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

Canada's ambassador to the United Nations, Bob Rae, speaks to media following the state funeral for Ed Broadbent at the Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre, in Ottawa, Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

By Dylan Robertson, City News, March 12, 2024

Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations says a looming military intervention is the best chance Haiti has of uprooting gangs that have wrought escalating chaos on the Caribbean nation for years.

Rae attended a Monday meeting in Jamaica with several Caribbean leaders, along with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, aimed at finding a solution to the crisis. 

After the meeting, Haiti’s unelected prime minister, Ariel Henry, agreed to leave office once a transitional presidential council is created. The move comes after months of pressure from Canada and its peers.

The council consists of representatives from across Haiti’s political spectrum, who agreed to support a United Nations military intervention to clear out violent gangs that have taken over large swaths of the country. There is no timeline for when that council will take power.

Haiti has been in a profound security crisis since mid-2021, and Henry called for an international military intervention in 2022. After debates at the UN over whether to undertake an intervention and who would lead one, Kenya agreed last October to take charge.

The idea has been controversial among Haitians, as well as the large Haitian diaspora in Montreal. 

On Tuesday, Frantz Voltaire, who founded a Montreal non-profit focused on Caribbean heritage, said he was worried by the lack of Haitian presence around the table at the meeting in Jamaica.

“There are still Haitian personalities and expertise (that could be consulted), but I’m quite afraid that we’re deciding for Haiti without consulting Haitians from within and from the diaspora,” he said in French.

Rae challenged those who oppose the intervention to propose another way of ending the chaos.

“I would ask a question to those who say ‘No, I don’t want an intervention.’ Well, how are you going to solve the problem? The Haitian National Police have accepted that they need our help,” he said in French.

Meanwhile, hours after Henry’s announced resignation, Kenya halted plans to deploy at least 1,000 police officers to Haiti.

Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Koriri Sing’oei said that without a clear administration in place in Haiti, there is no anchor for an international police force, and so the deployment is suspended until Haiti has a newly installed authority.

“There has been a fundamental change in circumstances in Haiti as a result of the complete breakdown of law and order,” Sing’oei said Tuesday.

Rae said Kenya has “no reason” to hit the brakes, since Haitians have asked for the intervention and Henry has agreed to cede power to a group that also supports the mission.

The gang chaos has led to a rise in regional gun trafficking that has alarmed the 15-nation Caribbean bloc known as Caricom.

Members of that bloc have previously noted that these guns often come from the United States, and they argue that the deportation of Haitian criminals by the U.S. and Canada has further entrenched gangs in Haiti.

Rae said Canada has a moral duty to help Haiti end an atrocious cycle of violence, and a self-interest in stopping violence, human trafficking and drug smuggling that are related to the gang crisis.

“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.

“Haiti is taking so many blows to the head, and it’s on the map right now. And you can’t let people go through that on their own.”

On Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly 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 was in Puerto Rico during the Monday meeting in Jamaica, according to a statement from the U.S. territory’s Department of State, and was taking steps to return to Haiti once feasible.

He 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.

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.

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

Canada’s ambassador to Haiti, André François Giroux, said in a Tuesday interview that Canada’s co-ordination effort has involved 30 donor countries, to prevent duplication and try ensuring officers have interchangeable gear.

Giroux also praised Haitian political leaders for forming an agreement with their political opponents, to put their country’s future above partisanship in order to create the conditions for an eventual election.

“It is a marriage of convenience; it is not a natural coalition,” he said.

Giroux anticipates a rocky transition, but he’s optimistic it will restore constitutional order. “There’s no guarantee in anything in life,” he added.

Meanwhile, 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 and Giroux said that remains the plan.

“The capacity to deal with gang warfare is different than dealing with any other kinds of conflict,” Rae said, adding that Canada is helping with “cyber capacity” to sort out what gangs are up to and how best to respond to their attacks.

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.

Both Rae and Giroux believe that escalation of violence was caused by gangs realizing an intervention was becoming increasingly likely, and that this will undermine their power.

Some embassies have evacuated non-essential staff during the past week, though Canada’s diplomats are working from their homes in Haiti instead of from the embassy in Port-au-Prince.

Giroux said no staff have been evacuated, though some non-essential staff were outside Haiti when the main airport was taken over, and will continue to work remotely.

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

— With files from The Associated Press, Émilie Bergeron and Stéphane Blais 

 

Posted March 20, 2023