Canada has an obligation to help Haitians fleeing Trump

A family from Haiti approach a tent in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Quebec, stationed by Royal Canadian Mounted Police. (CHARLES KRUPA / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)  

By Pascale Diverlus, the Star, Dec. 6, 2017

Imagine your current country, possibly the only one you’ve ever known, forcibly kicking you out; your home country is unstable and perilous; and upon arrival at your prospect country, you’re arrested, detained, and turned away. To be Haitian is to be trapped in a never-ending game of migrant roulette.

Last month, Donald Trump announced he will be rescinding the temporary protection status (TPS) for Haitians living in the United States. Under TPS, Haitians whose entire worlds were destroyed by the catastrophic 2010 earthquake, which killed more than 200,000 people, and that displaced over 1.5 million people were provided protection and status in the U.S.

This move will result in the deportation of 60,000 people back to an unstable country still recovering from environmental and political assaults; a country many do not know. Many are left with no choice but to emigrate en masse out of the U.S. There are thousands of families, parents, and children crossing the border into Canada, desperate for a home, and just to be met with immigration detention, arrest and deportation.

As with many Trump policies, Canadians are quick to condemn. However, Trump’s assault on the Haitian diaspora is not unlike Trudeau’s actions within our borders. Despite claiming itself as a “safe haven for refugees,” the Canadian government has arrested more than 3,000 Haitians trying to gain asylum in Canada. Canada too, has turned its back on Haitian refugees looking for safety.

Canadians have an ethical obligation to provide refuge and a home for Haitian refugees fleeing persecution from the U.S. government. After all, Canada has played an active role in the destabilization of the Haitian government by repeatedly infringing on its sovereignty. Haitian politicians, such as Jean-Charles Moise, and Haitian newspapers, like Haiti Progrès, have attributed the ousting of Jean-Bernard Aristide as a significant moment.

In 2003, the federal Liberal government organized an assembly of Canadian, American and French leaders to discuss the state of Haiti — with no actual Haitian officials present. There, they decided to stage a coup-d’état, and forcibly oust Haiti’s first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Days later, thousands of troops were deployed into Haiti under a false pretense of regional stabilization. This coup would lead to thousands of deaths of Haitian civilians as collateral damage in the name of Canadian peacekeeping.

The Canadian government has a history of utilizing military intervention — often backed by the United Nations — to meddle in Haiti’s political climate. Canada’s imperial fingerprints can be traced through law enforcement and foreign aid. Following the coup, Canada actively remilitarized the Haitian police. Following the earthquake, Canada deployed 2,000 troops to the island initially sent as search and rescue, but overstayed their welcome and actively impeded on Haitian people’s ability to live life freely.

As foreign nations’ interests in Haiti increases, the country destabilizes. Since the 1970s, Haiti’s unstable climate has created several waves of mass migration of Haitians into the U.S. and Canada. My family experienced both ends of the migration route, first landing in the U.S. and later relocating to Canada. For more than 50 years, families have been forced to migrate, endure decades-long family separation, and navigate varying precarious immigration status. To be Haitian is to feel stateless.

The impacts of Canada’s imperial relationship with Haiti are long lasting. We must grapple with the reality that our foreign policy and military interests have contributed to Haiti’s political and economic instability. It is time for Canadians to take responsibility for our complicity and its impacts on Haitians living in Haiti and the diaspora. It is time for Canadians to welcome Haitian migrants seeking refuge here with open arms; after all, we never extended that courtesy when we barged in and occupied their land.

In less than 19 months, thousands will suddenly lose their legal status and likely targeted, detained, and forcibly removed from the U.S. As the inevitable panic sets in, more will attempt to come to Canada. From January to September this year alone, 6,360 Haitians applied for asylum in Canada; with only 10 per cent being approved for status. Canada should live by its promise to being a welcoming space for refugees and open its door to the tens of thousands fleeing Trump’s persecution.


Pascale Diverlus is a journalist, organizer and one of the co-founders of Black Lives Matter-Toronto.


Posted Dec. 12, 2017