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KNIGHT: Canadians in Cuban justice system can expect no support from government

True North's Leo Knight says you are on your own if you fall afoul of the Cuban "justice" system.

A Canadian man, Benjamin Tomlin, 46, an employee of the Canadian Development Investment Corp., in March of 2019 was sentenced to 10 years in a Cuban jail ostensibly for having sex with a minor, a 15-year-old girl. 

The story begins in February of 2017 when he was in Cuba for a holiday at a resort in Varadero. On the last night of his holiday, he was partying at a friend’s house and met some Cuban nationals. They went to a nightclub in Cardenas, a town about 30 kilometres south of Varadero.

After the nightclub, the group went to a private home. Tomlin passed out and when he awoke he was missing his money and his phone. He claims he did not have sex with anyone that night.

He made his way back to Varadero and to the airport then flew back to Canada.  He chalked it up as a lesson learned and got on with his life. What he didn’t know was that two of the females in the group were underage prostitutes who were under investigation by the Cuban authorities. 

When they were arrested after Tomlin left the country, they came up with a story about Tomlin presumably to deflect from their own troubles. A warrant was issued for Tomlin but he was never told. 

A year and a half later, in August of 2018, he returned to Cuba for another holiday and was promptly arrested. He was held in custody until his trial in March. His trial lasted less than a day. He was convicted despite not being identified by anyone. The two prostitutes didn’t testify but rather, the courts used their original statements to police to convict Tomlin.

It would be generous to call it a kangaroo court, but such is the way things are in Cuba. 

Last year I wrote extensively about the case of two Vancouver area police officers, Jordan Long of Port Moody Police Department and Mark Simms of Vancouver Police. 

In March of 2018, they were on holiday at a resort in Varadero hanging around the bar at the resort pool. One of them later had sex with a woman who had propositioned them. I should add they were both young, single men.

The girl, also Canadian from Ontario, left the room and the boys had a nap before dinner. They were awakened by police and hotel security and taken into custody. They were not allowed to talk to each other and were held in custody for a week. 

This started a 10-month long nightmare that would last through a trial in which they were acquitted of a charge of sexual assault and then had to wait through the appeal period which is totally in control of the prosecution. 

The appeal ultimately failed and they were allowed to leave the country. They have since returned to work for their respective departments but are still under investigation by the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner after the father of the girl complained.  

Without going into the too many of the facts of the case, they were arrested after the girl claimed she was dragged from the pool bar, through the busy lobby and up three flights of stairs where she was raped in their room.  The distance from the pool to the lobby is about 500 metres. 

Yes, the story defies all credulity, but they were charged nonetheless and their nightmare began. 

In the Cuban system of, dare I call it justice, the accused is assigned a defence counsel who is an employee of the government. The prosecutor is an employee of the government and the trial judges are employees of the government. The translator assigned by the court to assist is also an employee of the government.

The two officers tried to get evidence such as the video from the resort which they knew would be exculpatory but they were denied access. It wasn’t until a resort security guard came forward and testified that he saw the girl when she was leaving and she was fine and never said a word that the case collapsed. 

They got lucky. I’m afraid Benjamin Tomlin may not be as lucky. It seems the only people who could testify on his behalf were the same folks who took his cash and phone. Tomlin has filed an appeal of his conviction and it remains to be seen how all this might end. 

Like the two cops, Tomlin tried to get consular assistance. Global Affairs Canada declined to “interfere” in the Cuban justice system. 

This week, the Minister, Chrystia Freeland was in Cuba to meet with her Cuban counterpart Bruno Eduardo Rodriguez Parrilla. 

Barbara Harvey, spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada told CBC the “Government was aware of a Canadian citizen imprisoned in Cuba.” There is no indication whether Freeland raised the Tomlin matter in her meeting. My guess is no.

As the two Vancouver cops learned, you are on your own if you fall afoul of the Cuban justice system. 

Every year more than 1.3 million Canadians travel to Cuba. That is nearly ten times the amount of the next largest country, the U.S. of which about 240,000 of its citizens travel to Cuba annually. 

Considering tourism is the largest industry in Cuba and Canada is the largest provider of tourist dollars, one might think Global Affairs Canada would have a bit of leverage to deal with the Cubans when there is a miscarriage of justice. But, apparently, as a matter of policy the Trudeau government won’t stand up to Cuba and support Canadian citizens. 

Something to consider if you are pondering a holiday there.

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