“After ten months under an interim government backed by the United States, Canada, and France and buttressed by a United Nations force, Haitiâ€™s people churn inside a hurricane of violence”(p.2) â€“ Stokzky, University of Miami, Haiti Human Rights Investigation: November 11-21, 2004
Canada has a good reputation as a fair player in foreign affairs. Most Canadians would be surprised to hear that Canada is accused of aiding a coup in the Caribbean, supporting a corrupt electoral system, and training a brutal police force. This is what Canada is accused of doing in Haiti and there seem to be ongoing political and media machinations to keep Canadians in the dark.
Canadaâ€™s official role in Haiti is security, stability, and reconstruction: training the National Police force, and aiding with elections. Yet Canadian support continues despite documented police killings of Haitian slum residents, repeated postponement of elections, and the jailing of leaders of the popular Lavalas Party, including Gerald Jean-Juste, declared a â€˜Prisoner of Conscienceâ€™ by Amnesty International. In spite of efforts by independent journalists like Kevin Pina, the mainstream media largely overlooks Haiti and when it reports at all, it tends to report elite Haitian opinion. However, recent events in Canada demonstrate that the Canadian media blackout also extends to coverage of domestic events surrounding Haiti.
On December 1st, Vancouver-born activist Yves Engler, 26, and co-author of Canada in Haiti (Red Publishing, 2005), was thrown in jail for 4 days after heckling Paul Martin at a meeting of the Conseils des Relations Internationales de MontrÃ©al (CORIM), a Montreal based foreign affairs group. At the CORIM breakfast session, Engler yelled, â€œMartin lies, Haitians die!â€ from the back of the large room and threw â€˜political confettiâ€™, adorned with information on Canadaâ€™s role in Haiti. Engler reported from Montreal that the PM heard the chant and was interrupted â€œfor maybe 30 seconds to a minuteâ€ as police escorted Engler outside. The video of Martinâ€™s speech on the CORIM website features a jump cut early on, a remnant of the commotion.
Engler was charged with â€˜disturbing the peaceâ€™, â€˜forging documentsâ€™ (a fake press pass used to gain entrance), and â€˜breaking conditionsâ€™. The last is a remnant of a June run-in with Foreign Affairs Minister, Pierre Pettigrew, where Engler splashed red paint on Pettigrewâ€™s hands and suit. In lieu of criminal charges, Engler was issued a peace bond, ordering him to â€˜keep the peaceâ€™ with politicians.
The activist now faces severe restrictions on his freedom of movement: he is barred from political talks without express invitation and restricted from getting closer than 500m from political figures. This means that Engler cannot approach any federal MPs, provincial MLAs, or the Haitian-born Governor General. Engler noted that the prosecutor at his provincial court appearance even discussed keeping him in jail until after the Federal Election; instead, he was released on $5000 bail, with a court date set for December 22nd. Despite the severity of the arrest, jail time, and subsequent conditions, Englerâ€™s actions were largely kept out of the press, with the exception of a December 6th story in the French daily La Presse. Apparently, Englerâ€™s confetti throwing and subsequent arrest in Montreal deserves far less media attention than the 2003 splattering of Ralph Klein with a pie during the Calgary Stampede.
Engler urges those interested in hearing more about Canadaâ€™s role in Haiti to talk to their local federal candidates, and to monitor the Canada Haiti Action Network website for upcoming events. At the very least, those interested in protecting Canadiansâ€™ sovereign right to annoy politicians should take notice.