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Battling Haiti’s gangs — the mission no nation seems to want

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If U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was hoping to return to Washington with a Canadian commitment to take the lead in Haiti, he went home disappointed.

Rather than offer to lead a military mission to battle the gangs that have seized about two-thirds of the Haitian capital, Canada has agreed to dispatch a fact-finding mission that will assess what Canada might do in the future.

It’s clear to all involved that U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration — facing a difficult midterm election season with a cranky electorate that has soured on overseas wars — wants to pass the buck to a Canadian government that has no interest in embarking on such a perilous enterprise but doesn’t like giving Washington a flat refusal.

Which explains the “assessment team.”

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The team’s mission, according to the announcement from Global Affairs, is “to consult with stakeholders on options to support Haitian people in resolving the humanitarian and security crises and how Canada can contribute to the international response.”

They’re the ones who put him there. So why don’t they come back and pick up their trash?– Former UN official Monique Clesca calls on Canada and the U.S. to nudge Ariel Henry from power

Its unstated mission is to buy time and fend off further U.S. pressure to wade into the Haitian quagmire.

The facts in Haiti are well known. It’s the solutions that nobody seems to have a handle on.

But events on the ground, and the reluctance of Ottawa and Washington to get more directly involved, may finally be forcing Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to adopt a position long favoured by the Haitian opposition — that Haiti’s current government is part of the problem.

It’s a position long resisted by Canada and the U.S., Haiti’s two primary donor nations, both of which have been accused of pulling the strings in the poorest country in the Western hemisphere for decades.

Hunger stalks the Haitian landscape

Since the assassination of President Jovenel Moise on July 7 last year, Haiti has fallen to its lowest point in living memory.

Hunger is beginning to kill. Dozens of inmates in Haitian prisons succumbed after prison authorities ran out of food. Acute malnutrition already threatened the lives of thousands of children, even before the gang blockades closed schools and markets.

 

 

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly speaks with Rosemary Barton Live about whether Canada intends to lead a security mission in Haiti, the latest with Ottawa’s backing for Ukraine, and how the federal government is supporting the recent protests and anti-regime movement in Iran.

As both Blinken and Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly have acknowledged, Haiti faces three interlocking crises: one humanitarian, one security-related and one political.

The humanitarian crisis is worsened by the security crisis. One example is the way cholera — which had finally been defeated in Haiti after a decade-long epidemic that took 10,000 lives — has surged back because the gang blockades are forcing people to drink contaminated water.

“Tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs due to this insecurity,” said Tom Adamson. He’s a Canadian who operates a mattress factory in the Haitian capital, where he’s lived since 1988.

His factory has been shut down for weeks but he is one of the few employers who continues to pay his furloughed workers. “We’ve just made a decision that this is the way we want to do things,” he told CBC News.

The lack of jobs in Haiti means that most Haitians have to try to make it in the informal sector, which in Port-au-Prince often means working as “marchands” reselling goods and produce in the streets.

“But right now they’re unable to,” said Adamson. “They they don’t have goods to sell because the goods from the provinces are not coming into Port-au-Prince, and the goods that are imported from outside of Haiti are blocked in the port.”

The marchands are eating through what little stock they have just to keep their families alive, said Adamson.

The link between the security crisis and the humanitarian crisis is obvious to all. Intimately linked to both is Haiti’s political crisis — but those connections are far murkier.

The government, led by de facto prime minister Ariel Henry, lacks both democratic legitimacy and popular acceptance. That makes it difficult to distinguish between its attempts to restore order and its attempts to suppress legitimate protest and dissent.

A girl with cholera symptoms is helped by her mother during her treatment at a clinic run by Doctors Without Borders in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on Oct. 27, 2022. (Ramon Espinosa/Associated Press)

Canadian officials have told CBC News they made it clear to the Henry government that the armoured vehicles Canada delivered to the Haitian National Police this month are to be used to break the blockades — not for crowd control.

“The purpose is to reinforce their capacity to finally get a grip on the the security situation and to deal with the problem of gangs dominating certain critical parts of Port-au-Prince,” Blinken said in Ottawa on Thursday.

So far, the vehicles have not been used for either purpose.

Politicians and gangsters in cahoots

There’s a reason why Haiti’s gangs have graduated from machetes to machine guns in recent years, while other sectors of Haitian society have stagnated or gone backwards: active collusion between gang leaders and members of Haiti’s ruling party and oligarchy.

“They’re proxies of the government,” said Monique Clesca, a former UN official and now a member of the Montana Group coalition of political parties and civil society organizations that has been negotiating with the Ariel Henry government for a transition to democracy.

