While it may seem to be a simple call to release documents, Solidarité Québec-Haïti’s House of Commons petition is an indictment of Canada’s entire foreign policy/media apparatus.
In my research about Canadian foreign policy I have come across no equivalent to the “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti”. In early 2003 the federal government organized a private meeting of US, French and Organization of American States officials to discuss replacing Haiti’s elected government, putting the country under UN trusteeship and re-establishing its army. In what was likely a government-organized trial balloon, a prominent journalist working for Québec’s top news magazine reported on it at the time. A year later what was reported/discussed largely transpired.
Nonetheless, after the February 29, 2004, coup the dominant media refused to investigate the “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” and barely mentioned the meeting. A Canadian Newsstand search found not one single English language report about the meeting (except two opinion pieces by me and another solidarity activist that mentioned it). La Presse may be the only corporate newspaper to have reported on the “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” in the 15 years after the coup. In that case progressive journalist Jooned Khan used space made available during Haiti’s February 2006 election upheaval to briefly mention the gathering on two occasions.
Recently a major media outlet looked back on the “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti”. In a 45-minute report tied to the 10thanniversary of the 2010 earthquake Radio-Canada’s flagship news program “Enquête” reported on it. They interviewed Denis Paradis, the Liberal minister responsible for organizing the meeting, who admitted no Haitian officials were invited to discuss their own country’s future during the get together in 2003. They also interviewed Solidarité Québec-Haïti member Jean Saint-Vil who offered a critical perspective.
In a bid to build on this media breakthrough, Solidarité Québec-Haïti has launched a House of Commons petitionreferencing Enquête’s report and calling on the government to “Publish all documents relating to the ‘Ottawa Initiative on Haiti’” and to “Hold a hearing of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development to learn everything there is to know about the ‘Ottawa Initiative on Haiti,’ including its link to the “Core Group.” Bloc Québecois MP Mario Beaulieu has sponsored it.
Just after the coup then NDP MP Svend Robinson requested minutes of the private meeting be made available.Subsequently, researcher Anthony Fenton placed an Access to Information request for all documents related to the“Ottawa Initiative on Haiti”. What he received was heavily redacted. In Haiti Betrayed, a powerful new documentary about Canadian imperialism, Elaine Brière notes that the government refused to release documents related to theOttawa Initiative on Haiti.
The meeting remains politically relevant. Enquête suggested the Ottawa Initiative on Haiti led to the creation of the “Core Group,” an alliance of foreign ambassadors that largely determines Haitian affairs. Solidarité Québec-Haïti is using the petition to pressure Ottawa to withdraw from the “Core Group”, which is the real power behind corrupt, repressive and illegitimate president Jovenel Moïse.
The petition requires 175 more signatures to be presented in the House of Commons, which will force the government to formally respond. If you are a citizen or permanent resident of Canada please sign it.
“Qui se ressemble, s’assemble.” The English saying is “birds of a feather flock together.” Translated from Spanish: “Tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are.” The folk wisdom that who we hang out with tells a lot about us is reflected in numerous proverbs.
Whatever the language, who Ottawa chooses to hang out with tells us a lot about who Canada is in the Americas. The coalitions/institutions Ottawa is part of in the Americas speak of siding with the rich and powerful, of being part of the US Empire, of imperialism.
Recently Haiti joined the Lima Group of governments seeking to overthrow the Venezuelan government. Instigated by Canada and Peru in mid 2017, the Lima Group has successfully corralled regional support for the US-led campaign to oust President Nicolas Maduro. The coalition has gathered on a dozen occasions — including a third summit to be held in Canada on Thursday — to develop common positions and strategize on regime change.
President Jovenel Moïse’s decision to join the Lima Group highlights the influence of another Canadian-sponsored imperial group of friends. Unlike the Trudeau government’s anti-Venezuela positions, Moïse’s steps towards the Lima Group have been controversial in Haiti. When his government first voted against Venezuela at the Organization of American States (OAS) 13 months ago it stoked the fire of popular discontent that nearly toppled him. Until recently Haiti benefited from the discounted Venezuelan Petrocaribe oil program, which Moïse and his acolytes pilfered, spurring massive protests over the past 18 months. More generally, Haitians overwhelmingly view themselves as anti-imperialist and are proud their ancestors aided South American independence leaders Simon Bolivar and Miranda to defeat Spanish rule.
As popular discontent has grown, Moïse has become increasingly dependent on outside backing. The only reason Moïse is president is because of the so-called “Core Group” of “Friends of Haiti”, which comprises the ambassadors of the US, Canada, France, Brazil and Spain, as well as representatives of the EU and OAS. Core Group representatives meet regularly among themselves and with Haitian officials and periodically release collective statements on Haitian affairs.
Last month Radio Canada’s investigative programme Enquête pointed out that the Core Group was spawned at the “Ottawa initiative on Haiti”. Held at the Meech Lake Government Resort on January 31 and February 1, 2003, no Haitian officials were invited to the private gathering where US, French, OAS and Canadian officials discussed overthrowing Haiti’s elected government, putting the country under UN trusteeship and recreating the Haitian military.
Since the subsequent February 2004 coup against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide the Core Group has heavily influenced Haitian affairs. But, taking office two and a half years after the coup, René Préval succeeded in carving out some room to govern independently of the Core Group overseers — joining Venezuela’s Petrocaribe, for instance — but the January 2010 earthquake devastated the Haitian government. Taking advantage of its weakness, the Core Group pushed for elections to be held months after the earthquake and when their preferred candidate was in third place they dispatched an OAS “Expert Verification Mission” that determined (without offering proof) extreme right-wing candidate Michel Martelly deserved to be in the second round runoff. In effect, the Core Group employed the OAS to reassert their primacy over Haitian affairs.
Headquartered in the US capital, the OAS has long been a tool of Washington’s and capitalism’s dominance of the region. A few months ago OAS electoral observers played an important role in the overthrow of Evo Morales, prompting Bolivia’s first ever indigenous president to label the organization “in the service of the North American empire.”
The OAS receives between 44% and 57% of its budget from Washington. Responsible for as much as 12% of the organization’s budget, Canada is the second largest contributor to the 33-nation group.
