Honesty needed in media coverage of Canada-Haiti relations

Media coverage of the Trudeau government’s recent conference on Haiti was appalling. To start with, despite official pronouncements, Ottawa is not an ally of Haiti.

On Friday Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, foreign minister Mélanie Joly and international development minister Harjit Sajjan hosted a meeting of foreign ministers “to find sustainable solutions to challenges faced by Haiti and its people.” The media went along with the charade. Mike Blanchfield’s report in The Canadian Press consisted of Canadian and US officials detailing their efforts to “assist” Haiti without further context. (Blanchfield is apparently faithful to The Canadian Press’s roots as an outlet established to promote World War I.) The coverage was also remarkably paternalistic. The Miami Herald quoted Canada’s ambassador to Haiti saying Ottawa is seeking “Haitian solutions and we want to accompany those Haitian solutions. We’re ready to be patient” as if he were a parent helping good children find their way.

The media ignored how the virtual get-together was designed to legitimize prime minister Ariel Henry who the New York Times has linked to the July assassination of President Jovenel Moise. A member of the US/France/Canada created ‘Council of the Wise’ that appointed the prime minister after President Jean Bertrand Aristide was ousted in 2004’s coup, Henry’s legitimacy is tenuous, to say the least. Promoted by the foreign powers, Henry was appointed (though never sworn in) by Moise a few days before he was assassinated. But Moise’s legitimacy was paper thin and since he failed to hold elections there’s no other functioning electoral body in the country. Moise ‘won’ a questionable election and his rule was vigorously contested by most Haitians. Moise’s mandate should have ended February 7, 2021, but with Canada’s support he claimed another year. Nonetheless, even by Moise’s questionable reading of the constitution, his mandate ends February 7 so Henry won’t have a kernel of legitimacy after that date.

Still, Henry introduced Friday’s conference alongside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The aim was to bestow legitimacy and rally international support for Henry as he seeks to rule beyond February 7. The Canadian-sponsored conference was a slap in the face to Haitians who have a detailed plan for a transition government to steer through the country’s crisis.

Blanchfield and the other stenographers of power can’t say they weren’t made aware of a critical outlook on Friday’s conference. Solidarité Québec-Haiti and the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute put out a release a day before titled “Trudeau supports illegitimate Haitian leader”. It offered some background on Henry’s appointment, quoting Monique Clesca, a member of the 13-person Commission for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis, who recently told the CBC: “A tweet put Ariel Henry in power”. (In a rare bit of critical coverage, last month the public broadcaster published “Haitian commission sends message to Canada, U.S. — stop meddling in our government.”)

With two other individuals claiming the position, the Core Group (US, Canada, France, Brazil, Spain, Germany, EU, UN and OAS ambassadors in Haiti) tweeted a release supporting Henry. “Just imagine the Congolese, Indonesian, Nigerian and Filipino ambassadors releasing a collective statement on who should be prime minister of Canada. How would Canadians feel about that?”, noted Jean Saint-Vil of Solidarité Québec-Haiti in the release.

Any Canadian journalist writing about Haiti can easily find voices critical of Ottawa’s support for repressive, antidemocratic forces there. In February three sitting MPs and three former MPs, as well as Stephen Lewis, Roger Waters, David Suzuki, Naomi Klein and 500 others, signed a letter criticizing Canada’s “support for a repressive, corrupt Haitian president devoid of constitutional legitimacy.” A similar open letter was released in October 2019 and in the year before the Covid-19 pandemic Solidarité Québec-Haiti held numerous rallies, press events and direct actions challenging Canadian policy.

Two recent petitions on Haiti have even garnered enough signatures to be read in the House of Commons. The parliamentary petitions questioned Canada’s role in the Core Group and called for the release of all documents related to the 2003 Ottawa Initiative on Haiti.

At that get together US, Canadian, French and OAS officials discussed overthrowing Haiti’s elected government, recreating the Haitian military and putting the country under UN trusteeship. Thirteen months later the elected president was gone and the country was under a disastrous UN occupation.

The Trudeau government has refused to release documents related to the Ottawa Initiative on Haiti, which unofficially launched the Core Group. Until Canada offers some type of contrition for the destruction wrought by the 2003 meeting, Ottawa can’t be trusted on any new proposal about that country. The Great White North has proved itself neither a fried nor an ally of the only country in the world born of a slave revolt.

Any journalist who respects the professional mantra of “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable” would go beyond politicians’ statements and offer readers context on Canada’s role in Haiti.

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