I will call the meeting to order.
Good morning, everyone.
Welcome to meeting No. 19 of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development.
Thank you to all the members and witnesses for being here
This meeting is taking place in a hybrid format in conformity with the June 23, 2022, order.
Members are participating by Zoom and in person.
For the benefit of witnesses and members, please allow yourself to be recognized before speaking. We have a very good system in this committee that works well, but for the witnesses who are here, that's how we operate.
If you would like to have interpretation, for the witnesses in person you can use this little thing in front of me, and for those participating by Zoom just go to the globe icon. You can choose French or English, as you like.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), and the motion adopted on April 26, 2022, we're continuing our study on Haiti. Each witness will have five minutes for opening remarks, and then we will have a series of questions and exchanges with the members.
Today we have with us Frédéric Boisrond, a sociologist, and Andréanne Martel, a humanitarian program evaluation consultant and researcher, who are both appearing as individuals, with Ms. Martel participating by videoconference.
We also have, from the Association québécoise des organismes de coopération internationale, Michèle Asselin, executive director, by video conference.
Without further ado, we'll start with Monsieur Boisrond, who is here in person for five minutes.
Thank you for being with us.
Good morning, everyone.
How can we talk about human rights when democracy in Haiti is still at the starting gate?
Since the fall of the Duvalier regime in 1986, Haiti has known only very short periods of democracy, too short for a culture of democracy to develop. Today, we are witnessing the failure of democracy to take root. It is the continuation of a dictatorship by another name.
After the fall of the Duvalier regime, Haitians adopted a constitution that guaranteed them freedom of expression, justice, freedom of association, the right to an education and the right to life. Even so, we have lost count of the number of journalists, activists, judges, lawyers, political adversaries, trade unionists, students, opinion leaders and ordinary people who have been compelled to flee or have been executed since 1987.
The biggest disappointment to Haitians, however, is certainly having their right to vote stolen from them. Chilean diplomat Juan Gabriel Valdes, a member of the Global Leadership Foundation, said that the crisis Haiti is experiencing is the result of a decision made by the Core Group in 2010. That decision was to fabricate the results of the presidential election in order to hand power to Michel Martelly, the candidate for the Haitian party PHTK.
The theft of the vote was confirmed by Pierre-Louis Opont, the president of the provisional electoral council of Haiti. Ricardo Seitenfus, who was the representative of the Organization of American States, the OAS, in Haiti between 2009 and 2011, said his lost his position because he opposed the falsification of the results. According to American special envoy Daniel Foote, Haiti will never recover if the Core Group continues to vote instead of Haitians. In other words, by putting its lackey in power, the Core Group has made Haiti its ward.
Throughout his term, Michel Martelly, whom Canada helped to steal power, did not hold a single election and managed his country by decree. He received all the help he needed from his sponsors in order to hand power over to his protégé, Jovenel Moïse, who pursued the same policies as Michel Martelly and used the same tactics as the Duvaliers.
Like the Duvaliers, like Michel Martelly and like Jovenel Moïse, the present Prime Minister of Haiti, Ariel Henry, also a PHTK politician, is governing the country with no countervailing forces. The PHTK has made sure that it has no opponents and has succeeded in shutting down opposition through its mafioso tactics.
As the Duvaliers' Tontons Macoutes did, the PHTK has financed and armed thugs to protect its stranglehold on the country. It is these same lowlifes who have turned against the regime, who have formed gangs, and who are creating a security crisis that fuels the humanitarian, economic, social and health crises. They are doing everything they can to transform the ideal of a democracy into mob rule.
In order to talk about human rights in Haiti, there must be compliance with article 149 of the Constitution of the Republic of Haiti. That article provides that a person who replaces a president who is unable to perform their functions has 90 days to restore power to elected representatives. After more than 17 months in office, Ariel Henry is in fact no more than a usurper of power and a dictator.
In order to talk about human rights in Haiti, the country would have to have state bodies that allow everyone to exercise their citizenship. Ariel Henry's regime cannot guarantee a supply of drinking water and food or access to healthcare, any more than he can enable children to go to school and working people to earn a living without being humiliated.
