The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada rejected his request for refugee status on Monday because of criminal charges he faces in Tunisia.
"The tribunal finds that there are serious reasons for considering that the applicant, Belhassen Trabelsi, has committed serious political crimes, specifically defrauding the government, fraud and money laundering," the ruling says.
The decision comes after 21 days of hearings, which began 20 months ago. It applies to Trabelsi only. His wife and children are eligible to apply for refugee status in Canada.
Had residency status in 1990s
Trabelsi can appeal by requesting a judicial review, which means a new hearing would take place before another commissioner. Such a request could take up to two years.
Trabelsi has been in Montreal since January 2011, when he fled Tunisia as the regime of his brother-in-law, Zine ElAbidine Ben Ali, was collapsing. He is accused of looting Tunisia's public treasury and faces a variety of charges in his home country.
Trabelsi had immigrated to Canada and obtained permanent resident status in the mid-1990s but later returned to Tunisia. Shortly after arriving in Canada in January 2011, that status was revoked.
Trabelsi attempted to have his residency reinstated, but his request was denied. To keep one's permanent residence status, a person must remain in Canada for at least two years out of every five. Trabelsi's lawyers admitted he had failed to meet that requirement.
At his residency hearing in 2012, Trabelsi had argued through lawyers that he should be allowed to stay in Canada on humanitarian grounds and would fear for his life if he returned to Tunisia.
That argument was unsuccessful, and he subsequently applied for asylum as a political refugee.
At his recent asylum hearing, an expert testified at length about how Trabelsi conducted business in Tunisia, saying he received a considerable number of bribes.
"The [immigration] minister is of the opinion that there are serious reasons for considering that the applicant has committed the misappropriation of assets, extortion and offences of over $5,000 ... punishable by a maximum of 14 years, and extortion ... punishable by a term of imprisonment for life," the decision reads.