Desolation, Destruction and Deficit: Why the Canadian Government should step back from Haiti

By A. B. Thomas

The earthquake of January 12th, 2010 that devastated the nation of Haiti has shown that there can be a unification of humanity and purpose on a global scale. A high price has been paid in human life amongst the ruins of the cities, towns and villages of Haiti with the interest of gangrene, typhoid and dysentery yet to be surrendered in full to that which collects the debts of mankind.  The global response has been tremendous from not only the various social agencies and the populations of the globe but in governmental relief packages as well.

According to an article in the January 30th issue of “The Chronicle of Philanthropy” 528 million dollars has been raised in the United States for Haitian relief efforts by over 40 non-profit groups.   In the much smaller Canadian population it is estimated that close to 100 million dollars has been raised through non-profits groups actively seeking donations to radio stations, like “106 The Drive” in Red Deer who for a 106 dollar donation, played listeners’ requests for the entire day on January 29th.  With every day comes a new total that shows that social agencies and the international citizenship are responding to the people of Haiti’s plight. These figures do not account for the man hours that people and organizations, such as ‘Doctors without Borders’ have given.  Haiti will not be fixed in months, perhaps not for decades even with the out pouring of support.

The governments of The United States and Canada, in particular have responded with extravagant packages, not surprising as the two countries have the highest Haitian immigration rates of any other nation in the world. Peter Kent, the Canadian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs has fast-tracked the adoption process for 200 Haitian children to bring them to Canada quicker than the usual channels would have allowed. The Canadian government has bumped its relief package of up to 50 million to match Canadian citizen donations to an additional 85 million to bring its total to 135 million dollars for Haitian relief.  This is on top of the monetary aid that Canada had already committed to Haiti starting in 2006 to 2011 as reported by CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) of 555 million. The question then is whether or not federal governments, like Canada, should be involved in the relief effort in Haiti. The answer is no, they should not.

Western governments, such as Canada, prefer to wear a mask of painted on concern, draping their skinless skeleton with finery of humanity, yet that is not the role that government plays in society.  The sole concern of government is to dissect, fracture, isolate and label the sectors of their territory for management purposes. There are three objections that are to be raised as to why the Canadian federal government should not be taking a leadership role in the nation’s relief efforts in relation to Haiti. The first concern is the state of intra-national affairs.  Secondly is the fiscal state of Canada; the national deficit has ballooned substantially in the past two years that has created unfavourable conditions economically to blanket any global disaster without negative consequences to its own economy.  The third concern is the actions of the Canadian federal government in Haiti over the past seven years.

The Crisis of the First Citizens of Canada

In terms of humanitarianism, Canada is perceived by the outside as having a reasonable record in its global efforts as the budget for CIDA, which administers 80% of foreign aid, in the 2009 budget year was 2.5 billion dollars. January 29th, 2010, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in a speech to the G-8 in Davos, Switzerland, spoke these words:

“It concerns the link between poverty and the appalling mortality among mothers and small children in the Third World.  Did you know that every year over half a million women die in pregnancy and nearly nine million children die before their fifth birthday?

The numbers should shock and grieve us.  Far too many lives and futures have been lost.  And to the world’s shame, so many have been lost for want of relatively simple health solutions, all well within reach of the international community.  Often the keys of life are no more sophisticated than clean water or the most basic treatment against infection.  That so little has been done is tragic.  It is not just words on a page.  It is real hunger, real suffering, real people dying.

Canada takes its development commitments seriously, including those made at the G-8.  That, for example, is why we have doubled aid to Africa and are on track with our commitment to double our international assistance this year.

So what is required to fight this particular problem of human misery?  It is merely the same unity of purpose that we can find within ourselves readily enough when disaster strikes, as it recently did in Haiti.  Or, as we can and do, when the problem is one of trade, finance or the economy.  We must find that unity of purpose.

That is why, as president of the G-8, Canada will champion a major initiative to improve the health of women and children in the world’s most vulnerable regions.  There are indications that other members of the G-8 share our concern and would be receptive to such a proposal.  It is therefore time to mobilize our friends and partners to do something for those who can do little for themselves, to replace grand good intentions with substantive acts of human good will.”