The main reason that the rights of women and girls are still a crucial problem is that Michel Martelly, who is also a popular singer, has indoctrinated an entire generation with his misogynistic, violent and hateful words and his rape apology language. Canada, the United States and France have banned his performances in those countries so that he can't spread his obscene ideology.
Haiti is still at the starting gate of its transition to democracy.
To get started, what will be needed is a vast program of public education, one of the aims being to make sure that people understand the rights, duties and responsibilities that come with citizenship.
To get going, there has to be a renewal of the political class, which today is mainly composed of old men who are out of sync, disconnected, fossilized and hoary, and have known nothing other than Duvalierist culture.
Pierre-Louis Opont, the president of the provisional electoral council of Haiti, had added that the fraud by which the Core Group appointed Michel Martelly to the office of president of Haiti was made possible because no one challenged the false results.
If Canada and the Core Group are responsible for this crisis, the Haitian political class, in its role as a cheap, docile and hungry collaborator, betrayed its fellow citizens and must bear full responsibility for this neo-Duvalierist dictatorship being put in place.
In closing, I would like to point out that in 2010, when Haitians' vote was stolen, Canada, a member of the Core Group, was the first to set the process in motion. Canada was the first one to impose that affront to representative democracy. The person who initiated that breach of a fundamental Canadian value was the minister of foreign affairs at the time, Lawrence Cannon.
I must also point out that the present , Mélanie Joly, has unfortunately done everything possible to legitimize Ariel Henry and make him her only interlocutor in seeking a solution to the Haitian crisis. How can Canada, a country governed by the rule of law, put Ariel Henry, a dictator, front and centre in the solution to a crisis that is depriving Haitians of their fundamental rights?
Mr. Chair, members of the subcommittee, thank you for giving me this time to speak today.
My testimony is based on several years of research into the coordination of international aid in Haiti and on various assignments I have been given as a humanitarian program evaluator for international organizations working in Haiti.
At a time when the country is facing a particularly difficult political, economic and humanitarian crisis and Canada is questioning its role, I am first going to make a few remarks and talk to you about the lessons learned from recent interventions in Haiti. Second, in light of those remarks, I am going to make recommendations regarding the possibility of a military, political or humanitarian intervention in Haiti.
I am going to start with the consequences of recent interventions, particularly the post-earthquake response, for what is happening today and for what we can learn from it.
At the previous meeting, other witnesses said that the last 20 years of foreign intervention in Haiti had not enabled us to avert what is happening today. I would add that the effect of the way in which international interventions have been carried out in the past, particularly in the years following the earthquake, has sometimes been to exacerbate the problems and even to undermine both Haitian institutions and certain elements of civil society, rather than to support them.
I am going to make two brief observations.
First, strengthening institutions works best when the support of the international community is based on a long-term vision, and when that support focuses on financial and logistical support. As well, expertise in the sector, coordination and regulation in Haiti must be handled by the Haitians who work in those institutions. When, on the contrary, the support of the international community sidesteps and sometimes competes with local authorities, as was the case in the healthcare sector in Haiti between 2010 and 2015, those sectors are weakened.
A second observation is that Haitian civil society has too often been ignored, with very significant consequences in terms of the understanding of issues and the appropriateness of interventions. One of the well-known examples is the effort to combat sexual violence after the earthquake. The analyses and guidance on how to respond to sexual violence were done at the time by the international community without consulting Haitian feminists and women's organizations whose efforts keep the fight against gender-based violence in the country going. The effect of that was to produce erroneous observations that did not take the decades of struggle into account.
As a result, the massive influx of international aid into Haiti over the last decade has often had negative consequences for local structures that were already underfunded and for development initiatives in the long term. This suggests that we should think in these terms: rather than asking whether we should intervene in Haiti, we have to ask ourselves how to be allies for the Haitian people, who are experiencing some extremely hard times.
That brings me to the second part of my testimony: Canada's role.
