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Canada in Haiti, Haiti in Canada

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Issue: 66 Section: Foreign Policy Geography: Canada, Latin America Haiti Topics: haiti

January 25, 2010

Canada in Haiti, Haiti in Canada

Earthquake does little to shake Canada's stance on Haiti

by Kriya Govender, Antoine Dion Ortega

Photo: Jean Ristil

MONTREAL—One week after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake flattened Port-au-Prince on January 12, NGOs urged Jason Kenney—Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism—to adopt a series of extraordinary measures to facilitate the coming of Haitians to Canada.

The first concern was to broaden the family reunification program, so that brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews could join their relatives in Canada, rather than only reuniting parents and children.

Kenney made it clear on January 18 that there would be no special considerations for Haitians; that immigration rules would remain the same for everyone. However, he said, pending cases would be dealt with more quickly.

He also said that students, tourists or workers already in Canada under a temporary visa would be allowed to stay longer.

But that’s about it. Extended stays and the promise to expedite pending applications was all Ottawa had to offer the Haitian community.

According to Stephan Reichhold, director of the Roundtable of Service Organizations for Refugee and Immigrant People (Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes réfugiées et immigrantes), Ottawa has been less generous so far with Haitians than with populations hit by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, or victims of the civil conflict in Sri Lanka last year.

In January 2005, a week after the December 26 Indian Ocean tsunami, Canada opened its doors “on a case-by-case basis, other close family members [than the ones usually eligible] of Canadian citizens and permanent residents who have been and continue to be seriously and personally affected by the disaster.” Additionally, application processing fees were suspended for victims of the tsunami.

It is simply not true, as Kenney claimed, that immigration rules can never be modified, said Reichhold, who added that Canada broadened its definition of the family in 1999, during the civil war in Kosovo.

“Kenney has the power to change the rules temporarily and make an exception if he wishes,” said Reichhold.

When reminded that Canada had special ties with Haiti, Kenney replied that Canada had ties with many countries.

Reichhold believes Canada’s current electoral mapping might play a role here.

“There are not even 1,000 Haitians living in Toronto,” he said. “Most Haitians live in Quebec. I think that making an exception for Haitians is not politically profitable to this government, which has already put a cross on Quebec,” he said.

A Leger Marketing-Le Devoir survey showed last Tuesday that 75 per cent of Quebecois are “unsatisfied” with the Harper administration, and 43 per cent are “very unsatisfied.”

The Conservative Party only gets 18 per cent of Quebec voters’ intentions.

According to Statistics Canada, of the 82,000 Haitians who immigrated in Canada, about 75,000—90 per cent—have settled in Quebec. The province’s Haitian community is now 130,000 strong.

In comparison, only eight per cent live in Ontario, and only one per cent in both Alberta and BC.

Implementing special measures would thus mean the federal government spending a lot of money on a community mostly concentrated in Quebec. The bills could prove to be unpopular to the rest of the country.

That might be why Kenney was so quick to welcome Quebec’s decision to use its prerogative and allow Haitians in Canada to sponsor members of their extended family. The province—not Ottawa—would assume the bills.

That does not mean that Canada does not want to be involved at all. But it seems that, rather than having Haitians come to Canada, Canada will go to the Haitians. As hundreds of additional Canadian troops are expected to join relief efforts in Jacmel and Leogane in the coming days, it is obvious that Canada is determined to play in the opening act in helping Haiti to get back on its feet.

Canadian involvement in Haiti is not new. In fact, in the last decade, both Canada and the US have played a critical role in Haitian politics.

CBC news reported that Canada is among 19 of the world’s major lenders that have promised to cancel Haiti’s foreign debt obligations. Last year, Canada canceled the $2.3 million debt owed by Haiti. As of September, 2008, Haiti’s total foreign debt was estimated by the International Monetary Fund to be US$1.8 billion.

According to the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) website, Canada has contributed $135 million so far towards the relief effort in Haiti, including $60 million directed towards UN agencies.

In comparison, the Canadian government donated a total of $425 million, to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Of the $425 million, CIDA contributed a total of $383 million until March 2009, which went to projects such as building permanent housing for families in affected tsunami areas, supporting vocational and business training programs, and strengthening local NGOs and local and national governments.

On paper, it seems Canada is doing a lot for Haiti and its people, but many believe the country has the potential to do more.

Haiti's National Palace (completed by US naval engineers during the US occupation of Haiti in 1920).

The indispensable help Canada and the US are bringing today to UN operations in Haiti—refurbishing the airports and ports, clearing debris and erecting tents—must not overshadow its numerous, and often appalling, interferences in Haitian affairs in the last decade.

In May, 2000, the populist leftist Famni Lavalas party won the legislative elections, though many irregularities were reported by the Organization of American States (OAS) electoral observation mission. Opposition parties accused the government party of fraud and the US suspended aid to Haiti.

Canada and the European nations followed suit by suspending assistance to the newly-elected government.

In November, 2000, opposition parties boycotted the Presidential election and Jean-Bertrand Aristide was easily elected.

Though Canada cut its aid to Haiti after the 2000 elections, it continued to send money to anti-Aristide NGOs in Haiti, with the effect of destabilizing the government. According to Yves Engler, author of Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority, Canada used its contributions to local NGOs as a political tool.

At the beginning of 2003, Canada organized a secret conference about the future of Haiti’s government. No Haitian officials were invited. According to Engler, during this secret meeting—held under the government of Jean Chretien—both the 2004 Haitian rebellion and the subsequent coup were planned.

