Fritz Alphonse Jean, a former governor of Haiti’s central bank who also served briefly as prime minister, said Canada is sending mixed signals by imposing sanctions on some of his country’s elites while avoiding direct criticism of the Caribbean nation’s government.
The current Haitian administration, led by Prime Minister Ariel Henry, “cannot meet the population’s needs; something must be done,” Mr. Jean said. He accused the government of having ties with the armed groups paralyzing the country and called for a regime change as a first step toward establishing order and holding elections.
“Haiti is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis,” he said in an interview with The Globe and Mail during a visit to Montreal. “The state is almost non-existent” and has no control over its territory, he said.
Mr. Jean, who lives in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, described daily kidnappings, widespread sexual violence, food insecurity and hyperinflation impeding all aspects of people’s lives.
Last month, the United Nations said more than 500 people had been killed in gang-related incidents since the beginning of the year, with hundreds of others injured and at least 160,000 displaced.
In October, Mr. Henry requested the help of foreign armed forces to quell gang violence, which has grown more pervasive since the assassination of former president Jovenel Moïse in July, 2021, leaving a power vacuum. Mr. Henry had been nominated by Mr. Moïse and took power days after his killing.
The Prime Minister’s request for foreign intervention was seen in Haiti as a self-serving move to consolidate his power, according to Mr. Jean, who travelled to Canada to meet with elected officials and members of the Haitian diaspora. “The current government has no support from the population, it is totally discredited,” he said.
The United States has been lobbying Canada to lead an international force in the Caribbean nation, which Ottawa has so far resisted.
In late March, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $100-million for the Haitian National Police to help the force restore order. Canada previously delivered Haitian-purchased armoured vehicles, conducted patrol aircraft overflights, and deployed vessels off the island’s coast.
Haiti needs “all the help we can get,” Mr. Jean said, describing the national police as disorganized, weak and corrupt. But in that context, “who do we give the $100-million to?” he asked. The former official said help was needed to train, equip and recruit officers, and to enforce the country’s borders, as widespread smuggling of guns and contraband threatens national security and deprives the state of much-needed revenue.
Canada has also sanctioned 19 members of Haiti’s political and economic elite, many of whom have links to Mr. Henry, over alleged ties with gangs, barring them from financial dealings in Canada.
“These people are in collusion with the [Haitian] government, and the Trudeau government says absolutely nothing about the Ariel government. You see, these are the mixed signals that we do not clearly understand,” Mr. Jean said.
He nonetheless applauds the sanctions announced to date and called for more from Canada and the international community, declining however to name potential targets. Some of those sanctioned dispute Canada’s accusations, and argue Ottawa has acted on shoddy information and lacks transparency.
“More sanctions are coming,” said Adrien Blanchard, press secretary for Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, in a statement to The Globe. He did not say how Ottawa planned to ensure its aid to the national police would not end up in corrupt hands.
Mr. Blanchard said Canada’s position is to “continue to encourage all parties to engage in inclusive and productive political dialogue in order to lay the ground for free, fair and credible elections.”
Ottawa engages with stakeholders to “support Haitian-led solutions to the security, humanitarian and political crises,” he said.
Mr. Jean, a U.S.-educated economist who is now president of the Haitian Institute of Public Policy Observatory, briefly served as Haiti’s prime minister in a 2016 interim government.
Last year, a Haitian civic coalition that calls itself the Montana Accord, after a Port-au-Prince hotel by that name, proposed that Mr. Jean lead a provisional government as president to bolster security and ensure free elections within two years.
In December, Canada’s ambassador to the UN, Bob Rae, led a diplomatic mission to Haiti and met with representatives of the Montana Accord, including Mr. Jean, to discuss “how to move toward political consensus,” according to a Twitter post by the Canadian embassy.
Mr. Henry rejected the Accord’s proposal. But in February, he pledged to leave office by 2024 and installed a transition council to prepare for presidential elections, last held in 2016.
In the meantime, Haitians have fled the chaos en masse, leaving everything behind to get to neighbouring Dominican Republic, the United States and Canada, among others.
Haitians used to make up an important share of asylum seekers crossing into Canada from the U.S. via Roxham Road before the Safe Third Country Agreement’s expansion meant they started being returned south of the border.
To Mr. Jean, addressing migration issues starts with the multifaceted crises Haiti is facing. “Canada must address the problem upstream,” he said. “If we don’t address this problem and then close Roxham Road, it’s as if these people are caught in a vise.”
With reports from the Associated Press, Reuters, and The Canadian Press