Unfortunately, interventionist/imperialist alliances reinforce each other. A representative of the OAS is part of the Core Group while the Core Group has driven Haiti into joining the Lima Group. At the same time the Lima Group’s success in stoking regional opposition to Maduro has enabled the OAS to take ever more hostile positions towards Venezuela’s government. Like a teenager getting involved with the “wrong people” this circle of “friends” has been a very bad influence. It has encouraged bullying, bribery and other anti-social imperialist behaviour.
The Lima Group and Core Group are wholly illegitimate alliances. While the Organization of American States is slightly more complicated, progressives shouldn’t hesitate to proclaim, “Canada out of the Lima Group, Core Group and OAS.”
Protests are being organized for Thursday and Friday in a number of Canadian cities against the Lima Group.
Ten years ago Sunday an earthquake devastated Haiti. In a few minutes of violent shaking hundreds of thousands perished in Port-au-Prince and surrounding regions and many more were permanently scarred.
It’s important to commemorate this horrifying tragedy. But this solemn occasion is also a good moment to reflect on Canada’s role in undermining the beleaguered nation’s capacity to prepare/respond/overcome natural disasters.
Asked my thoughts on Canada’s role in Haiti the day after the quake, I told reporter Paul Koring that so long as the power dynamics in the country did not shift there would be little change: “Cynically, it feels like a ‘pity time for the Haitians’ but I doubt much will really change,” says Yves Engler, a left-wing activist from Montreal who blames the United States, along with Canada, for decades of self-interested meddling in Haitian affairs. “We bear some responsibility … because our policies have undermined Haiti’s capacity to deal with natural disasters.”
Unfortunately, Canada’s response was worse than I could have imagined. Immediately after the quake decision makers in Ottawa were more concerned with controlling Haiti than assisting victims. To police Haiti’s traumatized and suffering population, 2,050 Canadian troops were deployed alongside 12,000 US soldiers (8,000 UN soldiers were already there). Though Ottawa rapidly deployed 2,050 troops they ignored calls to dispatch this country’s Heavy Urban Search and Rescue (HUSAR) Teams, which are trained to “locate trapped persons in collapsed structures.”
According to internal government documents the Canadian Press examined a year after the disaster, officials in Ottawa feared a post-earthquake power vacuum could lead to a “popular uprising.” One briefing note marked “secret” explained: “Political fragility has increased, the risks of a popular uprising, and has fed the rumour that ex-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, currently in exile in South Africa, wants to organize a return to power.” Six years earlier the US, France and Canada ousted the elected president.
Canada and the US’ indifference/contempt towards Haitian sovereignty was also on display in the reconstruction effort. Thirteen days after the quake Canada organized a high profile Ministerial Preparatory Conference on Haiti for major international donors. Two months later Canada co-chaired the New York International Donors’ Conference Towards a New Future for Haiti. At these conferences Haitian officials played a tertiary role in the discussions. Subsequently, the US, France and Canada demanded the Haitian parliament pass an 18-month long state of emergency law that effectively gave up government control over the reconstruction. They held up money to ensure international control of the Interim Commission for the Reconstruction of Haiti, authorized to spend billions of dollars in reconstruction money.
Most of the money that was distributed went to foreign aid workers who received relatively extravagant salaries/living costs or to expensive contracts gobbled up by Western/Haitian elite owned companies. According to an Associated Press assessment of the aid the US delivered in the two months after the quake, one cent on the dollar went to the Haitian government (thirty-three cents went to the US military). Canadian aid patterns were similar. Author of The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster Jonathan Katz writes, “Canada disbursed $657 million from the quake to September 2012 ‘for Haiti,’ but only about 2% went to the Haitian government.”
Other investigations found equally startling numbers. Having raised $500 million for Haiti and publicly boasted about its housing efforts, the US Red Cross built only six permanent homes in the country.
Not viewing the René Preval government as fully compliant, the US, France and Canada pushed for elections months after the earthquake. (Six weeks before the quake, according to a cable released by Wikileaks, Canadian and EU officials complained that Préval “emasculated” the country’s right-wing. In response, they proposed to “purchase radio airtime for opposition politicians to plug their candidacies” or they may “cease to be much of a meaningful force in the next government.”) After the first round of the presidential election the US and Canada pushed Préval party’s candidate out of the runoff in favor of third place candidate, Michel Martelly. A six-person Organization of American States (OAS) mission, including a Canadian representative, concluded that Martelly deserved to be in the second round. But, in analyzing the OAS methodology, the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, determined that “the Mission did not establish any legal, statistical, or other logical basis for its conclusions.” Nevertheless, Ottawa and Washington pushed the Haitian government to accept the OAS’s recommendations. Foreign minister Lawrence Cannon said he “strongly urges the Provisional Electoral Council to accept and implement the [OAS] report’s recommendations and to proceed with the next steps of the electoral process accordingly.”
A supporter of the 1991 and 2004 coups against Aristide, Martelly was a teenaged member of the Duvalier dictatorship’s Ton Ton Macoutes death squad. He is a central figure in the multi-billion dollar Petrocaribe corruption scandal that has spurred massive protests and strikes against illegitimate, repressive and corrupt president Jovenel Moïse. A disciple of Martelly, Moïse is president today because he has the backing of the US, Canada and other members of the so-called “Core Group”.
There was an outpouring of empathy and solidarity from ordinary Canadians after the earthquake. But officials in Ottawa saw the disaster as a political crisis to manage and an opportunity toexpandtheir economic and political influence over Haiti.
On the tenth anniversary of this solemn occasion it is important to reflect not only on this tragedy but to understand what has been done by Canada’s government in our name and to learn from it so we can stop politicians from their ongoing strangulation of this beleaguered nation.
Organization of American States election observers have played an important role in subverting Bolivian democracy.
While some may find it hard to believe that a regional electoral monitoring body would consciously subvert democracy, their actions in the South American country are not dissimilar to previous US/Canada backed OAS missions in Haiti.
“The OAS Election Audit That Triggered Morales’ Fall in Bolivia”, explained a New York Times headline. For his part, Bolivian President Evo Morales said the OAS “is in the service of the North American empire.”
