The RCMP have laid terrorism charges against a Quebec man for allegedly plotting an armed revolution to overthrow Haiti’s government last year.
Gérald Nicolas, the accused, has denied the charges and blamed a disgruntled ex-girlfriend for sowing suspicion against him. He has also accused Canadian police of targeting him because he is Black.
In announcing the three terrorism charges on Thursday, the Mounties alleged Mr. Nicolas had travelled to Haiti in early 2021 with the intention of organizing a coup against Jovenel Moïse, who was at the time the country’s president.
Mr. Moïse was assassinated in July, 2021, as a result of a different murder conspiracy unrelated to the Quebec case.
In a charge sheet submitted to a Quebec City court on Thursday, the RCMP accused Mr. Nicolas, a 51-year-old resident of Lévis, Que., of travelling to Haiti and the Dominican Republic between April, 2020, and June, 2021, to gather money, tents and a generator. Police did not specify how these items would have been used to advance the alleged coup plot.
Mr. Nicolas also tried but failed to procure weapons as part of the alleged plot, RCMP Sergeant Charles Poirier said in an interview Thursday.
“The actions he had in mind, if he had committed them in Canada, they would have been crimes, and they would have been terrorism,” Sgt. Poirier said. He alleged that Mr. Nicolas began plotting the coup in January, 2020, and that he had also travelled to South and Central America to recruit people and gather financing.
Despite the gravity of the allegations, Mr. Nicolas is not in police custody. He is scheduled to appear in a Quebec City court on Dec. 1. The RCMP did not answer questions about why he was not arrested.
Mr. Nicolas conducted several interviews with francophone media in Quebec on Thursday. In one of them, he told Radio-Canada that an ex-girlfriend had invented a story about him being a terrorist. He also acknowledged creating a Facebook page where he had encouraged Haitians to take their destiny into their own hands – but he said he did not plan a coup.
“If I was white, I wouldn’t be talking to you today,” he told Radio-Canada. He told the Journal de Montréal that he immigrated to Canada from Haiti when he was a small child.
Mr. Nicolas is charged with leaving Canada to facilitate terrorist activity, facilitating terrorist activity and providing property for terrorist purpose.
Observers say such allegations show the sweep of the anti-terrorism laws Canada’s Parliament passed in 2001.
Unlike other crimes in the Criminal Code, terrorism offences do not need to happen on Canadian soil in order to be prosecuted in Canada. “There are only certain offences that are extraterritorial in nature, terrorism being one of them,” said Leah West, a former federal Justice Department lawyer who teaches national security law at Carleton University.
Prof. West said she did not know of a past case where an alleged Canadian coup plotter had faced terrorism offences. But she said terrorism laws are crafted in such a way that a suspect accused of plotting to overthrow a government might be considered no different than, for example, the religious extremists who flocked to the Middle East to try to carve a statelet out of Syria and Iraq a decade ago.
“Essentially it’s the same thing. You’re overthrowing the legitimate government and attempting to install your own, using violence,” Prof. West said.
She added that Canada’s laws can punish anyone who hands over any items to support such an effort, even if the objects are in themselves harmless. “The thought process is: ‘Are you doing something that is advancing a terrorist cause?’ It doesn’t have to be money, or a gun, or ammunition.”
Haiti remains without a president. The country is facing food and energy shortages and the ascendance of armed gangs. Last month, The Globe and Mail reported that Canada’s federal government was declining to say whether it would help by leading or joining a multinational security force.
Mr. Moïse was assassinated by a group of commandos in 2021. Since then, the American government has begun prosecuting several alleged assassins who were captured abroad and brought to Florida to face trial. The U.S. Department of Justice has said the conspiracy involved 20 Colombian citizens and several dual citizens of Haiti and the U.S.
Mathias Pierre, a former cabinet minister in the Moïse government, said in an interview that he didn’t know of any coup attempts originating in Quebec. “I was regularly with the president,” Mr. Pierre said. “I never heard of a coup d’etat coming from Canada. Never.”
With a report from Stephanie Chambers