Given the crisis facing Haiti today, Canada has at least three possible avenues for supporting Haiti: the military avenue, because it is being talked about these days, the political avenue, and the humanitarian avenue. I am going to conclude my presentation by offering some thoughts on each of these avenues.
The option of undertaking a military intervention, as a number of witnesses have said, is rejected by one part of Haitian civil society. It is not the solution, according to the Quebec member organizations of the Association québécoise des organismes de coopération internationale, AQOCI, that work in Haiti, and their Haitian partners.
It must be admitted that the UN's international missions in recent years, and the efforts to reform the security sector, in which Canada has been particularly invested, have not succeeded in lifting the country out of insecurity and averting the present crisis. On the contrary, the foreign military presence and the impunity granted to soldiers in sexual abuse cases or in the introduction of cholera merely fanned the distrust and anger. That does not mean that Canada does not have a role to play, however, but that role must take the more political or humanitarian route.
Regarding the political route, as Mr. Boisrond has said, there is rising dissatisfaction with the foreign governments in the Core Group, to which Canada belongs, which supports the government of Ariel Henry, the government that Haitian civil society is openly opposing. A starting point would be to listen to Haitian civil society and recognize the Montana accord for installing a transitional government.
Canada's support must also include combating impunity, since the gangs are acting in an environment where impunity reigns. As the Concertation pour Haiti group suggests in its recommendations, Canada could, for example, support an international commission to investigate the assassination of Jovenel Moïse and, more broadly, support the Haitian justice system in combating impunity.
Last, with respect to humanitarian aid and international solidarity, there is a long history of solidarity between organizations in Canada, particularly in Quebec, and Haitian civil society. Those organizations work in tandem, recognizing Haitian expertise and the sovereignty of its institutions in fields that include sustainable agriculture, strengthening the justice system, education, and the rights of women and LGBTQ+ people. This support for civil society is essential, particularly during the current crisis, which is exacerbating other primary needs...
The Association québécoise des organismes de coopération internationale, AQOCI, is composed of 70 Quebec organizations, 34 of which have been active in Haiti for many years, and even decades. AQOCI is also an active member of Concertation pour Haïti, a group of Quebec solidarity and cooperation organizations and groups from the Haitian diaspora in Quebec.
My testimony is based on the analysis of the situation shared by the members of AQOCI and Concertation pour Haïti and, especially, by our Haitian partners.
Haiti is currently facing the exacerbation of a multidimensional crisis. Insecurity caused by armed gangs is growing. The gangs engage in extreme violence in their conflicts with members of rival groups. They commit kidnappings and cruel murders. According to the UN, the gangs use sexual violence as a weapon to terrorize the population and thus conquer territory and maintain control of it.
Almost 100,000 people have been displaced after fleeing the violence that has gripped the country since June 2021. At the end of October, the news was full of kidnappings, murders and attempted murders of politicians and media figures. The territories controlled by the gangs are constantly expanding. There are almost no neighbourhoods or regions of the capital and the area around it that are not directly or indirectly affected by the actions of the armed groups.
The explosion in the price of fuel is also a very important dimension of the current crisis. Oil is the only energy source available in Haiti. A severe shortage of gasoline has disrupted the water supply, in addition to shutting down the economy as a whole. The Haitian national police announced on Friday, November 4, that it had regained control of the most important oil terminal, which had been in the hands of armed gangs since mid-September. The supply is still problematic, however, and this continues to exacerbate the crisis.
Food insecurity is growing and is alarming. According to the UN, 4.7 million people, nearly half the population, are experiencing high levels of food insecurity, while 19,200 people are affected by the highest level of food insecurity, a first in the recent history of the country.
Humanitarian aid is not enough for Haiti, however. Cooperation and solidarity organizations are well aware of this. Haitians have to be supported in producing the food that will enable them to subsist and plan their future. At present, food production is endangered by the difficulties involved in moving about and accessing inputs.
In addition, lack of access to fuel has caused an acute shortage of drinking water, and that has led to an outbreak of cholera after more than three years with no reported cases. On Tuesday, the United Nations launched an appeal to collect $145 million to support Haiti, because 1.4 million people are living in areas that are hard hit.
