Tag Archives: JTF2

Time to stop sending Canadian troops to Haiti

Canadian and Argentinian troops in Gonaives

During times of instability in Haiti, progressives both in the Caribbean nation and abroad often fear impending US military intervention. This makes sense, given Washington’s long history of deploying soldiers to shape Haitian affairs.

Since President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated Wednesday the Haiti Information Project has reported that combat vessel USS Billings is in Santo Domingo on the other side of the island. They also published photos of two US C-20 military aircraft unloading passengers and gear at the Toussaint Louverture Airport in Port-au-Prince. A video appears to show plainclothes men, reportedly Special Forces, being met by US embassy representatives.

But, what about Canadian Forces? While I have yet to find evidence of any Canadian deployment, it’s important for progressives to be vigilant considering this country’s history of using or threatening to use force to influence Haitian politics.

Amidst a February 2019 general strike that nearly toppled Moïse, heavily-armed Canadian special forces were videoed patrolling the Port-au-Prince airport. The Haiti Information Project suggested that they helped family members of Moïse’s corrupt, repressive and unpopular government flee the country.

On February 29, 2004, JTF2 commandos took control of the airport from which Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide was bundled (“kidnapped” in his words) onto a plane by US Marines and deposited in the Central African Republic. According to AFP, “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. The JTF2 deployment was part of the Canada/France/US campaign to destabilize and overthrow Haiti’s elected government. According to the military’s account of Operation PRINCIPAL, “more than 100 CF personnel and four CC-130 Hercules aircraft … assisted with emergency contingency plans and security measures” during the week before the coup.

For the five months after Aristide was ousted five hundred Canadian soldiers joined US and French forces in protecting Haiti’s foreign installed regime. A resident of Florida during the preceding 15 years, Gerard Latortue was responsible for substantial human rights violations. There is evidence Canadian troops participated directly in repressing the pro-democracy movement. A researcher who published a report on post-coup violence in Haiti with the Lancet medical journal recounted an interview with one family in the Delmas district of Port- au-Prince: “Canadian troops came to their house, and they said they were looking for Lavalas [Aristide’s party] chimeres, and threatened to kill the head of household, who was the father, if he didn’t name names of people in their neighbourhood who were Lavalas chimeres or Lavalas supporters.” Haiti and Afghanistan were the only foreign countries cited in the Canadian Force’s 2007 draft counterinsurgency manual as places where Canadian troops participated in counterinsurgency warfare. According to the manual, the CF had been “conducting COIN [counter-insurgency] operations against the criminally-based insurgency in Haiti since early 2004.”

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, Canadian officials worried that “political fragility has increased the risks of a popular uprising, and has fed the rumor 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.” To police Haiti’s traumatized and suffering population 2,050 Canadian troops were deployed alongside 12,000 US 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).

Canadian soldiers were part of the UN mission in the country between 2004 and 2017. A handful of Canadian military officials filled senior positions in the MINUSTAH command structure, including Chief of Staff. 34 Canadian soldiers were quietly dispatched to Haiti during the final six months of 2013.

Canada’ military involvement in Haiti dates to the previous century. Canadian troops joined the US led operation immediately after 20,000 troops descended on the country in 1994. Afterwards Canada took command of the UN force and about 750 Canadian soldiers were on the ground. At a 1996 NATO summit Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was caught on an open microphone saying, “he [US President Bill Clinton] goes to Haiti with soldiers. The next year, Congress doesn’t allow him to go back. So he phones me. Okay, I send my soldiers, and then afterward I ask for something in return.”

According to the 2000 book Canadian Gunboat Diplomacy, Canadian vessels have been sent to Haiti on multiple occasions. In response to upheaval in the years after Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier fled Haiti warships were deployed in 1988 and 1987. Another vessel was deployed in 1974. This time, reports military historian Sean Maloney, “Canadian naval vessels carried out humanitarian aid operations to generate goodwill with the Haitian government so that Haiti would support Canadian initiatives in la Francophonie designed to limit French interference in Canadian affairs.”

As Francois ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier’s first mandate came to an end in May 1963, the country was gripped with upheaval.When Haitian military officers accused of plotting against Duvalier fled into the Dominican Embassy in Port-au-Prince there was a major diplomatic incident between Duvalier and Dominican President Juan Bosch. Fearing forces sympathetic to Cuba may take advantage of the instability to grab power, HMCS Saskatchewan, a British vessel and seven US warships approached Haiti’s coast (three other Canadian ships stood by). The next year HMCS Saskatchewanwas again sent to Haiti to ensure Duvalier did not move towards Cuba.

‘Canada’ intervened militarily in previous centuries as well. In November 1865 HMS Galatea bombed Cap-Haitien in support of a Haitian political leader battling an opponent. Based in Halifax and Bermuda, the British frigate was part of the Empire’s North America and West Indies Station. Two decades later Halifax based HMS Canada was dispatched to Haiti on two occasions over six-months.

British/Canadian forces also sought to crush the Haitian slave revolution. Britain’s primary naval base in North America, Halifax 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 a dozen Nova Scotia privateers captured at least 57 enemy vessels in the West Indies between 1793 and 1805. A number of prominent Canadian-born (or based) individuals fought to capture and re-establish slavery in Saint Domingue (Haiti). First Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe, led the British invasion of Saint Domingue in 1796. As Governor, Simcoe re-instated slavery in areas he controlled.

Canada has a long history of intervening militarily in Haiti. Amidst the current instability, we should seek to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

 

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Canadian military in Haiti. Why?

Why are Canadian soldiers in Haiti?
HIP Photo

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.

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