Published March 12, 2024

Canada's UN envoy says intervention is the best chance to heal gang crisis in Haiti

By Dylan Robertson

Canada's ambassador to the United Nations says a looming military intervention is the best chance Haiti has of uprooting gangs that are causing havoc.

Bob Rae says Canada has been focused on making sure Haitians are in charge of how to restore stability to their country, despite having no elected government.

The unelected prime minister, Ariel Henry, has today agreed to leave office once a transitional presidential council is created, after months of pressure from Canada and its peers.

Haiti has been in a profound security crisis since mid-2021, and Henry has called for an international military intervention to clear out violent gangs that have taken over large swaths of the country.

Rae acknowledged that a military mission is controversial among the large Haitian diaspora in Montreal, but he challenged those who oppose the move to propose another way of ending the chaos.

Kenya had agreed to lead an intervention, but reportedly suspended the deployment until Haiti has its governance sorted out, a move Rae says is not justified. 

"We have to be able to respond to the security crises that are the most important to us, and Haiti is certainly one of those," Rae told The Canadian Press in an interview.

"The world is shrinking. And in that world, we must pay more much more attention to what's going on in our neighbourhood," he said. "Insecurity, violence, trafficking, human trafficking (and) drug trafficking affects everybody in the region, including us."

The instability has led to a rise in regional gun trafficking that has alarmed the 15-nation Caribbean bloc known as Caricom, which said in a statement late Friday that "the situation on the ground remains dire" in Haiti.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly has welcomed Henry's eventual resignation, and urged the key players in Haiti to work toward ending the ongoing humanitarian, security and political crises.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with Henry hours before his announcement, and affirmed the close ties between Canada and Haiti, according to a late Monday notice from Trudeau's office.

Henry had been locked out of his own country while travelling abroad as gangs have overrun much of Haiti's capital and closed down its main international airports.

Rae attended a Monday meeting in Jamaica with several Caribbean leaders along with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Henry was in Puerto Rico during the meeting, according to a statement from the U.S. territory's Department of State, and was taking steps to return to Haiti once feasible.

Haiti's latest security crisis started with mid-2021 assassination of former president Jovenel Moïse. Henry was put into power as prime minister with the support of Washington.

Washington had asked Canada to lead an international military intervention, but the federal government has not been eager to step in. Trudeau has cited past missions organized by the UN in which foreign soldiers sexually exploited Haitians and introduced cholera to the country.

Canadian military officials have made similar comments, and argued the Armed Forces does not have the resources to lead an intervention.

Kenya agreed last fall to lead the mission, though that decision has been contested by Kenyan courts. 

Canada's focus has been to strengthen the Haitian National Police, co-ordinating with donor countries to make sure officers have the equipment needed to maintain public order. The country does not have a military.

Ottawa announced last week that it would provide $80.5 million toward the UN-sanctioned mission, while noting that it requires much more money and personnel from other countries.

Last October, federal officials told Parliament that Canada is likely to deploy RCMP officers to Haiti to act as trainers during such a mission, instead of sending troops. Canada's work would be focused on preventing sexual violence, they said.

Rae said that remains the plan.

Canada's defence chief said last week that managing security could be a lengthy, difficult process in a country like Haiti, which lacks a solid political and economic framework.

While Haiti has been in chaos for years, gang violence flared up in late February. By early March, gangs freed thousands of inmates, leading Haiti to declare a state of emergency. Some embassies have evacuated non-essential staff during the past week, though Canada's diplomats are working from home instead of from the embassy.

Quebec has a large Haitian community — estimated at more than 140,000. 

Many Haitian Montrealers are worried about loved ones amid the violent attacks that have paralyzed the Haitian capital.

Among them is Wedne Colin, who said his family members had to flee their homes several times to find a place that's safe from the armed gangs that control the capital city of Port-au-Prince.

Banner image: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 12, 2024.

— With files from The Associated Press

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