The Haitian debate

Former Haitian government minister Patrick Elie visited Halifax last week to discuss Canada’s ongoing role in the developing country. Stuart Neatby with reaction from Haiti.

Patrick Elie was not exactly given a warm welcome by the Canadian government.

The Haitian human rights activist and former government minister, who spoke in front of an audience of 75 at Dalhousie University last week as part of a national speaking tour, arrived in Canada on February 21st, only to be informed by agents of the Canadian Secret Intelligence Services (CSIS), that he had been placed on a Designated High Profile list, and that his movements in the country would be monitored by the Canadian government. He has since been interrogated three times while traveling throughout Canada.

Weeks later, Haitian Prime Minister Gerard Latortue would be greeted by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa as protesters outside, many of whom were members of the Haitian community, accused Latortue of crimes against humanity.

"It's a bad omen," Elie said of the Latortue visit in a phone interview from Halifax. "The signal that Mr. Harper has sent is an indication of intent to continue Canada's disastrous role in propping up the unelected government in Haiti."

Elie has been a long-time advocate of democracy and human rights in Haiti. Currently the head of the Jean Dominique Foundation, named after legendary Haitian journalist who was the subject of the 2003 documentary The Agronomist, Elie is also the founder of the citizen watchdog group Sant Obsevasyon Sitoyen (SOS). As a government minister, he was instrumental in disbanding Haiti's much-criticized military in 1995.

In his presentation at Dalhousie on Monday night, Elie spoke strongly about the importance of the protests that exploded in Haiti's capital following the evidence of fraud in Haiti's Presidential elections on February 7th, which culminated in the discovery in a dump outside of the capital of thousands of burned ballots bearing a mark beside the name of electoral frontrunner Rene Preval. Days later, the Haitian Provisional Electoral Council would give into international and domestic pressure, and would recognize Preval as President.

Elie's speaking tour, organized by the Canada Haiti Action Network (CHAN), is aimed at drawing attention to Canada's role in this impoverished Caribbean nation. Elie believes that Canada, along with the United States and France, were directly involved in the forced removal of elected Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February of 2004. Aristide has claimed that he was kidnapped by US Marines. Organizers with CHAN claim that Canada has been a major player in Aristide's removal and decry Canada's role in training the Haitian National Police, who have been implicated in numerous human rights abuses.

"The cardinal sin," said Elie of Canada's role, "is that they are training a police force that is under the employ of an illegitimate government."

"Canada's role in Haiti has been disastrous," says Brooks Kind of Haiti Action Halifax, one of the organizers of Elie's Halifax visit.

"Canada served as an accomplice to abuses ranging from shootings upon peaceful demonstrations, police massacres in poor neighborhoods, and politically-motivated imprisonment."

Samba Boukman, a community organizer and activist in Bel Air, a poor neighborhood in the core of Port-au-Prince, claimed that members of the Haitian Police had kidnapped scores of street youth over the last two years, and killed many of them, dumping their bodies later in a dump outside of the capital.

In addition to leading the training of the Haitian Police, Canada has been mandated with overseeing the reform of Haiti's justice system for almost two years. Evel Fanfan, of the Association of University Graduates Motivated for a Haiti with Rights (AUMOHD), stated that UN forces and the Haitian police regularly detain Haitians in poor neighborhoods on spurious charges. Fanfan claims that such individuals are often detained in brutal conditions, such as those found in the National Penitentiary, where prison beatings are common, and where inmates rely upon relatives in order to receive food.

Elie, who lived through the period of Haiti's military dictatorship, is quick to point out that Canada has presided over the most brutal two-year period in Haiti's recent history. Such involvement, he claims, has allowed the Canadian government to gain favour with the United States, but has also retained the image of a humanitarian mission.

"If that's the way they're going to help," said Elie, "please, let them keep their help."

Stuart Neatby is currently in Haiti, travelling, reporting, and blogging at

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