That is Canada; Super-mom to the world, defender of those who need to be defended.  It is unfortunate that the glare from the cameras of global hugs has blinded the Canadian government from being able to see what lies behind them. When Canada is examined from the inside it has shown a less than illustrious record for the members of its own citizens.

In the document “The State of the First Nation Economy and the Struggle to make Poverty History” created on March 9th to 11th, 2009 by the “Make First Nations Poverty History Expert Advisory Committee” and Statistics Canada, Canada’s population in the year 2006 was approximately 31,241,030; 698,025 of those being classified as Native with 48.1% of those peoples living on reserves. Of those First Nation’s living on a reserve, only 24.1% of those had full time employment and 30.3% having seasonal or part time work. To compare the crisis of the Native peoples in a global sense, you could extrapolate that the total employment rate of the First Nation’s population to be at 54.4% of the population.  In 2009, the Haitian employment rate was estimated to hover around 50%, give or take a few percents as accurate records in Haiti were not kept.

With the low numbers in terms of employment it stands that the prevalence of low income and below the poverty line (in Canada the poverty line for a family of four was $22,852 a year while for a single person it was $10,314 according to the LICO –Statistics Canada’s Low Income Cut Off).  For the First Nations population in 2006 the percent of families living under LICO was 32.3%, over double the 11.6% average of non-native families while single First Nations under LICO sat at 55.7% in comparison with 36.1% of the single non-native population under LICO. On some reserves, the conditions of the homes, water, and sewer system are in the same condition as many third world nations yet the Canadian government seems to be far more interested in helping those in those developing countries than its own people.

For the First Nations population the lack of formally recognized education is a factor in being able to be considered ‘employable’ by many companies today in such a low percentage of full time employment .  Of those classified as First Nations, a staggering 48.4% of that population have no diploma, certification or degree compared to the average of 23.1% in non-native populations.  In a blog post on January 29th, Mary Simon, head of Canada’s Inuit group wrote some figures that perhaps the Prime Minister should be aware of.  In the community of Nunavik the infant mortality rate is 18.1 per 1,000 children born, the same rate as Mexico and almost four times the national average.  Inuit children have the highest rate of admission into medical care for lower respiratory tract infections in the world and within the same culture 43% of suicides are people under the age of 20 – 11 times larger than the Canadian national average.

Though there are other factors such as abuse issues, depression, racism and isolation within the reserve system that cannot be under stressed, the lack of educational, housing and health opportunities that are aimed specifically at the First Nation populace should be a priority for the Canadian government.  It is unfortunate that because of government and church run  residential schools that saw children taken from their families to be housed in ‘good Christian educational settings’ to be sexually, psychologically and physically abused that would lead those who need education to survive in our technologically bastardized society do not trust the system or the intentions of society in general.  The price of the betrayal has fallen on the victims and continues to be extracted through the lack of responsible social aid that the federal government only doles out without reservation to foreign countries.

Can the Canadian Government Afford to play Saviour?

The excuse that the Canadian government has given consistently over the decades is that Canada cannot afford the allocation of monies that would be necessary for such a massive social structure overhaul.  This notion was quite believable given that at the beginning of January Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page stated that “Ottawa will record a deficit of about $38-billion this fiscal year and $35-billion in 2010-11, about $9-billion more over the two years than Ottawa projected… the economy has deteriorated so much since the {2009} January budget that any stimulus from increased government spending will have been swamped by lower growth.” It was also noted in November of 2009 that it was projected that Canada’s accumulated debt would be 541 billion dollars. The numbers are high considering that when Canada became a nation in 1867 it is estimated that it was born with a 76 million dollar debt. Yet Canada deprives who need attention within its borders for those who dwell outside.