On Friday, October 14, AQOCI held an emergency meeting with the member organizations of our association that are active in Haiti. A number of Haitian partners were present. They offered emotional testimony about the Haitian people's living conditions.
What I want to tell you is that every one of them is firmly opposed to an armed foreign intervention in their country. They believe a Haitian solution to a Haitian crisis is needed. For that reason, Canada must strengthen its position of not sending an international force to Haiti and persuade the UN and other countries that are still tempted to choose that solution...
Thank you, witnesses. Good morning, all.
We are facing a multifold crisis that doesn't end in one way or the other. There is the political situation. We have very dire humanitarian, security, economic and food situations—you name it. Anything Haiti is going through is really hard to break out of.
Mr. Boisrond was focusing on the political change most needed there. Our last witness, Ms. Asselin, said that humanitarian aid is not enough to the country.
The question is, what is the low-hanging fruit here? Where can we at least start to have a plan or road map? How can we ensure the effectiveness of NGOs taking on some solutions outside the political solution, and interference in the country from outside? How can we find the conditions for a more effective NGO role in Haiti?
I'd like to start with Ms. Asselin, then move to Mr. Boisrond.
Thank you for your question.
First, we could continue our support for civil society, which is extraordinarily well organized. Ms. Martel talked about the Montana accord. I want to remind you that that accord, which was signed on August 30, 2021, was signed by 418 civil society organizations, 105 grassroots organizations, 85 political parties and groups, and 313 public figures.
Canada has to support that accord, which proposes a transitional government that would have two years to prepare for democratic elections. There is already a joint transition body that brings together civil society organizations and political parties and represents a model for consensus and work. Haiti has therefore made an effort. We know that there are very diverse views in that country.
I therefore hope that Canada will support the Montana accord. That is the plea that we are hearing from our partners, because this democratic crisis has to be resolved. So Canada could hear the signatories to that accord in order to support them more directly.
We could get started immediately on supporting the Haitian police, which needs resources so it can play its role. We can certainly continue to support humanitarian aid, and even increase it, and continue to support international cooperation. In fact, when Canada supports international cooperation, it supports Haitian NGOs directly.
I think the key word in your intervention is “road map”. The government of Haiti has asked Canada—well, the UN asked Canad—to take leadership with a military intervention in Haiti. In fact, I believe Canada has already taken that leadership. The thing is that Canada has not made, up until this very moment, any kind of proposal, any road map, so people don't know what stand we are talking about.
As for military intervention, of course I agree with other intervenants on this. Military intervention has never had any kind of positive response, not only in Haiti but in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq as well. It's obvious to all of us.
The situation in Haiti right now, we have to agree, is not acceptable, but, at the same time, getting rid of gangs is not a solution in itself. It's getting rid of conditions that make people get into gangs. The road map or whatever Canada has to put as a proposal has to help prevent this kind of situation happening again; otherwise, Canada is going to go in with allies for six months, and six months later there will be gangs again.
I think the road map is what we should be discussing, not who can handle it. At the same time, I'd like to emphasize what I have said already: There is no government in Haiti right now. There is no government; there is no state of law. We need to come up with a global solution— not one thing, which would be a military intervention.
The first part of your question was whether this was a request or an order. I would like to remind you that before the Ariel Henry government carried out the order, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, was the second person to say that Haiti needed foreign military assistance and that he wanted it to happen. Pamela White, the former American ambassador to Haiti, was the first to say that that is what it took.
Mr. Almagro made his request on November 3, and Ariel Henry complied on November 4. The following Sunday, November 6, on France 24, the Secretary General of the United Nations said that this was in fact what it took. He then confirmed that he had indeed received that order through the other two people.
Now, I did not say that Canada had agreed. I said that Canada had taken the initiative on the issue of Haiti, as it was asked to do. I need only look at all the consultations you have done, including this one. I participated in a consultation with you, Mr. Dubourg. Mr. Trudeau had a meeting at the UN about Haiti, and Ms. Joly has had several meetings. That all suggests to me that Canada has apparently taken it seriously.