After the October 20 presidential election, the OAS immediately cried foul. The next day the organization released a statement that expressed “its deep concern and surprise at the drastic and hard-to-explain change in the trend of the preliminary results [from the quick count] revealed after the closing of the polls.” Two days later they followed that statement up with a preliminary report that repeated their claim that “changes in the TREP [quick count] trend were hard to explain and did not match the other measurements available.”
But, the “hard-to-explain” changes cited by the OAS were entirely expected, as detailed in the Centre for Economic Policy Research’s report “What Happened in Bolivia’s 2019 Vote Count? The Role of the OAS Electoral Observation Mission”. The CEPR analysis points out that Morales’ percentage lead over the second place candidate Carlos Mesa increased steadily as votes from rural, largely indigenous, areas were tabulated. Additionally, the 47.1% of the vote Morales garnered aligns with pre-election polls and the vote score for his Movement toward Socialism party. The hullabaloo about the quick count stopping at 83% of the vote was preplanned and there is no evidence there was a pause in the actual counting.
But, the OAS’ statements gave oxygen to opposition protests. Their unsubstantiated criticism of the election have also been widely cited internationally to justify Morales’ ouster. In response to OAS claims, protests and Washington and Ottawa saying they would not recognize Morales’s victory, the Bolivian President agreed to a “binding” OAS audit of the first round of the election. Unsurprisingly the OAS’ preliminary audit report alleged “irregularities and manipulation” and called for new elections overseen by a new electoral commission. Immediately after the OAS released its preliminary audit US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went further, saying “all government officials and officials of any political organizations implicated in the flawed October 20 elections should step aside from the electoral process.” What started with an easy-to-explain discrepancy between the quick count and final results of the actual counting spiraled into the entire election is suspect and anyone associated with it must go.
At Tuesday’s Special Meeting of the OAS Permanent Council on Bolivia the representative of Antigua and Barbuda criticized the opaque way in which the OAS electoral mission to Bolivia released its statements and reports. She pointed out how the organization made a series of agreements with the Bolivian government that were effectively jettisoned. A number of Latin American countries echoed this view.
US and Canadian representatives, on the other hand, applauded the OAS’ work in Bolivia. Canada’s representative to the OAS boasted that two Canadian technical advisers were part of the audit mission to Bolivia and that Canada financed the OAS effort that discredited Bolivia’s presidential election. Canada is the second largest contributor to the OAS, which receives between 44% and 57% of its budget from Washington.
It’s not surprising that an electoral mission from the Washington-based organization would subvert Bolivian democracy. OAS electoral observers have played more flagrant role in undermining Haitian democracy. In late 2010/early-2011 the US/Canada used an OAS election “Expert Verification Mission” to help extreme right-wing candidate Michel Martelly become president. Canada put up $6 million for elections that excluded Fanmi Lavalas from participating and following the first round of voting in November 2010, forced the candidate whom Haiti’s electoral council had in second place, Jude Celestin, out of the runoff. After Martelly’s supporters protested their candidate’s third place showing, a six person OAS mission, including a Canadian representative, concluded that Martelly deserved to be in the second round. But, in analyzing the OAS methodology, the CEPR determined that “the Mission did not establish any legal, statistical, or other logical basis for its conclusions.” Nevertheless, Ottawa and Washington pushed the Haitian government to accept the OAS’s recommendations. Foreign minister Lawrence Cannon said he “strongly urges the Provisional Electoral Council to accept and implement the [OAS] report’s recommendations and to proceed with the next steps of the electoral process accordingly.” In an interview he warned that “time is running out”, adding that “our ambassador has raised this with the president [Rene Préval] himself.” The CEPR described the intense western lobbying. “The international community, led by the US, France, and Canada, has been intensifying the pressure on the Haitian government to allow presidential candidate Michel Martelly to proceed to the second round of elections instead of [ruling party candidate] Jude Celestin.” This pressure included some Haitian officials having their US visas revoked and there were threats that aid would be cut off if Martelly’s vote total was not increased as per the OAS recommendation.
Half of Haiti’s electoral council agreed to the OAS changes, but the other half did not. The second round was unconstitutional, noted Haïti Liberté, as “only four of the eight-member Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) have voted to proceed with the second round, one short of the five necessary. Furthermore, the first-round results have not been published in the journal of record, Le Moniteur, and President Préval has not officially convoked Haitians to vote, both constitutional requirements.”
The absurdity of the whole affair did not stop the Canadian government from supporting the elections. Official election monitors from this country gave a thumbs-up to this exercise in what they said was democracy. After Martelly won the second round with 16.7 percent of registered voters support Cannon declared: “We congratulate the people of Haiti, who exercised their fundamental democratic right to choose who will govern their country and represent them on the world stage.” The left weekly Haiti Progrès took a different view. Describing the fraudulent nature of the elections, the paper explained: “The form of democracy that Washington, Paris and Ottawa want to impose on us is becoming a reality.”
A decade earlier another OAS election mission helped sabotage democracy in Haiti. After voting for 7,000 positions an OAS team on site described the May 2000 elections as “a great success for the Haitian population which turned out in large and orderly numbers to choose both their local and national governments.”
As the opposition protested the scope of Fanmi Lavalas’ victory, the OAS jumped on a technicality in the counting of eight Senate seats to subsequently characterize the elections as “deeply flawed”. The 50 percent plus one vote required for a first-round victory was determined by calculating the percentages from the votes for the top four candidates, while the OAS contended that the count should include all candidates. OAS concerns were disingenuous since they worked with the electoral council to prepare the elections and were fully aware of the counting method beforehand. The same procedure was used in prior elections, but they failed to voice any concerns until Fanmi Lavalas’ landslide victory. Finally, using the OAS method would not have altered the outcome of the elections and even after Jean Bertrand Aristide got the seven Lavalas senators to resign (one was from another party) the “deeply flawed” description remained.
Haiti’s political opposition used the OAS criticism of the election to justify boycotting the November 2000 presidential election, which they had little chance of winning. The US and Canada used the claims of electoral irregularities to justify withholding aid and Inter-American Development Bank loans to the Haitian government. OAS Resolutions 806 and 822 gave non-elected opposition parties an effective veto over the resumption of foreign aid to Aristide’s government. The OAS claims of “deeply flawed” elections played an important part in a multipronged campaign to oust Aristide’s government.
