Canada sends delegation to Haiti to ‘assess’ security crisis

Move comes as top Canadian and US leaders meet in Ottawa to discuss potential ‘international security mission’ to Haiti.

A car drives by burning tyres during a demonstration in Haiti
Haitian demonstrators protest to reject a government-requested international military force in Haiti, in Port-au-Prince on October 24, 2022 [Richard Pierrin/AFP]

Canada has sent a team to Haiti to assess the country’s deteriorating security situation, as the Canadian foreign minister met with her US counterpart in Ottawa to discuss a Washington-led proposal to send an international armed force to the Caribbean nation.

In a statement on Thursday, the Canadian foreign affairs department said a government delegation was in Haiti “to consult with stakeholders on options to support Haitian people in resolving the humanitarian and security crises”.

The delegation is also considering “how Canada can contribute to the international response” in Haiti, the ministry continued, in what was dubbed an “assessment mission”.

“Canada and the international community are concerned about the violence in Haiti, in particular against women and girls. Canada will not remain idle while gangs and those who support them terrorize Haiti’s citizens and we will continue to support law-abiding Haitians to put an end to the crisis in their country,” Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said in the statement.

The announcement came as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made his first official trip to Canada to hold talks with Joly and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Haiti, which has seen rising gang violence and political instability since the killing of President Jovenel Moise in July of last year, was set to be one of the main topics of discussion during Blinken’s visit to Ottawa and Montreal this week.

“The situation [in Haiti] is simply unsustainable,” Blinken said during a news conference alongside Joly on Thursday afternoon. “We’ll continue to work together to rally international support around helping the Haitian people find a way forward,” he said.

Earlier this month, Haiti’s acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry asked the international community to help set up a “specialised armed force” to quell the violence.

An ongoing gang blockade of a key petrol terminal in the capital, Port-au-Prince, has led to dire shortages of fuel and water, while violence is rampant. Hospitals have been forced to cut back on services due to a lack of electricity, which also is complicating the response to a new outbreak of cholera.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said this month that he believed “armed action” was necessary to ease the grip gangs have on the fuel terminal and to set up a humanitarian corridor to get supplies out. Guterres also had urged the international community to urgently respond to Henry’s request for assistance.

But many Haitian protesters and civil society leaders have rejected the prospect of international intervention, saying history has demonstrated that foreign forces bring “more problems than solutions”.

Some Haitians also say Henry lacks legitimacy and they have called for him to step down. The prime minister was chosen by Moise to take up the post shortly before the president was killed last year, and Henry has the backing of the CORE Group, which includes Canada and the US.

Last week, the UN Security Council passed a resolution establishing a “sanctions regime” against Haitian gang leaders, including Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, and their backers.

The initiative, led by the US and Mexico, came in response to a call from Haitians “to take action against criminal actors, including gangs and their financiers, who have been undermining stability and expanding poverty in their vibrant society”, said the US’s UN envoy, Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

‘International security mission’

The US and Mexico, meanwhile, are working on another resolution to establish “a non-UN, international security assistance mission” in Haiti to respond to the crises. Thomas-Greenfield said in mid-October that the mission would be led by “a partner country”, without elaborating.

Earlier this week, the Miami Herald newspaper, citing unidentified sources, reported that the draft resolution was on the “verge of failure after no country volunteered to contribute troops”.

But that was disputed by Brian Nichols, the assistant US secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, who told reporters during a briefing on Wednesday that he was “very optimistic” that countries would be able to come together.

“I strongly disagree with the idea that a resolution authorising a multinational force is in peril,” he said, as reported by the AFP news agency. Nichols added that “a number of countries” have the ability to lead a mission, but that no decision had been made yet.

“Among those countries is Canada, but it’s not the only country that can do that,” he said.

Asked on Thursday if Ottawa was ready to lead the proposed mission, Joly, the foreign minister, did not answer directly. Instead, she stressed that the Canadian government would continue to support Haiti as it faced security, humanitarian and political crises.

For his part, Blinken said he and Joly had discussed what such an international force would look like and what it would need. “And we’ve both been talking to a variety of countries to gauge their interest and willingness to participate,” the US secretary of state told reporters.

“The purpose of any such mission would be to support the Haitian National Police in doing their jobs,” he said, “to make sure that the state once again actually controls the country, not gangs that right now are one of the biggest problems that we face in actually being able to move forward and help Haiti.”

Canada and the US announced on October 15 that they had sent Haiti security equipment already purchased by the country, “including tactical and armoured vehicles”, in an effort to bolster the Haitian police force.

Source: Al Jazeera