Canadian Foreign Policy in Haiti

Tasneem Jamal

Alex Diceanu

The Ploughshares Monitor Winter 2005 Volume 26 Issue 4

Since early 2004 the Canadian government has again made Haiti a key country for Canadian foreign policy. The recently released foreign policy report, Canada’s International Policy Statement: A Role of Pride and Influence in the World, repeatedly mentions Haiti in reference to the government’s 3-D approach as it applies to failed or failing states. In the context of failed states, the new policy statement calls for the 3-D approach to achieve stabilization through rapid deployment of military and police, governance assistance to rebuild effective state institutions, and long-term development assistance and private sector initiatives.

In February 2004, following the end of Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s presidency, 550 Canadian Forces (CF) personnel were deployed during Operation Halo as part of the UN-mandated Multinational Interim Force (MIF) with the stated purpose of stabilizing the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. In late April 2004, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) replaced the MIF with an expanded mandate to support the appointed transitional government of Prime Minister Gérard Latortue in the broad areas of peace and stability, the political process, and human rights. Two CF personnel are currently deployed with MINUSTAH on what has been named Operation HAMLET.

The Canadian government’s contribution to MINUSTAH has been focused primarily on the electoral process and on building police capacity. The government has committed $22.75-million for the upcoming elections (tentatively scheduled to take place from December 11-18, 2005). The funding will be used to help build the necessary electoral “infrastructure,” support the International Mission for Monitoring Haitian Elections headed by the Chief Electoral Officer of Elections Canada and pay for the deployment of 25 retired Canadian police experts to provide extra support to the Haitian National Police (HNP) just prior to and during the elections. To build police capacity the government has contributed 100 civilian police who are providing training to the HNP. The UN Civilian Police (CivPol) Commissioner, the highest police authority in MINUSTAH, is headed by a Canadian. The Canadian government is also helping to fund Haiti’s justice system. For example, the salary of Haiti’s Deputy Justice Minister is paid by the Canadian International Development Agency.

Overall, the government has committed over $180-million over the next two years, including $156-million for goals set out in the Interim Cooperation Framework, the guiding policy document for international donors in Haiti. In addition the government has sought to elicit the support of the Haitian diaspora in Canada and has supported the transitional government diplomatically with such high-level visits to Haiti as that of Prime Minister Martin in November 2004.

The Canadian government’s involvement in Haiti has not been without controversy. The exact circumstances of former President Aristide’s departure are disputed. While the Canadian government states that Aristide resigned voluntarily, Aristide and his supporters in Haiti claim he was removed by US marines. The countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the African Union (AU), among others, have called for an investigation into the circumstances of Aristide’s departure. Their call has been echoed by the Canada-Haiti Action Network (CHAN), a pan-Canada grassroots organization calling for the withdrawal of the Canadian government’s involvement in Haiti.

Numerous human rights organizations and MINUSTAH have documented grave human rights abuses committed by the transitional government and the Haitian National Police against Aristide supporters and opponents of the current government (Amnesty International 2004, 2005; UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti 2005). These revelations have led to a number of calls to change Canada’s relationship with the HNP, such as ending Canadian training of the HNP, taking greater steps to reform the HNP and the judicial system more broadly, or granting MINUSTAH greater resources and authority over the HNP (currently its mandate is to support the HNP). MINUSTAH itself has also been accused of committing human rights abuses in the course of security operations in support of the HNP.

The legitimacy of upcoming elections is increasingly questioned because of what the International Crisis Group calls “massive technical, political and security obstacles” (ICG 2005). In particular, the grave human rights situation and numerous politically motivated attacks, the majority directed against supporters of Lavalas (Aristide’s former party), have raised doubts that free and fair elections can be held in the current context. Thus far the Canadian government has not formally responded to any of these concerns.

The Canadian government has a long history of involvement in Haiti, particularly since the beginning of Haiti’s turbulent and still incomplete transition to democracy in the mid-1980s. Since the 1970s Canada has invested more than $572-million in Haiti’s development and participated in UN missions, as elections observers during Haiti’s first democratic elections in 1990 (ONUVEH) and as part of the peacekeeping mission from 1993 to 1996 (UNMIH) that returned former President Aristide to office following his removal by the Haitian army in 1991. In addition, the Canadian government participated in later UN missions and has been involved in Haiti through international financial and regional institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the Organization of American States.



Amnesty International 2004, Haiti: Breaking the cycle of violence: A last chance for Haiti, June 21.

Amnesty International 2005, Haiti: Disarmament delayed, justice denied, July 28.

International Crisis Group 2005, Can Haiti Hold Elections in 2005? Latin America/Caribbean Briefing No. 8, August 3.

UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti 2005, Notes de point de presse de la MINUSTAH, Port-au-Prince, October 14.

Spread the Word