In an editorial responding to the coup in Bolivia, People’s Voicecalled for Canada to withdraw from the Washington dominated OAS. Internationalist minded Canadians should support that position.
But we should also recognize the blow Morales’ ouster represents to any effort to subvert the OAS. The Bolivian President’s removal is a further setback to the Latin American integration efforts represented in forums such as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. A potential replacement for the OAS, CELAC included all Latin American and Caribbean nations. But Canada and the US were excluded. By helping oust Morales the OAS has taken revenge on a politician who pushed an alternative, non-Washington based, model for ‘Nuestra America’.
Molotov cocktail thrown at Canadian Embassy in Port-au-Prince
“Say my name, say my name
If no one is around you
Say baby I love you
If you ain’t runnin’ game
Say my name, say my name
You actin’ kinda shady
Ain’t callin’ me baby” — Destiny’s Child
Something you can’t name is very difficult to talk about. Canada’s role in Haiti is a perfect example. Even when the dominant media and mainstream politicians mention the remarkable ongoing revolt or protesters targeting Canada, they fall on their faces in explaining it.
Not one journalist or politician has spoken this truth, easily verified by all sorts of evidence: “Sixteen years ago Ottawa initiated an effort to overthrow Haiti’s elected government and has directly shaped the country’s politics since. Many Haitians are unhappy about the subversion of their sovereignty, undermining of their democracy and resulting impoverishment.”
Last Sunday protesters tried to burn the Canadian Embassy in Port-au-Prince. Voice of America reported, “some protesters successfully set fire to business establishments and attempted to burn down the Canadian Embassy.” A few days earlier protesters threw rocks at the Canadian Embassy and demonstrators have repeatedly speechified against Canadian “imperialism”. In response to the targeting of Canada’s diplomatic representation in the country, Haiti’s puppet government released a statement apologizing to Ottawa and the embassy was closed for a number of days.
Echoing the protesters immediate demand for Jovenel Moïse to go, an open letter was released last Tuesday calling on Justin Trudeau’s government to stop propping up the repressive and corrupt Haitian president. David Suzuki, Roger Waters, Amir Khadir, Maude Barlow, Linda McQuaig, Will Prosper, Tariq Ali, Yann Martel and more than 100 other writers, musicians, activists and professors signed a letter calling on “the Canadian government to stop backing a corrupt, repressive and illegitimate Haitian president.”
While a number of left media ran the letter, major news outlets failed to publish or report on it. Interestingly, reporters at La Presse, Radio Canada and Le Devoir all expressed interest in covering it but then failed to follow through. A Le Devoir editor’s reaction was particularly shameful since the leftish, highbrow, paper regularly publishes these types of letters. The editor I communicated with said she’d probably run it and when I called back three days later to ask where things were at, she said the format was difficult. When I mentioned its added relevance after protesters attempted to burn the Canadian embassy, which she was aware of, she recommitted to publishing it. Le Devoir did not publish the letter when it was submitted to them, although an article published in their paper two weeks later did mention it.
My impression from interacting with the media on the issue is that they knew the letter deserved attention, particularly the media in Québec that cover Haiti. But, there was discomfort because the letter focused on Canada’s negative role. (The letter is actually quite mild, not even mentioning the 2004 coup, militarization after the earthquake, etc.)
On Thursday Québec’s National Assembly unanimously endorsed a motion put forward by Liberal party foreign affairs critic, Paule Robitaille, declaring “our unreserved solidarity with the Haitian people and their desire to find a stable and secure society.” It urges “support for any peaceful and democratic exit from the crisis coming from Haitian civil society actors.”
In March Québec Solidaire’s international affairs critic Catherine Dorion released a slightly better statement “in solidarity with the Haitian people”. While the left party’s release was a positive step, it also ignored Canada’s diplomatic, financial and policing support to Moise (not to mention Canada’s role in the 2004 coup or Moise’s rise to power). Québec Solidaire deputies refused to sign the open letter calling on “the Canadian government to stop backing a corrupt, repressive and illegitimate Haitian president.”
Even when media mention protests against Canada, they can’t give a coherent explanation for why they would target the great White North. On Wednesday Radio Canada began a TV clip on the uprising in Haiti by mentioning the targeting of the Canadian embassy and with the image of a protester holding a sign saying: “Fuck USA. Merde la France. Fuck Canada.” The eight-minute interview with Haiti based Québec reporter Etienne Côté-Paluck went downhill from there. As Jean Saint-Vil responded angrily on Facebook, these three countries are not targeted “because of the ‘humanitarian aid’ that the ‘benevolent self-proclaimed friends of Haiti’ bring to the ‘young democracy in difficulty’. This is only racist, paternalistic and imperialist propaganda! They say ‘Fuck Canada’, ‘Shit France’, ‘Fuck USA”’ because they are not blind, dumb or idiots.”
A few days earlier Radio Canada’s Luc Chartrand also mentioned that Canada, France and the US were targeted by protesters when he recently traveled to Haiti. While mentioning those three countries together is an implicit reference to the 2004 coup triumvirate, the interview focused on how it was because they were major donors to Haiti. Yet seconds before Chartrand talked about protesters targeting the Canada-France-US “aid donors” he mentioned a multi-billion dollar Venezuelan aid program (accountability for corruption in the subsidized Venezuelan oil program is an important demand of protesters). So, if they are angry with “aid donors” why aren’t Haitians protesters targeting Venezuela?
Chartrand knows better. Solidarité Québec-Haiti founder Marie Dimanche and I met him before he left for Haiti and I sent Chartrand two critical pieces of information chosen specifically because they couldn’t be dismissed as coming from a radical and are irreconcilable with the ‘benevolent Canada’ silliness pushed by the dominant media. I emailed him a March 15, 2003, L’actualité story by prominent Québec journalist Michel Vastel titled “Haïti mise en tutelle par l’ONU ? Il faut renverser Aristide. Et ce n’est pas l’opposition haïtienne qui le réclame, mais une coalition de pays rassemblée à l’initiative du Canada!” (Haiti under UN trusteeship? We must overthrow Aristide. And it is not the Haitian opposition calling for it, but a coalition of countries gathered at the initiative of Canada!)
