Silence on Haiti in Canada
by Andrew Macleod
Monday Magazine, January 19, 2006
Last Tuesday, Liberal prime minister Paul
Martin made his pre-election stop in Victoria, meeting with supporters
at a rally at the Hotel Grand Pacific. There, in what must have
felt like a strange replay of countless such events across the
country as we head towards the January 23 election, Martin delivered
a short speech with a few feel-good messages and several attacks
on conservative leader Stephen Harper. Harper, he says, would
integrate our country even more deeply with the United States
- something many Canadians don't want to see happen.
And yet, one particular aspect of Canada's
foreign affairs points to exactly that sort of integration with
the States. Our recent dubious record in Haiti, and our role in
Afghanistan, was something Martin didn't mention, and there was
no opportunity for reporters to ask about.
In fact, there has been little mention
of Haiti in the entire tightly managed campaign so far, even though
Mark Bourque, a retired Canadian RCMP officer, died there in recent
weeks, shot in the streets of Port au Prince. Not even the suicide
this weekend of Urano Texeira da Matta Bacellar, the Brazilian
leader of the UN forces in Haiti, caused a blip in Canadian political
circles. Nor has the steady criticism from peace activists who
question Canada's involvement in either country.
A call to the Liberal party's press office
in Ottawa confirms the party is trying to keep Haiti out of the
election. "It's not a political thing," says Kristen
Connolly, who describes herself as the "press office answering-the-phone
lady." Questions should be directed to the foreign affairs
department, she says. "It's government comment as opposed
That seems odd to a number of observers,
including Victoria's outgoing MP David Anderson, a one-time foreign-service
officer. "No foreign affairs issues have come up in the campaign,
which I find very surprising," he says. "I find it very
The election should include a close analysis
of Canada's foreign policy, Anderson says, and yet, the closest
we've come during this campaign is politicians talking about increasing
the size of the armed forces. How, Anderson asks, can we talk
about that without saying what we'd be increasing the forces for?
Right now, he says, it looks like that
would be for deployments like those in Afghanistan and Haiti.
"It's an interesting election debate gap, but that goes back
to my original point, that there's hardly been an election."
Or, as Susan Clarke from the Victoria
Peace Coalition says, "The country is never really held to
account on foreign policy during elections."
It shouldn't be this way, she adds. "We
never got a chance to say anything about Haiti. It was all done
behind our backs."
And yet, the question remains for many
Canadians: Just what is Canada doing in Haiti, and why is it a
Over the past several months, Clarke and
the coalition have been trying to raise awareness of the issue.
They've brought a couple of speakers to Victoria, including the
journalist Kevin Pina, who is from Oakland, California, but has
lived for several years in Haiti, is married to a Haitian and
has a child there.
There are multiple reasons, he says, why
Canadians should be concerned about what's happening in Haiti.
For starters, it's largely thanks to us and our efforts to unseat
Jean Bertrand Aristide's democratically elected government that
the country is currently so unstable. Through the Canadian International
Development Agency (CIDA), we funded non-governmental organizations
in Haiti that helped build opposition to Aristide. Then, during
the so-called rebellion in 2004, Canadian armed forces were there
to take the airport. Our forces held the country, along with soldiers
from France and the United States, until United Nations troops
could land. Since then we have contributed RCMP expertise to train
Haitian police officers, and we are putting $25 million into a
much-delayed election that many observers say is a sham. In 2000,
when Aristide was elected, there were 12,000 polling places, Pina
says. The plan for this election was to have somewhere between
600 and 800 places to vote. "That might ensure the photo
ops they want of long lines at the polls, but it won't guarantee
Pina is currently working on a documentary
about the situation in Haiti: a work that includes scenes of UN
troops raiding homes in the Cité Soleil neighbourhood,
and gory shots of war dead. "A lot of what I'm showing is
not being shown in the press," he says. "I have been
in the unenviable position of being the one reporting the side
of the story nobody else will touch . . . I like documentary filmmaking
for that reason, because the images at the end of the day don't
Asked what Canadians need to know about
Haiti, Pina says, "That your government is investing millions
of dollars in an unelected, undemocratic regime." Also, he
says, on this one Canada is in "lock step" with the
United States. And, oh yes, the decision to unseat Aristide, known
as the Ottawa initiative, was made in Canada.
All of that makes it something that should
be an election issue, argues the peace coalition's Clarke. "I
don't know when is a better time to hold our country accountable
for its foreign policy than during an election," she says.
"The Canadian people should have everything to say about
foreign policy, just like the Americans want to have everything
to say about their foreign policy. That's a huge part of your
persona as a nation."
Whether or not Haitians get to participate
in a free election anytime soon in their own country, the election
that's currently happening here could determine whether there'll
be a shift in our involvement there. So what do representatives
of Canada's various political parties think, and why aren't they
giving the Liberals a rougher ride on their Haiti record?
"We are very concerned obviously
with developments in Haiti," says Stockwell Day, the conservative's
foreign affairs critic, in a voice message. He's also the MP for
Okanagan-Coquihalla and once upon a time lived in Victoria and
attended UVic (though it's not clear from his website whether
he actually graduated). He's concerned, but he's actually calling
for more involvement, not less.
"We feel Canada should have more
of a presence there, especially on the security side," Day
says. "Over the last several years we have been underfunding
our military and we do not have the capability to provide the
types of level of security that's needed in a situation like Haiti
right now because we're also committed in other places."
As for the NDP, last spring the party's
foreign affairs critic, Alexa McDonough, called on the government
to do more to stop the flow of arms into the country and to address
the basic needs of health care, education, jobs and infrastructure
Then there's the Green Party, which called
this past weekend for a formal review of Canada's involvement
in Haiti. This follows on the party's October stance, which called
on Canada to seek a delay in the elections until all political
prisoners are freed and "intimidation of Lavalas Party supporters
by the Haitian National Police is stopped."
"It's pretty outrageous that we're
involved," says Ariel Lade, the Green candidate in Victoria
and a member of the Victoria Peace Coalition. "These elections
are going to be a sham unless Aristide and the Lavalas party are
allowed to fully participate and not be harassed by the police
that the RCMP are training."