I do not believe that the American secretary general, Mr. Blinken, would have come to Ottawa to ask Ms. Joly to take that initiative if it had not been discussed beforehand. Consequently, yes, I am persuaded that Canada has already taken that direction. That is good news to me, because that gives us, the Haitian community in Montreal, among others, the opportunity to have some influence over things.
Thank you, Mr. Boisrond.
All three of you talked about the Montana accord. You also talked about the Core Group, to which Canada belongs.
Ms. Martel, the Core Group is criticized for choosing a president or a prime minister in Haiti. Now you are talking to us about the Montana accord, which Canada should support. However, while I recognize that they have made efforts, the signatories to that accord are now tearing one another apart. As well, Canada has imposed sanctions on two members of the Core Group.
How do we get out of this? How do you see the situation? Why are you telling us that Canada has to support that accord?
I would also like to point out that the accord provides for a transition. I have always said that this accord did not offer a way out of the crisis, because it aims simply to install a transitional government to replace the prime minister and find a president, that's all.
What makes you believe that the present situation won't continue, regardless of what political party formed the transition government?
If we wanted to eliminate the gang leaders in Haiti, we would not need to send anyone in, since I have seen on the news that it is possible to eliminate Al Qaeda people from the comfort of one's balcony.
When I look at the situation in Ukraine, I see that it is not really the Ukrainian army that is winning the war. And yet the country is receiving aid, intelligence aid in particular. I would leave it to the military people to comment on this, but from what I see in the news and what I have learned from history, it is possible to help the Haitian police without necessarily sending boots on the ground to Haiti. That is fairly obvious.
On the whole question of general aid, it has to have a structuring effect, to help the country start over and ensure that this kind of situation never recurs.
Mr. Dubourg mentioned my books. I have always argued that Haiti's future depends on strengthening its trade capacity. If we don't help the country to develop its presence in the market economy, the capitalist economy, it is condemned to poverty.
A series of projects were in place to that end, in the PetroCaribe fund. I think it was Ms. Asselin who mentioned that project, which was to be used to develop the agri-food industry in Haiti. If the agri-food industry had been developed, if the PHTK party had not squandered that money, Haiti would not have the level of poverty that it has today. The reason why people join gangs, and children join gangs too, is because they are too poor and they have no other prospects.
So it calls for structuring aid that will strengthen the country's trade capacity.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
It's a great pleasure for me to have our witnesses with us today. Thank you for your testimony.
I've had the privilege and pleasure of working with both Ms. Martel and Ms. Asselin in my previous life before I was elected.
Ms. Martel, I'm going to start with you, if I could.
I'm very interested in how you are talking about that humanitarian response and what it should look like. Every one of us is horrified about what we are seeing in Haiti right now and we're trying to find those ways to provide the support in the most effective way possible.
I'm hearing things like half of the population is food insecure. We've been hearing all of the things that you've said about needing to have indigenous solutions and long-term, predictable funding.
Are we finding ourselves in this situation because the responses the international community has provided to Haiti in the past have not been indigenous-led, long term, predictable and working with civil society? Is that why we're here?
Is there a risk that will happen again and we will provide a band-aid system of development?
Our Haitian partners tell us that if Canada continues to work with an illegitimate government, there is a high risk that it will prolong the current democratic crisis. As was said this morning, there is a strong consensus: people do not believe that the present government is legitimate. To resolve the immediate humanitarian crisis, the United Nations representatives are already on site and are taking measures to combat cholera, and the Food and Agriculture Organization, the FAO, is trying to solve the major food crisis.
There is a democratic crisis. This is a key element for managing the crisis. We think we need to focus on the Montana accord. Will it be perfect? Will there be disagreement? Certainly, but what else will we do? Will we continue supporting an illegitimate government that is still not prepared to call an election? In fact, in what circumstances would it do that?