Vastel’s article was about a meeting to discuss Haiti’s future that Jean Chretien’s government hosted on January 31 and February 1 2003. No Haitian representative was invited to the meeting where high level U.S., Canadian and French officials discussed overthrowing elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, putting the country under international trusteeship and resurrecting Haiti’s dreaded military. Thirteen months after the Ottawa Initiative meeting, US, French and Canadian troops pushed Aristide out and a quasi-UN trusteeship had begun. The Haitian police were subsequently militarized.
The second piece of information I sent Chartrand was the Canadian Press’ revelation (confirmation) that after the deadly 2010 earthquake, Canadian officials continued their inhumane and antidemocratic course. According to internal government documents the Canadian Press examined a year after the disaster, officials in Ottawa feared a post-earthquake power vacuum could lead to a “popular uprising.” One briefing note marked “secret” explained: “Political fragility has increased the risks of a popular uprising, and has fed the rumour that ex-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, currently in exile in South Africa, wants to organize a return to power.” The documents also explained the importance of strengthening the Haitian authorities’ ability “to contain the risks of a popular uprising.”
To police Haiti’s traumatized and suffering population 2,050 Canadian troops were deployed alongside 12,000 U.S. soldiers and 1,500 UN troops (8,000 UN soldiers were already there). Even though there was no war, for a period there were more foreign troops in Haiti per square kilometer than in Afghanistan or Iraq (and about as many per capita). Though Ottawa rapidly deployed 2,050 troops officials ignored calls to dispatch this country’s Heavy Urban Search and Rescue (HUSAR) Teams, which are trained to “locate trapped persons in collapsed structures.”
Of course, these two pieces of information run completely counter to the dominant narrative about Canada’s role in Haiti. In fact, they flip it on its head. But, these two pieces of information — combined with hundreds of stories published by left-wing Canadian and Haitian media — help explain why some might want to burn the Canadian Embassy.
Haiti is the site of the most sustained popular uprising among the many that are currently sweeping the globe. Haitians are revolting against the IMF, racism, imperialism and extreme economic inequality. It’s also a fight against Canadian foreign policy.
The latter battle is the most important one for Canadians. Solidarity activists should highlight Haitians’ rejection of 16 years of Canadian disregard for their democratic rights. And they should not be afraid to use the words that describes this best: Canadian imperialism.
Haiti is the site of the most sustained popular uprising among many that are currently sweeping the globe. It’s also the most explicitly anti-imperialist, which is part of the reason why it has received the least coverage.
For six weeks much of Port-au-Prince has been shuttered in the longest in a series of strikes since the revolt began 15 months ago. There have been innumerable mass protests by diverse social sectors calling for president Jovenel Moïse to go.
Last week protesters reportedly threw rocks at the Canadian Embassy in Port-au-Prince. On Friday Radio Canada’s Luc Chartrand highlighted the widespread hostility towards the US and Canada: “The walls of Port-au-Prince are covered with graffiti against the UN and also against what everyone here knows as the ‘Core Group’, a group of donor countries, including Canada, the United States, European Union and the Organization of American States, without the support of which no Haitian president can remain in office long. During protests it is common to see people disparaging foreigners and symbols of their presence such as hotels.”
While Haitians have repeatedly criticized Canadian policy over the past 15 years, the Radio Canada report was a rare event in the dominant media. But the intensity of the popular uprising has been making it harder to ignore. The other reason is activism in Canada, an imperial centre. Solidarité Quebec-Haïti #Petrochallenge 2019 founder Marie Dimanche and I met Chartrand and a Radio Canada colleague before they left for Haiti and sent them critical information. They wanted to hear our point of view because Solidarité Quebec-Haïti has aggressively criticized Canada’s role in Haiti by among other means occupying Justin Trudeau’s electoral campaign office.
Since detailing some of Solidarité Québec-Haïti bold actions that generated coverage three weeks ago in “Canadian imperialism in Haiti in the spotlight” the group held a press conference covered by CTV and a rally at Trudeau’s office covered by Global, TVA and other news outlets. We also attempted to disrupt Trudeau’s final election rally, which prompted Radio Canada to describe 10 of us chanting “Canada out of Haiti”. At this point no Canadian journalist covering Haiti can reasonably claim to be unaware that there is criticism of Ottawa’s policy towards that country.
Adding weight to Solidarité Québec-Haïti’s criticism, 150 writers, musicians, professors and activists recently signed an “open letter calling on the Canadian government to stop backing a corrupt, repressive and illegitimate Haitian president”. The signatories include David Suzuki, Roger Waters, Linda McQuaig, Amir Khadir, Will Prosper, Tariq Ali, Michele Landsberg and Yann Martel.
In another sign of dissent, the Concertation pour Haïti, a collection of mostly government funded NGOs who were cheerleaders of Canada/Quebec’s important role in violently ousting Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s government in 2004, has called for a transitional government. Last week’s statement noted: “Haiti is at a pivotal moment. The current government is decried by the overwhelming majority of the population. Nearly all civil society groups have spoken out for the departure of Jovenel Moïse. …. However, the current government seems to have the full support of the international community … We invite Canada to make the right choice and use its influence in the international community to support” a presidential transition.
Despite growing challenges to its policy, Ottawa seems to be staying the course. On Wednesday a new Canadian ambassador was accredited at the national palace and reportedly “renewed Canada’s commitment to continue to accompany President Jovenel Moïse in his efforts to improve the living conditions of his people.” Earlier in the month the government put out an outrageous, if correct, travel advisory, warning Canadians that Haitian “police have used tear gas and live ammunition to disperse crowds.” Apart from this message to Canadians, the government has yet to directly criticize the killing of Haitian demonstrators by a police force that Canada has funded, trained and backed diplomatically since the 2004 coup. On October 15 the UN estimated at least 30 Haitians had been killed since mid-September. Most of them were likely killed by police.
Beyond its involvement with a repressive police force, Canada has provided financial and diplomatic backing to the neo-Duvalerist criminals subjugating Haiti’s impoverished masses. Two weeks ago Le Devoir reported that Canada has given $702 million in “aid” to Haiti since 2016. In February international development minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, who travelled to Haiti on multiple occasions, said “Haiti is one of the biggest development programs we have. Our ambassador in Port-au-Prince is in constant contact with the government.”
