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Trudeau 'wrestling' with the question of how to help Haiti, says Bob Rae

A mother carries her son run past a burning barricade during a protest against the government in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Nov. 18, 2022. (Odelyn Joseph/The Associated Press - image credit)
A mother carries her son run past a burning barricade during a protest against the government in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Nov. 18, 2022. (Odelyn Joseph/The Associated Press - image credit)

As Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince continues to be rocked by gang violence, one key adviser to the Canadian federal government says this country doesn't favour the idea of putting boots on the ground to help address unrest.

"I don't want to speculate about that because I don't think that's really the step that we're taking," said Canada's Ambassador to the United Nations Bob Rae, who last visited Haiti in December.

Speaking to CBC Radio's The House, Rae said Canada is looking at how to provide assistance that will "create order" in Haiti — where, he said, the state is "holding together by a thread."

Rae visited the country twice last year and is advising the Canadian government on a path forward. He said many outside Haiti don't fully appreciate the great fear and anxiety experienced by ordinary Haitians, who are dealing with civil disorder, widespread threats of kidnapping and sexual violence, and a food crisis.

"The prime minister is wrestling with a very tough question and that is, 'What is the most effective form of assistance that we can provide?'" said Rae.

Earlier this week, Canada airlifted a second shipment of Haitian-purchased armoured vehicles to the country to help the national police. On Friday, Canada also announced new sanctions against two more members of the Haitian elite.

"We're leading the way on sanctions and frankly we'd like other governments to play a stronger role, including the United States," said Rae, noting Canada is also providing food aid and help with public health as the country deals with a resurgence of cholera.

The sensitive question of whether military involvement might be in the cards landed in the spotlight earlier this week in the lead-up to the North American leaders summit, after comments by a senior U.S. official.

"Canada itself has expressed interest in taking on a leadership role" in offering some sort of multinational security support to the Haitian National Police, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Monday.

That could involve boots on the ground or other forms of support, said Sullivan. He said that U.S. President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau would discuss the matter, adding he didn't want to "jam anybody" by anticipating the outcome of the conversation.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press
Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

But no public commitment to any specific action in Haiti emerged after those private discussions on Tuesday.

Trudeau did not directly answer the question about the possibility of a Canadian military presence in Haiti when asked by a reporter — though he did talk about the importance of Haitian national police being empowered to solve the situation themselves.

He added that Canada and other countries are preparing various scenarios to respond in the event the situation in Haiti gets worse.

Ariel Henry, Haiti's de facto prime minister, has asked for help from a foreign military, but many citizens of Haiti see Henry's government as illegitimate.

Still, the United Nations has urged countries to consider Henry's request.

Odelyn Joseph/The Associated Press
Odelyn Joseph/The Associated Press

It's not clear how many Haitians would reject such a military presence. Haiti's history is littered with episodes of foreign powers intervening and leaving a trail of damage.

Marjorie Villefranche, director of Montreal's Maison d'Haiti, said the country has dealt with years of foreign soldiers on the ground and many Haitians do not want to see that era return.

"The situation could be deteriorating, but the solution is not the occupation of Haiti," she said

Rae insisted that no such suggestion is under consideration.

Jean Saint-Vil of Solidarité Québec-Haiti agreed that such an armed intervention would be unwelcome.

"The only reason that this kind of reflex shows up is because we are dealing in a colonial paradigm where white nations, white-dominated nations, see themselves as the national policemen of the planet," he said. "This is not acceptable in 2023."

"Nobody's contemplating a huge military intervention," said Rae. "I think that idea, which may have been around in some quarters, certainly was never one that was embraced by us."

The focus now is on upgrading the capacity of the Haitian security services, he said, and looking at what additional assistance Canada can provide.

Rae also pointed out that there is no United Nations Security Council resolution to authorize such an intervention. Whatever is done must be based on "a stronger consensus than we're currently seeing from all of the elements in Haitian society," he added.

"We are not interested in repeating the mistakes of the past."