VAUDREUIL - A sprawling suburban hotel just outside Montreal has become the epicentre of an international diplomatic tempest involving escaped members of the toppled Tunisian regime.

Provincial police officers guarded the picturesque Chateau Vaudreuil hotel while staff, fearing unruly protesters, kept a growing number of news media at bay.

The hotel's guests are thought to include a billionaire Tunisian businessman, and brother-in-law to the ousted president, who has reportedly been hiding out in Canada since last week.

Tunisia's transitional government has demanded the arrest of that businessman, who stands accused of stealing government assets before the regime was overthrown.

Tunisia issued a spate of international arrest warrants Wednesday against the former president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and his family.

Among those relatives is family financier Belhassen Trabelsi, who is reportedly staying at the country-style complex with the spa and the waterfront view, just across the river from Montreal.

Interpol is circulating a global alert from its Tunis bureau, seeking the arrest of Ben Ali and six of his family members, though it does not specify which relatives.

The alert asks member countries, which would include Canada, "to search, locate and provisionally arrest Mr. Ali and his relatives with a view to their extradition to Tunis."

But Interpol issued a statement explaining that its global alert does not constitute an arrest warrant under Canadian law, and that Canadian authorities would only be compelled to take action after receiving a direct request.

When asked what it planned to do, the RCMP referred inquiries about Trabelsi to the Department of Foreign Affairs, which has yet to comment on the matter.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney hinted Wednesday that Trabelsi is a permanent resident and could not simply be removed through standard immigration procedures.

"I can't comment on individuals because of the Privacy Act," he told reporters in Calgary.

"I can tell you there were members of that family in Canada as permanent residents, and they have a legal right to be here."

He added that if any members of the regime who were not residents of Canada tried to enter, the Canadian government would not give them a visa.

Kenney said travel visas are only granted to people who demonstrate an intention to return to their home country -- which he called doubtful in this case. He added that deportation measures would be launched against any other ex-regime member entering Canada illegally.

As for Ben Ali, he said: "The former president of Tunisia is not welcome in Canada."

Tunisian groups in Canada are worried Trabelsi will be able to slip out of the country. They see him as a key figure of Ben Ali's regime, which they accuse of corruption, kidnapping and torture.

"It's very important for us that Canada does not let him leave," said Haroun Bouazzi, a spokesperson for a Tunisian solidarity group in Montreal.

"It's vital that Canada and Tunisia co-operate and that this person doesn't escape."

Trabelsi is the eldest brother of Ben Ali's wife, Leila Trabelsi, who is the object of much disdain in Tunisia. Her family is accused of siphoning millions of dollars from the state.

A U.S. ambassador referred to Trabelsi as the "most notorious family member" in a 2008 diplomatic cable that was released recently by WikiLeaks.