The Canadian Embassy has put out a stream of statements defending Moïse (though they are becoming softer). Amidst the general strike in February Bibeau was asked by TVA, “the demonstrators demand the resignation of the president. What is Canada’s position on this issue?” She responded by attacking the popular revolt: “The violence must stop; we will not come to a solution in this way.” But the violence is overwhelmingly meted it out by the Canadian backed regime.
At that time Canadian special forces were quietly deployed to the Port-au-Prince airport. The Haiti Information Project reported that they may have helped family members of President Moïse’s unpopular government flee the country.
Haitians are engaged in a remarkable popular revolt against Canadian policy. Solidarity activists across the country should try to amplify their message.
Sustained committed activism is unraveling the dominant media’s shameful blackout of Canadian imperialism in Haiti. But, the bias against putting Canadian policy in a negative light is such that small breakthroughs require tremendous effort.
On Monday 15 Haitian community members and allies occupied Justin Trudeau’s election office for a little over three hours. The Solidarité Québec-Haiti #Petrochallenge 2019 activists called on the PM to withdraw Canada’s backing of a repressive, corrupt and illegitimate president of Haiti. Trudeau’s government has provided financial, policing and diplomatic support to Jovenel Moïse whose presidency is dependent on Washington, Ottawa and other members of the Core Group.
The office occupation took place in solidarity with mobilizations in Haiti and elsewhere against Moïse and an apartheid-like class/race system enforced by Washington, Paris and Ottawa. In recent days massive protests in Haiti have demanded Moïse go. Last week protesters shuttered the Port-au-Prince airport, stopping Moïse from speaking at the UN and forming a new government. Over the past year, there have been multiple general strikes and massive protests demanding the corrupt president leave.
To convince us to end the sit in, the Liberals dispatched a backroom operator of Haitian descent. Chief of staff to Minister of Families, Children, and Social Development, Marjorie Michel offered to have the government make a declaration on the subject within 24 hours if we left the office (the Montréal police and RCMP came to Trudeau’s office just after Michel to highlight what would happen if we didn’t leave). Midday Tuesday Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland tweeted a vague statement about the situation in Haiti, which at least didn’t endorse Moïse (unlike some previous statements).
Michel was clearly disturbed that Trudeau was asked “are you aware that your campaign office in Montreal is now occupied by Haiti solidarity activists and what would you say to those who ask why you back the undemocratic regime of Jovenel Moïse” at a concurrent press conference in Toronto. Global TV broadcast a somewhat perplexed PM responding to activist/journalist Barry Weisleder’s question about the hypocritical nature of Canadian policy in the Americas. Trudeau ignored the Haiti part of the question and criticized the Venezuelan government.
As a follow-up to the occupation of his office, we organized a last-minute 10-person rally on Wednesday outside a community boxing ring where Trudeau put on his gloves for a photo-op. We chanted loudly “Jovenel repressif, Trudeau complice”. The PM’s large RCMP detail called the Montréal police, which dispatched a dozen officers who arrested organizer Marie Dimanche. In one of the weirder rally/media situations I’ve seen, the police organized a protected pathway for the media inside the gym following Trudeau to get back on the election campaign bus. It was as if we were a threat to members of the media and it effectively blocked them from interviewing us.
Unlike previous Solidarité Québec-Haiti actions, the dominant media didn’t (almost completely) ignore our office occupation and follow-up rally. The Montréal Gazette published a good article on the sit in, which was picked up by a half dozen outlets. Part of it was translated into French and published by La Presse. Journal Métro, Ricochet and Telesur all ran their own articles on the office occupation. A few days later Le Devoir published a good article promoting our demand titled “Le Canada appelé à lâcher le président haïtien Jovenel Moïse.” A slew of Haitian news sites and community radio programs covered the occupation. As with previous Solidarité Québec-Haiti actions, they both received substantial attention on social media.
On August 18 a member of Solidarité Québec-Haiti interrupted Trudeau at a press conference to ask why Canada supported a corrupt, repressive and illegitimate president in Haiti. Since July 15 members of the Haiti solidarity group have interrupted two press conferences (and a barbecue) by Minister of La Francophonie and Tourism Mélanie Joly to call on the Liberals to stop propping up Moïse. Solidarité Québec-Haiti has also directly questioned Liberal MP Emmanuel Dubourg, Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and former International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau over the government’s policy in Haiti. But, even when media outlets were at these events, they mostly ignored our interventions.
From the Liberal’s perspective media silence is vital. Unlike the 2004 Liberal backed coup, which included significant demonization of Jean Bertrand-Aristide by the Haitian and Haitian-Canadian intellectual elite, few among Montréal’s Haitian establishment seem keen on defending Moïse. So, the Liberals have to justify their support for Moïse.
Through bold activism Solidarité Québec-Haiti has forced the dominant media to cover Canadian imperialism in Haiti. But, a great deal more work will be needed to force a shift in government policy.
The Trudeau Liberals are attempting to “feminize” their support of an illegitimate government hated by the vast majority of Haitians. And Radio-Canada seems to have fallen for it.
After Radio-Canada published a story about nine of eighteen ministers in Jovenel Moïse’s newly proposed government being women, Haitian Canadian feminist Jennie-Laure Sully replied, “Haitians of all social classes have been demonstrating for more than a year demanding the resignation of the president and a change in the political system. But what does Radio-Canada talk about in this country? A cosmetic measure adopted by this fraudulently elected government accused of embezzlement and human rights violations. Gender parity in such conditions is a smokescreen (“poudre aux yeux”). Radio-Canada is doing identity politics of the lowest order while ignoring Canada’s role in maintaining corruption in Haiti.”
With little support among Haitians, Moïse needs good press in the two main countries sustaining his presidency. Recently he has been on a campaign to shore up his image in the US, publishing an op-ed in the Miami Herald and hiring a new Washington, DC, based lobbyist.
In presenting a gender balanced cabinet Moïse’s proposed Prime Minister, Fritz William Michel, deftly aligned with a stated foreign policy objective of Justin Trudeau. Along with praise for Moïse, Global Affairs Canada’s webpage about “Canada’s international assistance in Haiti” focusses on gender equity. At the top of the page, it lists a series of feminist goals under the heading of “To strengthen Haiti’s Government capacity to respond to gender equality issues.”