A nation’s viability for investors is through the narrow top of the bi-focals of economists and the World Bank; Canada’s accumulated debt clouds their vision to what the nation offers investors.  Aid packages, debt forgiveness of other nations and the expenditures associated with these actions are not charity write-offs as can be done on income tax forms; they are part of the whole calculation of what a country owes over what they take in.  This very notion is why governments continually stress that they are being fiscally responsible, generating gross national product numbers to show investors that they are in the economic location that their money should be given to for the best return. Canada, in the expenditure in Haiti does not heighten its image in the eyes of the World Bank, or more importantly, investors.

For a concrete example that has occurred to show that the Canadian government has already over-extended itself in its efforts for Haiti to the detriment of its own citizenship all one has to do is look in the direction of the Canadian Military.  In July of 2009 the Minister of Defence Peter MacKay announced that the forces would be receiving new armoured vehicles.  January 20th it was quietly announced that these vehicles were to be placed on hold.  This is on top of the hard task the Canadian military had already been ordered to do, to find 423 million dollars to shift to ‘priority projects’ by March of 2010.  This has led to the Canadian navy  trimming down training for its reserve forces and in reducing infrastructure maintenance and repairs. The air force has decided on trimming down non-operational training, cut some of its flying time and what is termed “non-essential “repairs. For the army’s part, it is reducing planned activities and non-essential exercises for soldiers not currently in the preparation for operations.

Yet with government pressure to cut scrape the bones of the Canadian military and to work with equipment, including those with ‘non-essential’ repairs, there are approximately 2,000 men and women in Haiti, under the name “Operation HESTIA” under the command of Brigadier-General Guy Laroche.  This operation entails the use of the destroyer HMCS Athabaskan, which has a Sea King helicopter detachment, the Frigate HMCS Halifax, six Griffon Helicopters, a detachment of Military Police, a Canadian Field Hospital, a land force contingent, a light infantry battalion and an urban rescue and recovery team made up of search and rescue technicians and firefighters.  All these Canadians are in Haiti to give whatever aid is needed from them to the best of their abilities for the Canadian government to bask in the glory of the perception of their generosity while contending with less than the best equipment required for them to do their jobs. For a federal government that has taken the position that it cannot afford to keep its military to optimal efficiency, it is uncomprehending for its decisions concerning the use of the military in the Haiti situation.

Past and Present Canadian – Haitian Relations

 

What about Haiti itself? Minister of State Peter Kent released the following statement on the Canadian government’s efforts in Haiti on January 27th, 2010:

“The Government of Canada is committed to supporting Haiti over the long term. Indeed, in addition to our ongoing efforts to meet immediate humanitarian needs, officials have turned their attention to clarifying priority needs and sequencing longer-term reconstruction efforts.

As you know, this was discussed at Monday’s Ministerial Preparatory Conference in Montreal. This conference was a critical first step in establishing a road map for recovery. At the conference, we agreed on an action plan based on key principles—namely respect for Haitian sovereignty, coordination, sustainability and accountability. We also agreed on the convening of a large-scale conference in New York in March.

As Prime Minister Harper noted, this is an important first step as part of a 10-year time frame for international reconstruction efforts in support of the Government and people of Haiti.”

At first glance this statement is one that continues to accentuate the carefully crafted public image of the Canadian government’s generosity to those living in countries that do not have the advantages that Canada does. But has Canadian aid truly improved the lives of the people of Haiti in a significant manner? Change is only sustainable when it develops from a base up; this ensures there is a root system to feed the change as it grows and evolves.  Change brought on from a foreign government (s) is like a tenacious hummingbird hovering over a yet to bloom flower minute by hour waiting for only that single drop of nectar; the expansion of energy does nothing but exhaust the hummingbird.  The hummingbird, unable to beat its wings any longer, falls to the earth, crushing the object of its singular desire and snapping its stalk so that no other hummingbird will taste what lays within the never to open bud.

