s judicial system is not a valid one.

“It’s very confusing as to the intransigence they seem to be demonstrating because the Lebanese obviously, I think, are looking for a reason to release Mr. Tepper back to Canada, and what they seem to be waiting for is a letter,” he said.

In a letter originally sent to Senator Pierrette Ringuette, then forwarded to CBC News Thursday, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Minister of State of Foreign Affairs Diane Ablonczy "correct the record regarding incorrect information."

The letter goes on to say that the Lebanese government has communicated to the government of Canada that "a resolution through the Lebanese legal system is not as simple as sending one letter."

The government also lays out the work it says it's done to bring Tepper home, citing the sending of letters and diplomatic notes.

Meanwhile, Cavaluzzo says there’s an even more compelling reason to have Tepper back in Canada.

“The most important fact here is that [the alleged crime] occurred in Canada, by a Canadian. And as a result of that, Canada has jurisdiction if a crime occurred, to prosecute him. He’s a Canadian, he should be prosecuted in Canada,” he said.

Tepper, 44, has been behind bars in Beirut with no charges against him since March 23. He was arrested on the Interpol warrant while on a trade mission trip sponsored by the Canadian government. He says he is innocent and his lawyers argue that the potatoes were inspected in Canada and met Algerian standards.

Cavaluzzo was involved in the Maher Arar case, which he says was resolved once enough political pressure was put on the federal government. The lawyer believes the same would happen in Henk Tepper’s case.