Published March 14, 2024

Canada relocating some diplomats from 'volatile' Haiti, following other nations

By Dylan Robertson

Canada has reduced the number of diplomats at its embassy in Haiti to less than half its normal cadre, citing an increasingly unpredictable security situation in the Caribbean country.

"The security situation remains volatile," Sébastien Beaulieu, Global Affairs Canada's chief security officer, told reporters Thursday.

He said most Canadian staff at the Port-au-Prince embassy were airlifted in a chartered helicopter early Thursday to the neighbouring Dominican Republic, where they will work remotely.

The helicopter also brought in security experts who were already assigned to the embassy in Haiti but were abroad and found themselves unable to re-enter the country when gangs took over the main airport in recent weeks.

The move to limit Canada's diplomatic presence to only essential employees comes a week after peer countries made the same move. Since then, Canada had already closed access to the embassy and required staff to work remotely.

Beaulieu would not say whether Canada has emulated a U.S. decision to deploy Marines to protect its embassy, but he said Canada had reduced its diplomatic footprint in order to better protect those remaining.

"The drawdown is also part of that rationale, in terms of being able to focus our security, our assets, our life support, to support that core team that remains in place," he said.

"We are satisfied of the measures that are being taken to protect our core team and to ensure their safety and security."

Canada has advised all Canadians in Haiti to leave since Oct. 2022, but Beaulieu said there are still "close to 3,000" Canadians officially registered as remaining in the country.

Embassy staff are messaging those people and asking them to shelter in place, respect the country's curfew and stock up on water, food and medicine, since Haiti has lost most of its ability to import goods. 

Beaulieu refused to say how many diplomats have left and how many remain on the ground, citing security concerns. But he said the remaining cohort amounts to between 10 and 50 per cent of the embassy's usual staffing.

According to data Global Affairs Canada previously submitted to Parliament, the Port-au-Prince embassy had 15 Canadian diplomats and 37 local hires as of July 2022.

The news comes two days after unelected Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry agreed to resign once a transitional council is formed to oversee an international military intervention led by Kenya. 

Canada has contributed $80.5 million to the mission and has offered to help train Haitian police, but will not send soldiers. Kenya said it has suspended the mission until the transitional council takes power in Haiti.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with his Kenyan counterpart about the mission on Wednesday, and he seemed to imply during a news conference Thursday that Kenya wasn't guaranteed to lead the mission.

"They will be, hopefully, leading a multinational security intervention force to help stabilize Haiti," Trudeau told reporters in Windsor, Ont.

"The humanitarian and security catastrophe that's going on in Haiti right now is extraordinarily challenging."

Sylvie Bédard, the acting associate deputy minister for the Americas, said after Trudeau's comments that Canada has no doubt Kenya will follow through. 

"We remain confident that this mission will be deployed," she said.

Haiti has been in a profound security crisis since mid-2021, when gangs took control of key infrastructure and started violent turf wars that have led to a collapse of most medical and food systems in the country.

The commander of the Canadian Joint Operations Command, Vice-Admiral Bob Auchterlonie, told The Canadian Press in a December year-end interview that the government prepared an evacuation plan for Haiti last year but never used it. 

Beaulieu said contingency plans are "continuously" updated, and he would not speculate on what would cause Canada to start evacuations.

"There are no assisted departure or repatriation flights planned for Canadians at this time. None of our partners are operating any such flights," he said.

Canadians were evacuated from Israel following the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas and from Sudan last spring after fighting erupted in that country. 

Banner image: A pedestrian crosses a street free of traffic in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Wednesday, March 13, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Odelyn Joseph

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 14, 2024.

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