Canada’s involvement in Haiti deepened with the coup that saw the elected President replaced.  On February 29th, 2004, escorted by US marines, elected Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide and his wife boarded a non-commercial airplane to the Central African Republic. That night 550 members of the Canadian military were stationed around Port-au-Prince while the JTF2 (Joint Task Force 2 – the Canadian counter-terrorist unit) secured Toussaint Louveture International Airport that kept out everyone, including media from seeing this event take place. The American/Canadian official position on this event is that Aristide left on willingly after signing his resignation in hopes of avoiding further bloodshed of pro-Aristide and anti-Aristide forces within the cities and towns of Haiti. Aristide and the Prime Minister of Haiti at that time, Yvon Neptune, paint a different version of the departure. The goal of the American/Canadian/UN actions on that night was to return Haiti from the cusp of implosion that it had reached.  The same night Boniface Alexandre was sworn in as the intern president and submitted a request to the United Nations for assistance which included permission for international troops to enter Haiti.

March 2004, after the Haitian intern President, Boniface Alexandre, formed a transitional government and drafted a pact which was sent to the United Nations in April 2004. This pact as a The pact that was with several organizations within Haiti as well as the transitional government was intended to promise the international community that the new Haitian government was committed to addressing issues such as human rights abuses, financial wrongdoing,  professionalizing the Haitian National Police, security, development, elections, judicial reform and fight corruption and impunity.  April 30th, 2004, the UN Security Council established a multidimensional stabilization operation in order to restore and maintain stability within Haiti.  MINUSTAH (Mission des Nations Unies pour la Stabilisation en Haïti) was created as a six month period.  MINUSTAH still exists in Haiti today.

Canada’s role in MINUSTAH has been in the electoral process, the judiciary system, the Haitian National Police and education through efforts of CIDA and the RCMP.  CIDA, which controls 80% of the 2.5 billion dollar fiscal aid to Haiti funds various work projects which Haitian organizations apply for. CIDA also funds the salary of the Haitian Deputy Justice Minister and was funding before the earthquake the construction of a new academy for training of the Haitian National Police.  The Haitian government does not decide where these funds go. Canadian Armed Forces Major J.M. Saint-Yves wrote in his paper, “Defining Canada’s role in Haiti” in 2006 that “While the solutions may sound colonial in nature it is clear that the endemic corruption of Haitian society will prevent the establishment of a sound economic solution to Haiti’s problems under Haitian control. Rather, foreign investment under foreign control is required to establish a new Haitian economy based on industries that will directly benefit the rural Haitian population”.

During a session of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development on April 3, 2008, Chief Superintendent David Beer, Director General of International Policing at the RCMP stated, “Mr. Chair, I think the committee might be interested to know that although our numbers are down to a certain degree in the total number of almost 1,900 serving police officers, in the mission Canada continues to have very key roles.  Indeed, Canada holds the position of deputy commissioner of operations, senior mentor and advisor, and senior mentoring unit for the police for the city of Port-au-Prince.  We are in charge of the Bureau de la lutte contre le traffic des stupefiants, the counter-narcotics unit.  We’re also in charge of the anti-kidnapping unit.  We also contribute to border management, the academy, and la formation de la police nationale.  Also, we’re involved in a financial intergrity and assets management project with the Haitian National Police.  Finally, Mr. Chair, the vetting and registration of the HNP is also a responsibility of a Canadian Police officer.”

Flow cart from www.FOCAL.CA

How much has the Canadian federal government aided Haiti in the period of almost six years? The U.S. Department of State’s web site put this warning about Haiti in July of 2009:

“The State Department warns U.S. citizens to exercise a high degree of caution when traveling to Haiti.  While the overall security situation has improved, political tensions remain, and the potential for politically-motivated violence persists.  This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning dated January 28, 2009, and is being issued to provide updated information on country conditions, and to alert Americans to ongoing security concerns and on contacting and registering with the U.S. Embassy in Haiti.