“They’re proxies for Ariel Henry, just like they were proxies of Jovenel Moise, just like they were proxies of [former Haitian president] Michel Martelly. [The PHTK Party] has been in power for 11 years and the gangs have only gained in strength.”

Haiti’s ruling Parti Haïtien Tèt Kale (PHTK or “Bald Head Party”) has used gangs to commit gruesome massacres in poor neighbourhoods that have opposed its rule.

Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry has requested outside military intervention in his country’s security crisis. Haiti’s two main donor nations — Canada and the U.S. — are not enthusiastic about the idea. (Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters)

“Government officials have sought to suppress anti-government organizing through bribery, and when that has failed, have enlisted gangs to carry out targeted attacks against anti-government strongholds active in the protests,” reported the International Human Rights Clinic of Harvard Law School. It explained how massacres in the districts of Bel-Air, La Saline and Cite Soleil showed collusion between the gangs, the Haitian National Police and the ruling party.

And although the government now appears to have lost control of the gangs it once sponsored, few Haitians believe it has lost its appetite to use them in the future.

“How is an intervention going to deal with a government that is working hand in hand with gangs, that is a criminal organization?” said Clesca.

Call for intervention ‘treasonous’

By requesting a foreign fighting force that neither Washington nor Ottawa seems willing to give, Ariel Henry has forced them to explore other options, and to confront the fact that his unelected government is itself an obstacle to a long-term solution in Haiti.

“The intervention is a short-term solution for something that is not a short-term issue, and the intervention is a response of an illegitimate government,” Clesca said.

“There is no way, no legitimacy, no acceptable scenario in which Ariel Henry could ask for a military intervention. And we believe that it is actually treasonous. It makes absolutely no sense to us that Anthony Blinken should be in Canada talking about an intervention in Haiti as if we were his backyard.

“Why is Antony Blinken talking to Canada and not talking to us? Why are Madame Joly and Mr. Trudeau talking to Antony Blinken rather than talking to us?”

Clesca said both Canada and the U.S. should concentrate their efforts on easing Henry out of power.

“What they should be doing is whispering in Ariel Henry’s ear to say, ‘Listen, we picked you and you were a loser. You have done nothing in the last 15 months, and we don’t want you anymore,'” she said.

“Because they’re the ones who put him there. So why don’t they come back and pick up their trash?”

Children sleep on the floor of a school turned into a makeshift shelter after they were forced to leave their homes in the Cite Soleil district due to clashes between armed gangs in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on July 23, 2022. (Odelyn Joseph/Associated Press)

Speaking alongside Blinken last week, Joly suggested that Canada is not interested in being part of a solution that merely serves to prop up Henry’s unelected government.

“It is also of equal importance to address the political crisis because there needs to be fair elections happening,” she said.

And Joly made it clear that Canada was not keen to play the role of Haiti’s saviour alone.

“We need to make sure that it is, yes, Canada and the U.S. collaborating with the Haitians, but also with many other countries,” she said. “At the end of the day, we need to make sure that there is strong legitimacy for this approach.”

So while many countries are talking about how to help Haiti, they all seem keen for someone else to take the lead. And not one government has offered a single soldier to do battle with the gangs.

Foreign powers, Haitian opposition converging

Despite all of the anger and mistrust between the Haitian opposition on the one hand and the U.S. and Canadian governments on the other, their messages actually seem to be increasingly in sync these days.

Both sides now agree that the political situation is unsustainable. Neither side is keen on military intervention.

The Haitian opposition recognizes that it will need foreign help to reverse the country’s slide into anarchy.

“Clearly we do have huge, humongous security issues,” said Clesca. “Just as we are in a constitutional crisis, we are in a judiciary crisis, we are in an executive crisis, we are in a police crisis. Yes, Haiti is in massive crisis mode.

“We have said we would need technical assistance, we need financial assistance, we would need equipment.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speak at the Canadian Government Guest House ahead of a working lunch on Oct. 27, 2022 in Ottawa. (Blair Gable/Pool/The Associated Press)

That vision dovetails far more neatly with what the U.S. and Canada are willing to give than Ariel Henry’s request for Canadian soldiers and U.S. Marines to do his fighting for him.

“It is extremely important that we get this right, that we support the Haitian people in this difficult moment. But it’s important to do it in the right way,” Trudeau said Friday.

“Before we establish any sort of mission, we need to see a clear plan of action, a level of support by the Haitian people and the Haitian government and opposition parties and a consensus about how.”

Request may backfire

For Trudeau, an armed intervention would not only be fraught with physical danger for Canadian soldiers in Haiti — it could also lead to political problems at home. The New Democrats who now prop up his minority government would oppose it.

