The Canadian Connection


In an emergency House of Commons debate surounding Canada’s role in Haiti yesterday, The Canadian government trotted out its new foreign policy language, coloured by a great deal of Bush-speak that Canadians and Americans have come to know so well. Evidently, the foreign policy medicine of “deep integration” with the United States has an immediate side effect of groundless, unsubstantiatable claims and much empty rhetoric.

During the debate Canada’s New Democratic Party [NDP] demanded an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding President Aristide’s departure. For those familiar with the facts surrounding the recent crisis in Haiti, this might seem to be an odd request, especially given Aristide’s recent personal testimony that he did not in fact resign and that he was [again] the victim of a coup d’etat, carried out this time by “French and US diplomacy”. [1]

It was evident from the responses of the Liberal government that they were unprepared for such a challenge – however strongly warranted given the facts – to come from the NDP. Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham claimed that we “can’t focus on past quarrels”, and that rather than be preoccupied with the past, we need to “look forward”. Graham and others denied that it was important whether or not Canada was a party to an illegal coup d’etat. With the exception of Liberal MP David Kilgour, there was a virtual gag order imposed on the House as to the question of Aristide’s departure.

Svend Robinson asked Kilgour if he would support an independent inquiry, which is currently being demanded by CARICOM and South Africa. Kilgour replied that Canada “can only gain from this process.” When Parliamentary Secretary Scott Brison was asked the same question , he refused to answer – three times – claiming repeatedly that Aristide “resigned voluntarily”, while also asserting that February 29th was “not a coup d’etat”.

Even Stockwell Day of the Conservative Party of Canada, referred to Aristide’s removal as “regime change”. Quite matter-of-factly, Day said “We have been a party to regime change in Haiti.[Canada] actively supported [the] regime change of an elected leader.” Liberal President of the Privy council Denis Coderre referred to Day’s comments as “rhetoric”, while proceeding to deny and deflect terminology that refers to Aristide’s “resignation” as anything but legitimate. For his part, Bill Graham stated “I don’t accept the point that this is regime change,” qualifying this statement by asserting “this was not a regime change according to the [UN] Security Council.”

Day, in fact, was the only member of Parliament who seemed clear on the issue of regime change. Being a member of the right-wing Conservative Party, Day did not object to the regime change. Rather, he just called it like it is. This is something that Canada is unwilling to do, and therefore do not offer so much as a justification for regime change, knowing fulll well that to admit to this would be to admit to breaking international law.

All told the Liberals effectively stated that the issue of Aristide’s departure is to be put in its proper place: down the memory hole. Later on, during a statement that was hurriedly contrived by the Liberals in response to the NDP, Scott Brison made this clear:

“The current political situation in Haiti punctuated by the events of the last few weeks, has its roots in the seriously flawed legislative and municipal elections of May 2000. The resulting polarization of the government and opposition compounded with weak institutions and severe economic and social challenges in the country have led us to the situation today where strong participation by the international community is required to accompany Haiti in changing directions and moving forward to a more positive future….Canada decided to terminate our police engagement in May 2001 due to the worsening political and security context more broadly…We are now entering a new era for Haiti and the opportunity for a new beginning…the challenges are great…”

Brison, who earlier had claimed that Canada is working closely with CARICOM, must not have been aware that the “seriously flawed” election to which he referred have been considered resolved for two years. In a February 15, 2002 press release concerning a recent meeting with US Secretary of State Colin Powell, CARICOM stated:

“The actions taken by President Aristide are in the right direction and the release of the funds would assist. Not doing this could lead to a deteriorating situation”. Further to this, Powell was also aware that “the Caribbean Ministers had earlier pointed out that President Aristide had done his best to fulfil the eight conditions which were requested of him by the United States in December 2000. The two outstanding areas were not dependent on the Government of Haiti alone and required the compliance of the Opposition.” [2]

It has been clear for several years that Aristide had made serious efforts to rectify the so-called “seriously flawed” elections. Just as in the lead up to his overthrow, it has all along been the opposition that have steadfastly refused to cooperate. Canada, the US and the EU have had several opportunities to persuade the opposition to cooperate, but instead have supported the withholding of desperately needed funds while falsely pressuring Aristide to “negotiate” with the opposition, something that, according to CARICOM, he had already made several attempts to do with no success.

Bill Graham stated explicitly that “CARICOM knows the political situation best.” Clearly, Graham cannot agree with his own statement here if he is denying the legitimacy of an investigation into Aristide’s overthrow. Equally, his statement is inconsistent with the realities of what the CARICOM have conveyed to the international community surrounding Haiti. Several times, CARICOM has asked the US to release the $500 million in withheld aid to Haiti. Again in 2002: “they stressed that the prompt release of such funds was critical, if a catastrophe were to be avoided in that country.” Now that this prediction has been fulfilled, Bill Graham claims that Canada trusts CARICOM’s opinion.

If we look at more recent CARICOM statements, we should be careful to compare them with Graham’s statement that “CARICOM knows the political situation best.”

CARICOM Heads of Government met on March 2nd and 3rd in Kingston, Jamaica, in an emergency session to consider the situation in Haiti. The following statements were issued in a March 3rd press release:

“They expressed the view that the circumstances under which the President demitted office set a dangerous precedent for democratically elected governments everywhere as it promotes the unconstitutional removal of duly elected persons from office.”

Accordingly, CARICOM is seeking “an investigation under the auspices of the United Nations to clarify the circumstances leading to his relinquishing the Presidency. ”

Regarding the rebel forces, who are led by numerous convicted murderers and leaders of FRAPH deathsquads:

“.No action should be taken to legitimize the rebel forces nor should they be included in any interim government.”

In an Associated Press article March 11, 2004 “Haiti’s new PM tries to unite nation,”[3] it passes without criticism that Yvon Neptune, Haiti’s sworn in Prime Minister, has himself been deposed and replaced by Gerard Latortue. Quickly Tortue “has indicated he might consider bringing back Haiti’s army.” This also passed without comment, even though the US and Canada have stated that they do not wish to see the army restored.

While the Liberals were as defiant as Colin Powell, who Graham claims he is conferring with on a daily basis regarding Haiti, it is clear that they do not have a leg to stand on as far as the pertinent facts are concerned. If the NDP remain committed, as they claim to be “to holding Paul Martin’s feet to the fire” regarding Haiti, the illegalilites of Aristide’s overthrow might yet be revealed to a popular audience.

The Canadian government must continue to rely on a corporate media that is willing to lie, disinform and omit on its behalf regarding the Haiti scandal. How much longer the government can rely on this support will depend on how long the Canadian press is willing to push the ideology of the Associated Press, who have been most complicit in the suppression of important facts, such as the US funding of the Haitian opposition, the omission of key facts such as Aristide’s still enjoying massive popular support, and the issues surrounding Aristide’s overthrow.

The NDP’s Svend Robinson also brought up the issue of the 2003 ‘Summit of the Francophonie” hosted by Denis Paradis in Ottawa. Robinson asked if “regime change in Haiti” was discussed at this meeting between Canadian, French and US foreign ministers, as was reported by Michel Vastel in the March 15, 2003 edition of L’Actualite. To this Robinson received no response, though it is said that the hum of paper shredders could be heard echoing throughout the House Chambers.


[1] See Democracy Now! Interview with Aristide at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=36&ItemID=5111

[2] http://www.caricom.org/pressreleases/pres28_02.htm

[3]http://globeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20040310.wnewha0310/ BNStory/International/?query=haiti

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