(In 2017 the Trudeau government launched a much-hyped Feminist International Assistance Policy, but their commitment to feminist internationalism is paper-thin. Since July 21, for instance, Ottawa joined Washington as the only country to vote against a UN Economic and Social Council resolution stating, “the Israeli occupation remains a major obstacle for Palestinian women and girls with regard to the fulfillment of their rights”; Canada signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the misogynist UAE; the Trudeau government was criticized by the chair of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights Surya Deva for gutting their promise to rein in Canadian mining abuses abroad, which disproportionately affect women.)
Moïse has faced massive popular protests in recent months, including multiple general strikes. As I detail here and here, the only reason he remains in power is because of support from Washington, Ottawa and a number of other countries. Canada has provided financial, policing and diplomatic support to the unpopular government. In the latest indication of diplomatic backing, Canada’s ambassador in Port-au-Prince, André Frenette, met Moïse to discuss “bilateral cooperation” two weeks ago. The embassy also continues to support a police force responsible for countless abuses. On Sunday Global Affairs Canada’s Haïti account tweeted “congratulations” to police graduates who they trained in collaboration with the US.
On July 15 Solidarité Québec-Haïti #Petrochallenge 2019 activists interrupted a press conference by Minister of La Francophonie and Tourism Mélanie Joly to call on the Trudeau government to stop propping up a corrupt, illegitimate and murderous Haitian president. As this video shows, Joly was unable to respond to our simple question.
While the disruption was reported on by various media outlets, Radio Canada wasn’t interested. More than any other major media outlet, the French language public broadcaster has been the mouthpiece for Canadian imperialism in Haiti over the past 15 years. Unlike other outlets, Radio Canada covers Haitian affairs fairly regularly. But, it is almost entirely from the perspective of ‘Ottawa/Canada doing good’ in the impoverished nation.
When active with Haiti Action Montréal in the mid 2000s I experienced the politicized nature of the subject at Radio Canada. I called the news editor to inquire if they’d received our press release and instead of a yes/no we might/we can’t send anyone to cover the event that is usually part of this type of media outreach, the news editor somewhat angrily accused me of being an Aristide supporter, which was odd both because the event was focused on Canada’s role in Haiti and Aristide was elected by the country’s historically excluded.
In a 2008 article titled “Embedding CBC Reporters in Haiti’s Elitist Media” Richard Sanders describes Radio Canada’s participation in a Canadian government funded project to support media outlets that were part of L’Association Nationale des Médias Haïtiens (ANMH), which officially joined the Group of 184 that campaigned to oust Aristide. Sanders writes about Québec journalists sent to “train” Haitian reporters for a month, but who were in fact being “submerged in the propaganda campaigns of Haiti’s elite media.” Assistant program director for Radio Canada news, Guy Filion was one of the reporters who interned with ANMH. Even though ANMH outlets barred Haiti’s elected president from its airwaves in the lead-up to the coup, Filion described those who “formed the ANMH” as “pro-Haitian and they are pro neutral journalistic people … as much as it can be said in this country.” Filion also praised the media’s coverage of the 2006 election in which Aristide’s Lavalas was excluded. In a coded reference to Aristide supporters, Filion noted, “even thugs from [large slum neighbourhood] Cité Soleil were giving interviews on television!”
Radio-Canada’s reporting on gender parity in a proposed new government helps legitimate Trudeau’s support of Moïse. It puts a progressive veneer on a corrupt, repressive and unpopular president who is dependent upon Radio-Canada’s patron. It is yet another attempt to justify Canadian policy that sides with the interests of multinational corporations and a small elite over the needs of Haiti’s impoverished majority.
Canadian troops may have recently been deployed to Haiti, even though the government has not asked Parliament or consulted the public for approval to send soldiers to that country.
Last week the Haiti Information Project photographed heavily-armed Canadian troops patrolling the Port-au-Prince airport. According to a knowledgeable source I emailed the photos to, they were probably special forces. The individual in “uniform is (most likely) a member of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) from Petawawa”, wrote the person who asked not to be named. “The plainclothes individuals are most likely members of JTF2. The uniformed individual could also be JTF2 but at times both JTF2 and CSOR work together.” (CSOR is a sort of farm team for the ultra-elite Joint Task Force 2.)
What was the purpose of their mission? The Haiti Information Project reported that they may have helped family members of President Jovenel Moïse’s unpopular government flee the country. HIP tweeted, “troops & plainclothes from Canada providing security at Toussaint Louverture airport in Port-au-Prince today as cars from Haiti’s National Palace also drop off PHTK govt official’s family to leave the country today.”
Many Haitians would no doubt want to be informed if their government authorized this breach of sovereignty. And Canadians should be interested to know if Ottawa deployed the troops without parliamentary or official Haitian government okay. As well any form of Canadian military support for a highly unpopular foreign government should be controversial.
Two days after Canadian troops were spotted at the airport five heavily armed former US soldiers were arrested. The next day the five Americans and two Serbian colleagues flew to the US where they will not face charges. One of them, former Navy SEAL Chris Osman, posted on Instagram that he provided security “for people who are directly connected to the current President” of Haiti. Presumably, the mercenaries were hired to squelch the protests that have paralyzed urban life in the country. Dozens of antigovernment protesters and individuals living in neighborhoods viewed as hostile to the government have been killed as calls for the president to step down have grown in recent months.
Was the Canadians deployment in any way connected to the US mercenaries? While it may seem far-fetched, it’s not impossible considering the politically charged nature of recent deployments to Haiti.
After a deadly earthquake rocked Haiti in 2010 two thousand Canadian troops were deployed while several Heavy Urban Search Rescue Teams were readied but never sent. According to an internal file uncovered through an access to information request, Canadian officials worried that “political fragility has increased the risks of a popular uprising, and has fed the rumour that ex-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, currently in exile in South Africa, wants to organize a return to power.” The government documents also explain the importance of strengthening the Haitian authorities’ ability “to contain the risks of a popular uprising.”
