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Children stand in the courtyard of the Maison La Providence de Dieu orphanage it Ganthier, Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti, on Oct. 17, 2021, where a gang abducted 17 missionaries from a U.S.-based organization.Odelyn Joseph/The Associated Press

A Canadian is among a group of 17 missionaries and family members abducted in Haiti on Saturday amid a wave of similar crimes in the Caribbean country.

Christian Aid Ministries said 16 Americans and one Canadian associated with the charity were abducted near Ganthier, east of Port-au-Prince, as they returned from visiting an orphanage. The group – seven women, five men and five children – was heading for the charity’s base in Titanyen, 40 kilometres away.

“Join us in praying for those who are being held hostage, the kidnappers, and the families, friends, and churches of those affected,” Christian Aid Ministries, a charity affiliated with Amish and Mennonite groups, said in a statement on its website.

Haitian police laid the blame on 400 Mawozo, a gang that has carried out previous brazen mass abductions and controls the Croix-des-Bouquets arrondissement, which includes Ganthier. The Port-au-Prince-based Le Nouvelliste newspaper reported that a group of heavily armed men barricaded a road in the area and abducted several vehicles full of people.

It was not immediately clear how the Canadian or U.S. governments would react.

“Global Affairs Canada is aware of media reports that a Canadian citizen was kidnapped in Haiti. Canadian government officials in Haiti are working with local authorities and implicated NGO’s to gather more information,” Lama Khodr, a spokeswoman for the foreign ministry, wrote in an e-mail on Sunday.

The U.S. State Department confirmed that 17 people, including 16 American citizens, had been abducted near Port-au-Prince, but released no further information.

Ryan Martin, a staff member at Christian Aid Ministries’ Canadian office in Moorefield, Ont., said that the group would be limiting the information it released on the abduction “in the best interest of the safety of those involved.” Christian Aid Ministries’ headquarters in Berlin, Ohio, did not respond to messages.

An update on the charity’s website earlier this month touted its school program in Haiti as a means of “influencing Haiti’s children” to “convert.” The group’s 2020 annual report said Christian Aid Ministries left Haiti for nine months that year because of “political unrest.”

The Washington Post quoted a message, written by one of the abducted Americans, posted to a WhatsApp group during the incident. “Please pray for us!! We are being held hostage, they kidnapped our driver. Pray pray pray. We don’t know where they are taking us,” the paper quoted the message as saying.

Kidnappings-for-ransom are increasingly common in Haiti, where gangs often control entire neighbourhoods and important access roads.

According to the consulting firm Control Risk, which maintains a global database of abductions, Haiti accounted for 10 per cent of all abductions in the Americas during the first three months of 2021, despite representing just 1 per cent of the hemisphere’s population. So far this year, the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights, a Haitian NGO, has tallied more than 600 abductions in the country, nearly triple its total from the previous year.

Over the last year, gangs have abducted police officers, entire buses of schoolchildren and, in at least one case that played out live in a Facebook broadcast, a pastor and church choir in the middle of a service. In one April abduction, 400 Mawozo seized five priests and two nuns, including two French citizens. They were later released.

The most recent abduction comes amid a lengthy political crisis, including the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July. Presidential and legislative elections had been scheduled for Nov. 7, but Prime Minister Ariel Henry last month indefinitely postponed the vote and fired the country’s electoral council.

The Haitian government asked the U.S. to send troops into the country following the killing of Mr. Moïse. President Joe Biden turned down the request.

Mr. Henry and Haiti’s police chief, Léon Charles, were forced to turn back from a ceremony Sunday honouring Jean-Jacques Dessalines, one of the country’s independence leaders. When they tried to lead a delegation to Mr. Dessalines’s monument in the Pont-Rouge area of Port-au-Prince, they came under fire from gunmen blocking their path, local media reported. Video from the scene showed gang leader Jimmy (Barbecue) Cherizier paying his respects at the monument.

The United Nations, meanwhile, voted Friday to extend by nine months an operation in Haiti that focuses on human-rights work and advises the country on the rule of law. It has been active since 2019.

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