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.
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.
How do we make people question the lies they have been told? How do we make our voices heard? Direct action democracy is required.
In order to show politicians, the media and even many progressives that some of us are hostile to Canadian foreign policy we need to raise our voices and be disruptive in the cause of international solidarity.
Last Sunday Haitian Canadian activist Jennie-Laure Sully interrupted Justin Trudeau at a press conference to ask why Canada is supporting a corrupt, repressive and illegitimate president in Haiti. As the prime minister began to address a room full of political leaders (Montréal mayor Valérie Plante, Green party leader Elizabeth May, NDP head Jagmeet Singh, etc.) Sully rose to ask her question. While Trudeau evaded the question in his response, everyone in the room and a couple thousand others online heard the question.
Sully’s intervention was part of a series of similar actions by Solidarité Québec-Haiti #Petrochallenge 2019. Since July 15 members of the Haiti solidarity group have interrupted two press conferences by Minister of La Francophonie and Tourism Mélanie Joly. The message delivered at these events was that the Liberals need to stop propping up the corrupt, repressive and illegitimate Jovenel Moïse. We also raised our voices at a barbecue in her riding — the unofficial launch of her re-election campaign — where her staff sought to dissipate the challenge by offering a meeting with the minister (while simultaneously saying the invention hurt our cause!)
Clips of the various actions have been widely shared on social media and have generated significant coverage in Haitian media as well as Montréal’s Haitian community media. They’ve also received a bit of attention in the dominant Canadian media.
Over the past six months members of two small anti-imperialist groups Mouvement Québécois pour la Paix and Palestiniens et Juifs Unis have directly challenged ministers on different aspects of the Liberals’ foreign policy. We have interrupted:
a Université de Montréal talk by foreign minister Christia Freeland to criticize Canada’s effort to overthrow Venezuela’s government;
a corporate luncheon with defence minister Harjit Sajjan to condemn increased military spending, arms sales to Saudi Arabia and NATO deployments;
a press conference by Justice Minister David Lametti to challenge his promotion of a Bombardier surveillance plane sale to the UAE and Canada fueling the war on Yemen;
an event by Environment Minister Catherine McKenna to criticize spending tens of billions of dollars on heavy carbon emitting fighter jets and naval vessels amidst the climate crisis;
A number of these actions garnered corporate media attention. Clips of almost all of them have been widely viewed on social media.
Raising our voices in Montreal has helped inspire similar actions in other cities. Ideally this could lead to a growing snowball of democratic engagement against pro-corporate and pro-empire foreign policy measures.
People are often reluctant to demonstrate their international solidarity because they think their voices will not be heard. In my experience these people crave signs of resistance. And acts of resistance generally beget more such acts.
There are many ways to confront a minister or politician. It’s generally best if one individual focuses on filming the challenge while others speak. Depending on the context, it’s good to have each individual make their speech one after another, which extends the disruptive impact. If there is media in the room, try to get directly in front of the camera and position any sign in a way that is easy to film. If one is uncomfortable about speaking in public write the message out or simply stand next to the politician with a placard. While better to divide tasks, it is possible (and maybe the only option if security is tight) to film oneself challenging a politician. Or after filming another’s interruption film oneself making a statement.
Smart phones make it easy to record an intervention and social media makes it relatively easy to disseminate the video clips.
With the dominant media refusing to cover critical perspectives on important international issues, we need to find other ways to put forward our message and push back against government policies. We also need to give the decision-makers a bit of a headache and inspire like-minded individuals to act. Disrupting ministers and politicians at public events can be a high impact form of international solidarity and is an example of much needed direct action democracy.
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.