Canada & Haiti

Canadians of conscience who pay attention to Haiti continue to be ashamed of what is being done in our name.


In a January 15 interview with Haiti’s Radio Solidarité, Canada’s ambassador to Haiti, Claude Boucher praised the UN occupation forces (identified by the French acronym MINUSTAH), urging them to “increase their operations as they did last December.”


Boucher’s reference to operations “last December” is an unmistakable reference to the December 22 MINUSTAH assault on the slum neighbourhood of Cité Soleil.


Marketed by its architects as an action against “armed gangs” blamed for a spate of recent kidnappings, 400 troops, backed by helicopters, entered a densely populated residential area at 4:30 a.m. Eyewitnesses and victims of the attack claim MINUSTAH helicopters fired on residents throughout the operation.  The cardboard and corrugated tin wall houses were no match for the troops’ heavy weaponry and the raid left scores of civilians dead and wounded, including women and children.


Dubbed the “Christmas Massacre” by neighbourhood residents a Reuters photo revealed a row of dead bodies and two distraught women carrying a wounded young boy. Agence France Presse indicated that at least 12 people were killed and “several dozen” wounded, a casualty total over 40. A Haitian human rights organization, known by the acronym AUMOHD, reported 20 killed with an initial set of victims’ names.


The Association Haitienne de presse (AHP) reported “very serious property damage” following the UN attack, and concerns that “a critical water shortage may now develop because water cisterns and pipes were punctured by the gunfire.” Red Cross coordinator Pierre Alexis complained to AHP that UN soldiers “blocked Red Cross vehicles from entering Cité Soleil” to help the wounded.


MINUSTAH denies it interfered with the Red Cross and refuses to acknowledge any civilian casualties.


The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits military interference in the provision of medical assistance to the wounded as well as collective punishment and the deployment of military force in districts where civilians are likely to be victimized. International humanitarian law obligates all parties to military engagements (or territorial occupation) to extend protection to civilians.


In other words, the “operations” that Ambassador Boucher praised may constitute war crimes.


This was a military assault carried out against a residential neighbourhood by a military force – “peacekeepers” – charged with protecting the population. We can only imagine the reaction if the Canadian army killed dozens of local residents by using helicopters and military assault vehicles with machine guns while conducting operations in the Jane-Finch neighbourhood of Toronto or Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and justified its actions as “cracking down on gangs.”


The Toronto Star was the only English-language Canadian newspaper to run a Reuters article that reported nine killed in December. It seems as if the dead and suffering of an extremely poor Haitian neighbourhood can be safely ignored. And worse. Canada’s ambassador to Haiti can hold up the operation as a model to be repeated.


And that is what happened. A UN raid on Cité Soleil on Thursday, Jan. 25 left five dead and a dozen wounded, according to Agence France Presse.


Canadian military and police continue to play a leadership role within MINUSTAH. The current Conservative government has pointed to our policies in Haiti with pride after the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised Canada several times for its role there.


Why is this happening?


The reality is most Canadians know nothing about Haiti other than it is the land of voodoo. They do not know about the 200-year long history of U.S. and French interference in Haiti after the world’s first, and only, successful slave rebellion. (Including the forced payment of “reparations” for the cost of freed slaves, a “debt” that was purchased by the U.S. and not paid off until 60 years ago.) Critically, few Canadians are aware of how a wealthy (typically


lighter-skinned) Haitian elite has long exploited the country and worked with French and U.S. interests in doing so. That elite paid little or no taxes. The “government” did not build schools or provide services but rather kept the poor majority in their place by using a brutal police and military force.


In the past two decades the poor majority has tried repeatedly to take control of the Haitian government. But each time a new government challenged the power of the elite and tried to empower the poor majority it has been overthrown.


Unfortunately, Canada took a lead role in undermining the elected government that was overthrown in 2004 and in the repression that has followed.


Canada, under both Liberal and Conservative governments, seems to have been “deputized” by the USA to “keep the peace” in Haiti.


Sadly, it increasingly appears the “peace” being sought is reserved for the wealthy elite and their foreign backers.



Yves Engler is co-author of Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority, published by Fernwood. Kevin Skerett is a member of the Canada Haiti Action Network




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