The night president Aristide says he was “kidnapped” by US Marines JTF2 soldiers “secured” the airport. According to Agence France Presse, “about 30 Canadian special forces soldiers secured the airport on Sunday [Feb. 29, 2004] and two sharpshooters positioned themselves on the top of the control tower.” Reportedly, the elite fighting force entered Port-au-Prince five days earlier ostensibly to protect the embassy.
Over the past 25 years Liberal and Conservative governments have expanded the secretive Canadian special forces. In 2006 the military launched the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) to oversee JTF2, the Special Operations Regiment, Special Operations Aviation Squadron and Canadian Joint Incident Response Unit.
CANSOFCOM’s exact size and budget aren’t public information. It also bypasses standard procurement rules and their purchases are officially secret.While the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Communications Security Establishment and other government agencies face at least nominal oversight, CANSOFCOM does not.
During a 2006 Senate Defence Committee meeting CANSOFCOM Commander Colonel David E. Barr responded by saying, “I do not believe there is a requirement for independent evaluation. I believe there is sufficient oversight within the Canadian Forces and to the people of Canada through the Government of Canada — the minister, the cabinet and the Prime Minister.”
The commander of CANSOFCOM simply reports to the defence minister and PM.
“Even the U.S. President does not possess such arbitrary power,” notes Michael Skinner in a CCPA Monitor story titled “Canada’s Ongoing Involvement in Dirty Wars.”
This secrecy is an important part of their perceived utility by governments. “Deniability” is central to the appeal of special forces, noted Major B. J. Brister. The government is not required to divulge information about their operations so Ottawa can deploy them on controversial missions and the public is none the wiser. A 2006 Senate Committee on National Security and Defence complained their operations are “shrouded in secrecy”. The Senate Committee report explained, “extraordinary units are called upon to do extraordinary things … But they must not mandate themselves or be mandated to any role that Canadian citizens would find reprehensible. While the Committee has no evidence that JTF2 personnel have behaved in such a manner, the secrecy that surrounds the unit is so pervasive that the Committee cannot help but wonder whether JTF2’s activities are properly scrutinized.” Employing stronger language, right wing Toronto Sun columnist Peter Worthington pointed out that, “a secret army within the army is anathema to democracy.”
If Canadian special forces were secretly sent to Port-au-Prince to support an unpopular Haitian government Justin Trudeau’s government should be criticized not only for its hostility to the democratic will in that country but also for its indifference to Canadian democracy.
Justin Trudeau likes making high-minded sounding statements that make him seem progressive but change little. The Prime Minister’s declaration marking “Haiti’s Independence Day” was an attempt of the sort, which actually demonstrates incredible ignorance, even antipathy, towards the struggle against slavery.
In his statement commemorating 215 years of Haitian Independence, the Prime Minister failed to mention slavery, Haiti’s revolution and how that country was born of maybe the greatest example of liberation in the history of humanity. From the grips of the most barbaric form of plantation economy, the largely African-born slaves delivered a massive blow to slavery, colonialism and white supremacy.
Before the 1791 revolt the French colony of Saint Domingue was home to 450,000 people in bondage. At its peak in the 1750s the ‘Pearl of the Antilles’ provided as much as 50 per cent of France’s GNP. Super profits were made from using African slaves to produce sugar, cocoa, coffee, cotton, tobacco, indigo and other commodities.
The slaves put a stop to that with a merciless struggle that took advantage of divisions between ‘big white’ land/slave owners, racially empowered though poorer ‘small whites’ and a substantial ‘mulatto’ land/slave owning class. The revolt rippled through the region and compelled the post-French Revolution government in Paris to abolish slavery in its Caribbean colonies. Between 1791 and 1804 ‘Haitians’ would defeat tens of thousands of French, British and Spanish troops (Washington backed France financially), leading to the world’s first and only successful large-scale slave revolution. The first nation of free people in the Americas, Haiti established a slave-free state 60 years before the USA’s emancipation proclamation. (It wasn’t until after this proclamation ending slavery that the US recognized Haiti’s independence.)
The Haitian Revolution’s geopolitical effects were immense. It stimulated the Louisiana Purchase and London’s 1807 Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. The revolutionary state also provided important support to South American independence movements.
Canada’s rulers at the time opposed the slave revolt. In a bid to crush the ex-slaves before their example spread to the English colonies, British forces invaded Haiti in 1793. Halifax, which housed Britain’s primary naval base in North America, played its part in London’s efforts to capture one of the world’s richest colonies (for the slave owners). Much of the Halifax-based squadron arrived on the shores of the West Indies in 1793, and many of the ships that set sail to the Caribbean at this time were assembled in the town’s naval yard. Additionally, a dozen Nova Scotia privateers captured at least 57 enemy vessels in the West Indies between 1793 and 1805. “Essential tools of war until the rise of large steam navies”, the privateersalso wanted to protect the British Atlantic colonies’ lucrative Caribbean market decimated by French privateers. For a half-century Nova Scotia and Newfoundland generated great wealth selling cheap, high-protein cod to keep millions of “enslaved people working 16 hours a day”.
A number of prominent Canadian-born (or based) individuals fought to capture and re-establish slavery in the French colonies. Dubbed the “Father of the Canadian Crown”, Prince Edward Duke of Kent departed for the West Indies aboard a Halifax gunboat in 1793. As a Major General, he led forces that captured Guadalupe, St. Lucia and Martinique. Today, many streets and monuments across the country honour a man understood to have first applied the term “Canadian” to both the English and French inhabitants of Upper and Lower Canada.
Other “Canadians” played a part in Britain’s effort to corner the lucrative Caribbean slave plantations. Born into a prominent Québec military family, Charles Michel Salaberry “was part of successful invasions of Saint-Dominique [Haiti], Guadeloupe and Martinique.” A number of monuments commemorate Salaberry, including the city in Québec named Salaberry-de-Valleyfield.
To commemorate Haitian independence the Secretary General of the Caribbean Community, Irwin LaRocque, also released a statement. Unlike Trudeau, LaRocque “congratulated” Haiti and described the day as “a timely reminderof the historic importance of the Haitian Revolution and its continued significance as a symbol of triumph over adversity in the quest for liberty, equality and control of national destiny.”
Trudeau should have said something similar and acknowledged Canadians’ role in the slave trade and crimes against the free people of Haiti.