There were violent confrontations between opposing candidates’ supporters and armed attacks on polling stations in a handful of Haitian towns during the April 19, 2009, Senate elections.  There was less violence in the second round of voting on June 21.  International monitors described the elections as generally well-organized and orderly.  The absence of an effective police force in many areas of Haiti means that, when protests take place, there is potential for looting, the erection of intermittent roadblocks by armed protestors or by the police, and the possibility of random crime, including kidnapping, carjacking, home invasion, armed robbery and assault.  Although the Haitian National Police are more visible and are gradually contributing to improving public security, especially in the metropolitan area of the capital, Americans in Haiti should practice good personal security, take commonsense precautions and avoid any event where crowds may congregate.  Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful occasionally turn violent.

U.S. citizens traveling to and residing in Haiti despite this warning are reminded that there also is persistent danger of violent crime, especially kidnappings.  Most kidnappings are criminal in nature, and the kidnappers make no distinctions of nationality, race, gender, or age.  The incidence of kidnapping in Haiti has diminished from its peak in 2006 when 60 Americans were reported kidnapped.  As of July 2009, one American had been reported kidnapped this year.  In 2008, 27 Americans were reported kidnapped. Most of the Americans were abducted in Haiti’s two largest cities, Port-au-Prince and Cap Haitien.  Some kidnap victims have been killed, shot, sexually assaulted, or physically abused.  While the capacity and capabilities of the Haitian National Police have improved since 2006, the presence of UN stabilization force (MINUSTAH) peacekeeping troops and UN-formed police units remain critical to maintaining an adequate level of security throughout the country.  The lack of civil protections in Haiti, as well as the limited capability of local law enforcement to resolve crime, further compounds the security threat to American citizens.

While MINUSTAH remains fully deployed and is assisting the government of Haiti in providing security, travel is always hazardous within Port-au-Prince.  U.S. Embassy personnel are under an Embassy-imposed curfew and must remain in their homes or in U.S. government facilities during the curfew.  Some areas are off-limits to Embassy staff after dark, including downtown Port-au-Prince.  The Embassy restricts travel by its staff to some areas outside of Port-au-Prince because of the prevailing road, weather, or security conditions.  This may constrain our ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens outside Port-au-Prince.  Demonstrations and violence may occasionally limit Embassy operations to emergency services, even within Port-au-Prince.”

Does this sound of a nation whose people were saved by Canadian and American incursion into their political process in order that they would lead a progressive existence?  With the monies from CIDA, an estimated $600 million from the American government since 2006 and other monies from other Western nations, international debt erasures and foreign investment why has not the conditions improved in Haiti? Could it be that the lack of respect for the Haitian people’s right to self government be the reason for the continued hostilities against visitors? Could it be the Western governments’ attitude towards Haiti be a factor? Where, then does the responsibility for the situation in Haiti lie?

The mainstream media, Canadian and American departments state that Haiti has a large percentage of corruption yet the control of Haiti is not in the government of Haiti but the UN task force MINUSTAH is.  A question that needs to be answered is how much of the conditions that led to the ‘resignation’ of Aristide were the result of Canadian federal government interfered in the pre-2004 conditions of Haiti. Though CIDA proclaims that it was providing large amounts of assistance for Haiti in the years preceding 2004, there can be no denial that Canada supported the American embargo on Haiti.  Numbers from the World Bank International Cooperation Framework release in July 2004, aid dropped significantly from 611 million in 1994 to 136 million in 2002.

In March of 2003, the magazine, L’Actualite published an article by Michel Vastel called, “Haiti put under UN Tutelage?”  In the article he stated that a meeting was held in Gatineau, Quebec, January 31 and February 1 of 2003 where then Canadian Minister of State Denis Paradis tabled a meeting which would be called, “The Ottawa Initiative”.  At these meeting the future direction of Haiti was discussed – without any Haitian representation. The discussions centered around the new powers granted by the UN’s “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine.  The outcome is alleged to be that Aristide was to be overthrown, a trusteeship of Haiti be established while the American trained Armees d’Haiti (the Haitian army) would be reinstated along with a new police force. The Canadian federal government at the time denied that any meeting took and federal governments since have yet to provide any information to disprove or prove Vastel’s article. To further complicate the Canadian government in interfering with Haiti it is reported that shortly before the coup Canada’s Foreign Minister at the time Pierre Pettigrew met with the governing figures in the anti-Aristide opposition and insurgents. It has also been suggested that prior to the coup that CIDA provided funds to anti-Aristide pressure groups such as the National Coalition for Haitian Rights-Haiti. These efforts can not be seen as remaining in a neutral position on the part of the Canadian federal government; its actions must have been seen as serious to those in the Canadian political arena. Ten days after the coup, the then foreign affairs critic for the Conservative opposition, Stockwell Day declared in the House of Commons, “…we have an elected leader Aristide.  We may not have wanted to vote for him…but the government makes a decision that there should be a regime change.  It is a serious question that we need to address.  That decision was based on what criteria?”

