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Michaëlle Jean is the former Governor-General of Canada, and the former UNESCO Special Envoy to Haiti.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Haiti is in a dire situation, after months of cholera outbreaks, a fuel and energy crisis and intense gang violence. The UN estimates that more than 225 people have been kidnapped so far this year, and 500 people have been killed in gang violence – nearly half of them in just the first 15 days of March.

Canada is facing pressure – particularly from the U.S. – to intervene, and during President Joe Biden’s visit to Canada, he and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are expected to talk about Haiti.

Michaëlle Jean is the former Governor-General of Canada, and the former UNESCO Special Envoy to Haiti, where she’s from. She spoke with The Decibel’s Menaka Raman-Wilms about what role she thinks Canada should have in improving the situation in the country. You can also listen to the conversation on Friday’s episode of The Decibel.

How would you describe the situation in Haiti right now?

I’m glad you’re asking this question. Context is very important, and the complexity and the magnitude of what the people in Haiti are experiencing right now ... we’ve seen over the decades compounding security and humanitarian crises. And now Haiti faces a very severe gang issue. Now you have to imagine the population under constant threat. War-like battles between gangs, and these gangs are mercenary groups. And this battle is even between the gangs.

The capital, Port-Au-Prince, is controlled by more than a hundred mercenary groups, criminal organizations, so-called gangs. Every neighbourhood right now is under their control. Before there were some sanctuary zones that they occupied. But now it’s the whole city. Kidnapping is a daily risk for people.

The current leader Ariel Henry is not elected, so he doesn’t have the trust of the population. The people don’t trust him. They don’t trust him because it feels as if Haiti has lost its sovereignty. He has failed in restoring security in the country. He doesn’t even have the trust from the Haitian National Police. What we’re seeing right now is a total failure. Haiti’s a failed state right now.

There are certainly those who say Canada shouldn’t intervene at all in Haiti, particularly because of the history of intervention in that country, but also because it can be very expensive and can take a long time. We’re talking years for this kind of intervention. Is doing nothing a viable option?

Doing nothing is not a viable option. We are really in a typical situation, and a dire situation of people in danger. And of course, Canadian officials have said any outside intervention must be backed by political consensus in Haiti. But I think Canada has noticed also that previous interventions have not led to their desired outcomes. And they have cast a certain doubt on whether the Canadian Armed Forces have the capacity for the type of mission the United States has proposed. So some also bristle at the notion that they have not already assumed a leadership role because this is what President Biden is asking Prime Minister Trudeau. Could Canada take the lead of an international military mission in Haiti? And Canada is hesitating.

[Canada] will provide armoured vehicles and other support to the police. They have imposed sanctions on 17 Haitians, including alleged gang leaders or their alleged backers among the political and business worlds. The United States, meanwhile, has not matched Canada’s sanctions.

So rather, listen to the people of Haiti to see what they say.

Listen to the people of Haiti. Absolutely. If you listen carefully, what were they saying? They were asking for the respect of the rule of law. They were asking for more accountability. They are asking for the return to the constitutional order. They are asking for the end of impunity. They are asking for measures and policies to tackle extreme poverty in Haiti. This is what they are asking for in this situation. We all have to take responsibility and say that it’s not just about Haiti. It’s a national, regional, continental issue. And that issue has a devastating, severe impact on all of us. And this is what is happening to Haiti.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Michaëlle Jean speaks with The Decibel's Menaka Raman-Wilms about Canada's role in Haiti. Subscribe for more episodes.

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