Toronto woman stuck in Cuba, fears she'll miss 3-year-old son's funeral
Daniel Bitonti, CTVNews.ca Staff
Published Wednesday, February 5, 2014 9:43AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, February 5, 2014 6:28PM EST
Justine Davis says she wants to eulogize her son. The reality, the Toronto mother says, is that she probably won’t even be there for his funeral.
Davis and her three-year-old son Cameron were visiting Cayo Largo in December, a small island off the main Cuban Island, when the scooter they were travelling on collided with a truck. Davis suffered a broken arm, as well as other injuries, including a gash to her thigh that she says still hasn’t healed. Cameron, however, didn’t survive.
Six weeks later, Davis is still in Cuba. She says Cuban law enforcement officials have told her she isn’t allowed to leave the country because they’re still investigating the case. And with Cameron’s funeral scheduled for Saturday in Toronto, she says she’s losing hope of being able to attend. She says she disappointed the Canadian government hasn’t done more to help her.
“This has been a total nightmare … It’s definitely going to be hard psychologically, it’s going to crush me,” Davis told CTVNews.ca on Wednesday in a phone interview from a Havana hospital. “I just can’t imagine not being allowed to go. I’m his mother.”
Cameron’s body was embalmed in Cuba and flown to Canada on Jan. 18, and Davis says her family has tried to postpone the funeral as long as they could. But because of sub-standard embalming techniques in Cuba, the family has decided to go ahead with the funeral on Feb. 8.
Davis says Cuban law enforcement officials have told her that the crash happened after Davis swerved the scooter to avoid potholes on the road, smashing the scooter into a truck.
While Davis didn’t want to go into detail about the crash -- she said she is at the “mercy” of Cuban officials and doesn’t want to hurt her situation -- she said it was the truck that hit her and her son.
A travel website set up by the Canadian government says that traffic accidents in Cuba resulting in death or injury are treated as crimes, with the onus on the driver to prove innocence. According to the website, it can take five months to a year for a case to go to trial, and in most cases the driver will not be allowed to leave the country until the trial has taken place.
Davis said law enforcement officials came to her hospital on Jan. 6 and explained their version of the crash.
“It was simply ‘Oh you must have swerved for potholes, that’s the only thing we can think of.’ That’s what they’ve come to conclude,” she said.
Davis said she hasn’t heard from law enforcement officials since that visit.
“How it works here is that you’re basically guilty until you’re proven innocent. It’s very different. There’s Canadians who have been here for over two years waiting for trials. It’s not publicized. People just don’t know what they’re getting themselves into when they’re on vacation. And that is simply what I was doing with my son over Christmas.”
Davis said she had decided to go for a scooter ride after a vehicle rental company offered her the chance do so after she returned her rental Jeep before it was due back. She said both she and Cameron were wearing helmets, adding that Cayo Largo has barely any traffic, with no Cubans living on the island.
When she spoke about what Cameron was like, she began to cry on the phone, and simply said he was “a good boy, he was very happy, he was perfect. I wouldn’t change a thing about him.”
Davis said she has been visited by a Canadian consular official in Cuba several times since the accident. She says she’s been told that the embassy’s hands are tied.
“The only thing they’re able to do in Cuba is send a diplomatic note to the court, which they’ve done,” she said. “You think when you travel to the country with a Canadian embassy there is a little more protection there. But it seems like it doesn’t makes a difference. I don’t really understand why there is an embassy there if they can’t help me.”
The Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development released a statement to CTV News.ca Wednesday afternoon saying that Canadian officials in Havana are providing consular assistance and are in contact with local authorities.
"Our thoughts are with the family of the Canadian Citizen who passed away in Cuba,” the statement said.
Davis said she doesn’t know when she’ll be allowed to leave Cuba. She said she thinks that once she’s released from hospital, she’ll be forced to rent an apartment until her situation is sorted out. She said friends have been visiting her on rotation, including Cameron’s father who has visited twice since the crash. She was forced to rent out her Toronto apartment in the meantime.
A Facebook page has been created by friends and family asking people to write to their MPs to take action on Davis’ situation.
Davis’ friend, Amber Hussey, told CTV Kitchener that Davis also lost her father in November from brain cancer.
“She lost her father and her son in a span of a month. And anybody would have a difficult time coping with that,” she said. “But to do it from a foreign country where you don’t speak the language and are lacking supports, it’s almost an impossible feat to ask her do alone.”
Davis says she’s losing hope the situation will be resolved in time for Cameron’s funeral.
“It’s Wednesday, the funeral is on Saturday,” said Davis. “We tried to give them (Cuban police) their time to do their job and respect the process, as hard as it is … But they’re showing no compassion for the funeral. We’ve pushed the funeral off twice already. They know this. We can’t do it anymore because of my son. He’s not going to make it any further.”
With a report from CTV Kitchener