In the years following Aristide’s ousting, there have been claims against the actions that Canada has a leading role in.  There have been charges of guerrilla warfare like operations and human rights abuses by Amnesty International against pro-Aristide groups and those who oppose the government by Canadian forces and the Haitian National Police.  There is the issue that the political party that was lead by Aristide,  Famni Lavalas, has been banned from being in the election process.  It has been reported that the majority of the companies funded by CIDA do not benefit the majority of the Haitian people but only the few politically connected companies run by international companies such as Disney, Citibank, Palm Apparel and Royal Caribbean Cruises. There are allegations of impropriety in the false imprisonment of Haitian former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune for two years for disputing the legitimacy of the Haitian government after Aristide.  One of particular concern is that there are claims by several African human rights groups of racism for the actions of the UN initiative in Haiti. The Canadian federal government has to address these allegations to the fullest and if even one of these is found to be accurate, the federal government should withdraw its actions in Haiti based on corruption of intent.

Would the Haitian people be worse off by the departure of the Canadian federal government in their affairs? The one issue that paralyzes the Haitian question is perceived accountability – the government of Canada, like the other nations involved such as the United States, France, and Chile, seem to be believe that there are no consequences in the actions they have, are and will take in regards to Haiti.  This is an accurate belief as it has been shown that the United Nations is only effective if a country is weaker than the proponents of the actions involved.  Nations, such as the former Burma, have proved that there are no serious repercussions other than sharp words and finger waggling when they engage in directions that do not have the approval of the United Nations General Assembly. These conditions have been proven to be similar with the World Court, as the various ignored rulings against the United States have shown.  It is social organizations that need to be feeding the funding into Haiti as these agencies can be monitored and are far easier to investigate, charge, and punish for counter productive actions in nations such as Haiti.  Social agencies depend on the kindness of people who have the disposable income to give whereas the Canadian government who cannot afford to look after its own further sinks itself into a monetary tar pit.  Social agencies target specific goals because they have to; if there is no result to be shown to the benefactors, they lose funding opportunities.  The Canadian government, through CIDA, chooses funding for programs that on the CIDA website show no clear benefactors. Haiti needs to have foreign aid that has accountability.

From the rubble and ruins in the aftermath of the earthquake comes an opportunity for the Haitian people, a chance to reinvent who they are and what kind of society they will become.  After centuries of enslavery by foreign states, Haiti must return to a nation for Haitians not simply of Haitians.  Resurrection cannot reflect American, Canadian or any other nation’s interests lest the economic and social ills that have dominated their modern history shall only return.  It is in the vein of dark humour that CIDA’s mission in Haiti is to “strengthen good governance, help build an open, responsible government, fight corruption and restore the rule of law” when CIDA’s masters in their actions are promoting the opposite.  Perhaps with the destruction of the majority of Haiti the Canadian federal government should remove its dirtied hand from the Haitian government sock puppet it has been manipulating with the American interests and unlike with the treatment of its own First Nations peoples, let Haiti decide what is best for Haiti. There are two questions that the Canadian federal government should be pondering: Should Canadian Aboriginals seek foreign aid from the other seven members of the G-8 because of the negligence of their own federal government and the climax of the English lyrics to the Canadian National Anthem are “We stand on guard for thee”; as many Canadians sing these with pride whilst those who need our help the most whisper those very same words with a much different meaning, is the government satisfied with damning us all for their sins?