On Monday December 23rd they rented a jeep from CubaCar at the resort where they were staying (Playa Blanca) and proceeded to travel on the island, site seeing and doing children’s activities such as visiting a park close to the marina and a turtle farm.
When they returned the jeep later that afternoon they were asked if they wanted to take a scooter in lieu of time remaining on the jeep rental as they had returned it earlier than expected. Justine agreed and indicated they would take advantage of this offer after getting something to eat. Upon returning to the rental place they were outfitted with the scooter and helmets, with the rental agent securing the helmet on Cameron and Justine securing her own.
Approximately 5 minutes after leaving the resort on the scooter, they were involved in a tragic accident which sadly took Cameron’s life.
The accident took place on a 2 lane road which was partially paved – however, it was not paved where the accident occurred.
The accident involved an industrial sized truck with a driver and 2 passengers in the front. Although there is a difference of opinion as to what exactly occurred, the Cuban investigation is indicating that Justine may have exited her lane on a bend in the road to avoid potholes at which time the truck collided with the scooter.
Justine and Cameron were thrown from the scooter and upon impact Cameron’s helmet came off. Justine was approximately 30 feet from where Cameron was laying and crawled to him despite her multiple injuries. Justine and Cameron were the only ones who sustained physical injuries, however nobody from the truck offered assistance and they proceeded to take pictures with their cell phone. There were no other witnesses to the accident and nobody immediately available to assist. Justine and Cameron were transported separately with Justine eventually being air-lifted to Clinica Cira Garcia in Havana where her injuries were evaluated and addressed with emergency surgery.
Justine’s injuries include multiple contusions, a broken bone in her left arm, a compound fracture on her left leg and a deep and large wound on her left thigh. To date she has incurred 5 surgeries in an effort to correct and treat these injuries.
After many unanswered pleas regarding Cameron, Justine was advised on Tuesday, December 24th that he did not survive.
Although her care and caregivers at Clinica Cira Garcia have been good, she was alone in the hospital in a foreign country where English is not the first language, trying to comprehend the tragic events which have changed her life forever.
Justine’s personal belongings arrived from the resort on Cayo Largo on Tuesday December 24th – although she does not know who delivered these to the clinic. At this time she realized approximately $100 Cuban convertible dollars were missing from her purse, along with 1 credit card. In addition, her jewelry (a necklace and ring) were removed during surgery and have not yet been found. Although the necklace did not have any value per se, the custom made ring was given to her by her father who passed away in November – one month prior to this accident – and consisted of Justine, Cameron and her Dad’s birthstones.
On Thursday December 26th at approximately 9:00pm at night an air ambulance arrived in Cuba to transport both Justine and Cameron back to Canada, and although the hospital had willingly checked Justine out to the care of the medical team who arrived with the air ambulance she was soon advised that neither she nor Cameron were permitted to leave the country. As she was sure this was just a temporary glitch in communication, arrangements were made for the air ambulance and crew to remain in Cuba on standby, which they did for 48 hours before being dispatched back to Canada.
As well, on Thursday December 26th, the police made their first contact with Justine and came to the hospital, along with the hospital translator, to take her official statement. Other than a visit made to the police station by a family friend on December 27th to speak with the Detective in charge of the investigation, there was no additional communication from the police until they returned to the hospital on January 6th to provide an update.
Immediately after the accident the Canadian Embassy in Cuba was involved, however Justine has been advised on multiple occasions that they are not empowered to contact any Cuban officials directly and all communication must be handled via a diplomatic note to and from the Embassy.
Justine has also been advised that all efforts to secure her and Cameron’s release from the country must be coordinated via Asistur – a Cuban assistance coordination company. All efforts to contact Asistur via phone have gone unanswered and on 2 occasions when a family friend and Cameron’s Father went directly to the Asistur office in Havana they were advised that Asistur did not have any updates regarding the investigation and that they would contact us. We left both the hospital number and Justine’s cell phone number, however todate we have never been contacted by them.
Cameron’s remains were officially released from Cuba and returned to Canada on Saturday January 18th, however Justine remains in the hospital and has incurred 5 surgeries in the 6 weeks since the accident.
Cameron’s services were delayed as long as possible in the hopes Justine would soon follow him back to Canada. However, due to the length of time since the accident as well as the fact that embalming techniques in Cuba do not meet Canadian standards, arrangements had to be made and his funeral is scheduled in Toronto on Saturday February 8th.
The Canadian embassy in Cuba has sent 3 diplomatic notes to the Cuban officials asking to release Justine for compassionate reasons, allowing her to return to Canada for her son’s funeral. As of February 1st, there has been no response from the Cuban officials to these requests.
Although we understand the need for a thorough investigation and that the accident occurred during the holidays when staffing is reduced, we have held off notifying the media in the hopes of allowing the Cuban officials sufficient time to come to the conclusion that this was an accident with no mal-intent from either party involved. However, at this time there has been no communication regarding any official charges, direction or process and timelines moving forward.
Justine and Michael’s lives have forever changed and in addition to the severe lack of communication between the police, Cuban officials, the Canadian embassy as well as Asistur, the uncertainty of not knowing whether or not Justine will be able to attend her son’s funeral is understandably having a negative psychological impact on her.
In addition to the emotional and physical turmoil the financial impact has been astronomical and continues to be so as long as Justine remains in Cuba.
Justine’s release from the country is a separate entity from her release from the hospital as the hospital has advised her on multiple occasions that they would release her to the care of a Canadian hospital as soon as she is released from the country.
Once released from the hospital Justine will be responsible for securing her own housing and means of financial support while being detained in Cuba. She has been advised that neither the Canadian embassy or any other Canadian government agency offers financial support or assistance in these matters. As well, she continues to be responsible for her Canadian living expenses as she has no indication as to when she will return.
As over one million Canadian tourists visit Cuba annually, it’s extremely important they know and understand the risks and that the Canadian government and Embassy have no control or political clout to assist in these situations.
We are asking the Canadian public to reach out to their Member of Parliament as well as the Cuban embassy in Ottawa asking for Justine to be released in time to attend her son’s services.