However, there is a strong consensus, one that was renewed in January, about the creation of a joint governance structure that is very much worth considering. That structure would include civil society representatives, in particular women's groups and churches, and all parties on the political chessboard. The Montana group knows that it is essential that a consensus be built, and that the objective is not to keep the government in office, but to have elections in two years. There is a signed, public commitment in writing to that. We believe that rather than supporting a totally illegitimate government, the Government of Canada must support that accord, meet with the signatories, and work with them to see how to proceed.
That risk has to be measured.
Thank you for your question.
Before answering, I want to point out that I am not speaking on behalf of Haitian feminists. They are fighting their own battle and they discuss it in public.
However, I can answer that it is civil society groups, including women's groups, that are opposing the government. They are the ones who have organized the most and who mobilized strongly at the time against the MINUSTAH, when there were cases of sexual assault. It really was women's groups in Haiti who denounced the situation and spoke out against the impunity granted to soldiers and members of the military who were sent to their country and did not have to submit to the Haitian justice system.
Given that background, certainly an international military intervention like the ones we have seen in the past is not really the solution to the sexual violence happening at present. There are organizations in Haiti that have existed for decades. In fact, the women's movement is one of the first to have really risen up and mobilized after the dictatorship. The women's movement in Haiti is extremely strong. There are organizations that work for women's health and against spousal violence.
Unfortunately, the last times the international community intervened, it did not take that expertise into account. Today, we hope it will be done differently. As Ms. Asselin said, there are many cases of sexual violence. We absolutely have to work with these organizations, because they know how to respond, they know what to do to support the survivors.
I hope that answers your question, Ms. Vandenbeld.
For several years now, Quebec co‑operation organizations have set up projects that are supported by Haitian workers. Unfortunately, there are few aid workers from the Quebec co‑operation on the ground. It's very difficult now to participate in missions and to be welcomed by our partners, because they are threatened.
There are a whole host of rules related to security, particularly with respect to travel. We need to move all kinds of humanitarian supplies. I was talking about agriculture, which is a huge challenge. We are forced to take alternative means of transportation, such as small planes, because we can't get from one area to another. This is a big concern.
It's impressive that we can still hold meetings. Thanks to technology and Zoom, we're able to talk to our partners on a regular basis. We realize that they continue to do the work.
I was saying earlier that there were 100,000 displaced people. They are being displaced in the countryside and to their places of origin, and that creates enormous pressure. That's why there is a food crisis, which farmers are also experiencing. There's still great capacity in Haiti, but for the time being, people don't have what they need to produce. It's clear that insecurity threatens everyone in Haiti, including the staff of all the organizations we work with.
On the humanitarian front, there are large non-profit organizations, such as those that are organizing the fight against cholera. I won't be able to go on at length, but I think that these are organizations with great resources, such as the United Nations, that are working to provide an immediate response to cholera and the humanitarian crisis.
We will distribute food, but it's very short term. Our main concern is to ensure the safety of farmers so that they can meet the needs of the population. They can do it, but they need to have the inputs, they need to be able to work safely, and they need to be able to move food around the country.
I have been asking for that, for many years—that Canada be part of this. I have talked about it with Monsieur Carrière, who is the ambassador in Haiti. What Haiti needs, right now, is popular education in democracy.
Overnight, we went from a dictatorship to a democracy, which ended up, in fact, with the people having only one real power, which was the power to vote. The right to vote was stolen right away. Right off the bat, it was stolen. People in Haiti have no idea what living in a democracy is like, because they have not lived in it—at least, right now—for almost 60 years. I am 65 years old. I was born in 1958, the year Duvalier came to power, so anybody my age has known only dictatorship and only a few episodes of democracy. This is a country where people have never been exposed to what democracy is.
I encourage Canada and ask, one more time, that we help popular education in democracy, not only for the political class but also for regular citizens, so they understand what is right and what the responsibilities are.
Democracy is built on the trust we have in each other. When you have been living, for 65 years, in a country where you don't know who you can trust...this is living in a dictatorship. Dictatorship is not only a structure but also a culture. If we don't help Haitians get rid of that culture, we are only going to see this over and over again.