According to journalist Michel Vastel, the removal of Aristide from office and the reintegration of the Haitian Army—abolished in 1995 by Aristide—were considered by Canadian and French officials during the conference. Also discussed was the option of putting the country under trusteeship.

On February 29, 2004, after a three-week rebellion allegedly supported by the US, Aristide was flown on a US airplane to Central Africa Republic.

When interim president Boniface Alexandre asked the UN Security Council for a peacekeeping force, the US sent 1,000 Marines the same day, followed by 550 Canadian troops.

In June, 2004, the Canadian, US and Chilean troops deployed to Haiti passed under the control of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), led by the Brazilian Army.

During the two-year interim government of Alexandre, the US and Canada secured their hold on Haiti—more specifically, on the Ministry of Justice, headed by Bernard Gousse, a USAID employee; the Deputy Minister of Justice, Philippe Vixamar, was a CIDA employee.

Since then, Canada has been responsible for the formation of the Haitian National Police (HNP). About 100 RCMP officers have been in Haiti since 2004 to oversee CIVPOL, the UN mission that integrates the military dismissed by Aristide into the new police corp.

Two of these RCMP officers were killed by the earthquake.

During the February, 2006, election, René Préval, of the Lespwa coalition, was elected President.

Préval has been backing the UN mission in Haiti, unlike Aristide and many Lavalas members who accused MINUSTAH of leading repressive actions against their supporters, refering to the July 6, 2005, and December 22, 2006, MINUSTAH incursions in the shantytown of Cite-Soleil, where dozens of civilians were killed—respectively 23 and 12, according to Engler.

Préval also supports US involvement in Haiti, while many still condemn it, suggesting the US prioritizes military rule over helping the people of Haiti.

Canada Haiti Action Network (CHAN) has expressed its concerns about the militarization of relief efforts in Haiti. CHAN spokesperson Roger Annis stated in the release, “Earthquake victims need food, water, medical treatment and shelter, not more guns pointed at them.”

Haitian expat photojournalist, Wadner Pierre, also pointed out in his blog
that the people of Haiti can work together to help each other, but with so many organizations involved in the relief effort, the voice of the Haitians is being silenced.

Rather than taking over, Pierre recommends the US and Canada work collectively with the people of Haiti for the country to move forward to rebuild.

“The help of Canada is greatly welcome, but we cannot forget that Canada contributes to put Haiti in this situation that it is today, for Canada did not support democracy in Haiti,” he said.

There are reasons to believe history will not repeat itself. Unlike what happened during the unpopular 2003 Ottawa Initiative, where three countries discussed the future of a country without it being represented by its own government, Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive is expected to attend the January 25 donors meeting in Montreal.

Kriya Govender is a journalism intern with The Dominion.

Antoine Dion-Ortega is a journalism student at Concordia University and an intern with The Dominion.

Photographs by Jean Ristil, independent photojournalist living in Port-au-Prince. Ristil lost two children, and his mother, in the earthquake last Tuesday.

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Your interpretation of the May 2000 elections

While describing the results of the 2000 legislative elections in Haiti, you state: "In May, 2000, the populist leftist Famni Lavalas party won the legislative elections, though many irregularities were reported by the Organization of American States (OAS) electoral observation mission. Opposition parties accused the government party of fraud and the US suspended aid to Haiti" In fact, very few, almost no irregularities were reported: a total of 8 out of 7,500 vote counts were irregular. The elections were declared a remarkably successful democratic exercise by all international observers. However, the irregularities were subsequently used by the corrupt opposition to the Fanmi Lavalas party to discredit the party, and Aristide in particular, and then by the US to justify cutting aid to the country. The opposition parties, knowing they had no credible way of defeating Aristide in the elections, cried widespread fraud and boycotted the elections. The story of these elections was written about extensively by Peter Hallward in the New Left Review in 2004 (http://www.newleftreview.org/?view=2507). The article reveals the length to which the elite minority in Haiti and their friends abroad were willing to go in order to undermine legitimate democracy in Haiti.

The authors have more homework to do I'm afraid

Darren Ell, in his reply to the above article, is absolutely right. It's one of the things that jumped out at me about the article. I've followed the Haiti coup of 2004 very closely and haven't forgotten it for one minute. I don't know whether the authors remember the event and followed it, but they should be aware that there was a lot of propaganda put out about what happened and why. Just as surely, It was debunked and continues to be debunked, by those who have closely studied the situation. But that info's going to be found mostly in the alternative media.

Anthony Fenton and Yves Engler's book is referenced. It's one I have yet to lay my hands on, but I've followed Anthony Fenton's reportage on Haiti for some time, much of which can be found on ZNet, along with a ton of other useful info, including material by Yves Engler about pernicious Canadian mining companies. And Anthony Fenton hosts the excellent blog "Web Of Democracy."

I will soon start to read Peter Hallward's account, in his book titled "Damning The Flood," which Noam Chomsky says is a great account of what happened. Chomsky has a comment on the material on the back cover: "This riveting and deeply-informed account should be carefully read by those who recognize that Haiti's tragic history is a microcosm of imperial savagery and heroic resistance - resistance which, as Hallward argues, will continue to shape Haiti's political future if its people are granted the opportunity to take their fate into their own hands," something Stephen Harper and his partners in and out of government have no interest in seeing.

*edit: I stated, above, that critical information about the 2004 Haiti coup, and anti-Aristide propaganda, will be found mostly in the mainstream media. I meant 'alternative' media. Yikes!

Thanks Darren and Arby.

Thanks Darren and Arby. We're looking into the information and will make changes as necessary.

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