Bob Rae, Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, says a foreign military intervention in Haiti would have little sustainable impact, and that discussions continue on what assistance Ottawa and allies could offer to deliver long-term stability to a country in crisis.
Last October, Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry asked the international community for a “specialized armed force” to help his country, which was suffering from a cholera outbreak and facing a blockade of its main port that prevented the delivery of food, fuel and medicine.
The United States later named Canada as a possible candidate to lead such a mission.
Mr. Rae, who undertook a fact-finding mission to Haiti in December, said in an interview Wednesday that the circumstances that led Mr. Henry to make this request have changed. The port blockade is over, cholera medication is flowing to Haiti and Canada and its allies have delivered equipment including military gear to the Haitian National Police. Ottawa has airlifted six armoured vehicles to Port-au-Prince since last fall.
He said a slew of UN military interventions in Haiti in the 1990s and 2000s have failed to bring about long-term stability. “We have to admit there’s been a history of what I would call large-scale military interventions that have not worked,” Mr. Rae said.
The former Liberal MP has written a report on his Haitian visit for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau but declined to discuss the recommendations.
He said Canada’s policy, however, is to insist on a “Haitian-led” approach to all elements of a solution, from security to politics to development.
Haiti, a country of 11.5 million people, remains in crisis. Many lack sufficient food, medicine and fuel. A cholera outbreak continues. Armed gangs injure, commit sexual violence and kill to subjugate the population. The last presidential elections were in 2016.
Mr. Henry is an unelected leader who was appointed in July, 2021, when former Haitian president Jovenel Moïse was assassinated, and some Haitians consider him illegitimate.
Canada and the U.S. are the two largest foreign-aid contributors to the country and have also laid sanctions against Haitian politicians they accuse of helping finance the gangs.
Asked if Ottawa might send police, Mr. Rae said that’s not been decided yet.
He said one thing that he noticed during his December visit was that the degree to which gangs run Haiti is not always visible to a casual observer.
Nevertheless, people are afraid to venture out because of rampant kidnappings for money.
“People notice how quiet things are. The quiet has to do with people wanting to avoid going out because they know gangs are around and can pick people up.”
Mr. Rae said kidnapping is widespread and important transportation routes in the country remain blockaded by gangs. The priorities for Canada and its partners are security, public health and addressing the continuing humanitarian situation and political instability.
“There has to be a commitment to stability from all of the major political parties and all of the major social and political and economic groups in the country. And there has to be a process created that leads eventually to an election and constitutional government,” he said.
“In order to have an election, you have to have security: You can’t have people getting bumped off on the way to the polling station – or getting kidnapped.”
He noted that Ottawa worked with the UN to create a security fund, with donations not only from Canada but the United States and Japan to help support the Haitian National Police.
Mr. Rae is looking at assistance that would create order in Haiti. “You can’t have development and you can’t have people living confidently going about their business unless there’s a degree of order.”
He said Canada, the U.S. and the UN are making plans on how to restore order and rebuild the country. “The question is what form of intervention would be the most sustainable and that is what we are still discussing.”
The U.S. has stepped up coast guard surveillance of Haiti and Ottawa is in discussions with the existing police contingent attached to the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti.
He said he does not think Canada’s focus and spending to help Ukraine push back a Russian invasion would prevent Ottawa from disbursing increased aid to Haiti. “The notion that somehow Ukraine prevents Canada from doing other things is completely false.”
Last week, Mr. Trudeau hedged when asked whether Canada was prepared to lead a military mission to Haiti and he declined to say whether Ottawa has run out of soldiers to deploy.
Canada’s top soldier, General Wayne Eyre, last year said the Canadian Armed Forces are “stretched thin” as demands at home and abroad mount. The military has faced recruitment problems, and last October, Gen. Eyre told MPs “the military that we have today is not the military that we need for the threats that are appearing in the future.”
Canada’s largest military deployment right now is in Latvia on the eastern flank of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Ottawa has also committed to an additional military presence each year in the Indo-Pacific region, including deploying three frigates there per year – up from two per year.