Quebec man charged with terrorism in Haitian coup plot will fight charges: lawyer

MONTREAL — The lawyer for a Quebec man charged with planning a terrorist act to overthrow the Haitian government of Jovenel Moïse said Friday his client intends to fight the charges.

Gérald Nicolas, 51, will appear at the Quebec City courthouse on Dec. 1 to face three terrorism-related charges.

Nicolas is charged with leaving Canada to facilitate a terrorist activity, facilitating a terrorist activity and providing property for terrorist purposes, the RCMP said Thursday. The first two counts carry maximum 14-year sentences while the third carries a maximum 10-year sentence.

The Mounties allege that Nicolas, a resident of Lévis, Que., planned to stage an armed revolution in Haiti to overthrow the government and ultimately seize power. But police added their investigation of Nicolas is not related to the July 2021 assassination of Moïse at his private home near Port-au-Prince.

A sworn statement filed by the RCMP to obtain a search warrant seeking access to cellphones and computers describes several aspects of the alleged plot contained in message exchanges. There is talk of securing land on the Dominican-Haitian border, acquiring supplies to set up a camp and travel to Cuba, Colombia, Panama and the Dominican Republic to secure manpower and weapons.

Defence lawyer Tiago Murias said he is waiting for the Crown to disclose evidence but Nicolas intends to contest the charges. "He will plead not guilty," Murias said in a brief interview.

On Thursday, the RCMP said its Integrated National Security Enforcement Team began its terrorism investigation in July 2021 after exchanging information with police in Lévis, just south of Quebec City.

According to the court document, Lévis police executed a search warrant in May 2021 as they investigated allegations that Nicolas had harassed a former partner and shared intimate photos of her. Nicolas was in Haiti when the warrant was executed and his devices, as well as his new partner's, were seized.

Local police discovered WhatsApp conversations between Nicolas and his new partner from April and May 2021 that appeared to demonstrate a plan to bring about an armed revolution in Haiti. The RCMP affidavit says Nicolas openly discussed the "need for a revolution" in Haiti with local police when he returned to Quebec at the end of May 2021.

The statement says conversations between Nicolas and his partner included mention of Nicolas purchasing land in the Dominican Republic near the Haitian border to make travel easier. He also asked his new partner to talk with a cousin in the Dominican Republic — a police officer — about obtaining five large-calibre weapons, the document says. Nicolas also allegedly wanted to buy equipment to create an encampment for about 50 people.

Federal authorities later spoke to Nicolas's former partner, who allegedly told the RCMP that Nicolas had travelled to Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Panama and Colombia in an effort to procure arms and recruit men.

“Although Nicolas said he wanted peaceful actions, his steps to obtain weapons and men nevertheless suggest a threat of violence and/or preparation for an armed confrontation with the forces of the political system in place, likely to put in place danger to the life and safety of those involved in the Haitian population,” RCMP investigator Gabriel Lemaire wrote in the affidavit.

Nicolas granted interviews to several media outlets Thursday and said he was being framed by his ex-lover. On Friday, Murias said he wouldn’t comment on his client's allegations that he was a victim of vengeance.

"I'm not the right person to tell you this .... Mr. Nicolas gave some interviews, as is his right to do, but on my end, on the issue of vengeance, I have nothing further to add," Murias said, adding he'd advised his client not to give any further interviews.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 18, 2022.

The Canadian Press