“The Haitian people are asking for Canada to not provide that military intervention,” NDP foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson told CBC News. “At this point, what we’re asking for is that the people of Haiti lead in the democratic reform of their country.”

Given that fact-finding missions often find the facts that those who send them wish to hear, it seems likely that Canada’s team on the ground in Haiti will report back that it’s best to leave the actual fighting to Haitians — with Canadians strictly in a supporting role.

And Joly’s comments this week suggest there may be a renewed focus on negotiating a political transition.

Haitian police officers, bureaucrats and legislators all know that their salaries depend in large part on foreign donors — they don’t want to serve a leader who can’t secure foreign support. That’s why former Haitian prime minister Claude Joseph abandoned office as soon as the foreign embassies issued a two-paragraph statement supporting his rival Ariel Henry.

Today, it’s Ariel Henry who faces the growing impatience of his former backers. He may have hoped that his unpopular request for foreign intervention would save him. It may turn out to be his undoing.

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Chinese immigration to Canada record high from 2015, as some flee zero-COVID strategy

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China’s zero-COVID lockdowns have been linked to a rare wave of protests across the country in recent weeks, and immigration industry experts say the strict pandemic rules are also fuelling a surge in requests to live in Canada.

Immigration from China has bounced back from pandemic lulls to hit a new peak, according to Canadian government statistics, and immigration consultants report an ongoing surge of inquiries.

Vancouver immigration lawyer Ryan Rosenberg, co-founder and partner at Larlee Rosenberg, said COVID restrictions have been a new motivator for potential Chinese immigrants.

“I think that what we are seeing is that COVID lockdowns really shocked people and it caused people to think that maybe China is not a good fit for themselves and for their families.”

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Rosenberg, who has been in the industry for more than 20 years, said the traditional driving forces for Chinese clients considering Canada were better education for their children, cleaner air and a healthier lifestyle.

Permanent resident admissions from China hit 9,925 in the July-to-September quarter, online statistics by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada show.

That is more than triple the pandemic low of 2,980 in the same quarter of 2020, and is also up 15 per cent from 8,690 recorded in the third quarter of 2019, before the pandemic hit.

Quarterly admissions from China are now higher than at any point since 2015, as far back as the online statistics go. A spokesperson for Immigration Canada was not available to confirm if immigration rates had been higher before 2015.

Politics is also a factor, Rosenberg said, citing the consolidation of power with President Xi Jinping, who was recently confirmed for a precedent-breaking third term.

“(The) latest extension of Xi’s rule in China has also scared certain people, mostly business owners … and they are wanting to look at Canada as an option for themselves and their family,” said Rosenberg.

“There is a strong vibe that we are picking up on people wanting to get out for those reasons more than anything.”

Tiffany, a Richmond, B.C., immigration consultant who only wanted her first name used for fear of reprisals against her family from China, said many of her clients say China’s zero-COVID strategy made them feel “their freedom and liberties have been stripped away.”

“Many could sense the pressure that (Chinese) society is shifting, from once being a bit open and relaxed to being strict, prompting them to think of escaping to other countries,” the consultant said in an interview in Mandarin.

Immigration consultant Ken Tin Lok Wong said his firm has also seen an increase in family reunion applications.

“Because of COVID-19, many decided to come here to visit their family members in Canada,” Wong said in an interview in Mandarin.

“After spending some time here, they realized that although they probably could make more money in their hometowns (in China), being close to family members is more important than anything in life.”

Rosenberg said the subject of immigration has become so sensitive that his clients in China are reluctant to discuss matters over electronic communication, fearing they might be monitored by the Chinese government.

“It’s coming to the point that the concern is getting in the way of people being able to have meaningful conversations about this in China, and that can somehow limit our ability to do really good work for them,” said Rosenberg.

China’s embassy in Ottawa did not respond to a request for comment.

The desire to leave China during the pandemic, combined with the caution of speaking about it openly, has sparked a coded term in Chinese online discussions: “run xue,” or run philosophy.

The bilingual term refers to studying ways to get out of China, and is widely used on Chinese-language websites and chat rooms.

A recent immigrant who moved from Beijing to Vancouver three years ago said he made his “run” for political reasons. He too asked not to be identified out of fear of reprisals from the Chinese government.

The engineer, who is in his late 30s, said he went on multiple trips to Taiwan after the island opened its doors to Chinese tourists in 2008.

“I remember, I stopped by at Freedom Square, a public plaza in Taipei, and saw some people running around carefree. Some were doing music rehearsals and others were even waving placards to express their political opinions,” he said.

“I didn’t see any police presence at the square and that was the awakening moment for me. I thought to myself: ‘Oh, I actually could live my life this way.’”

He said he was now content with his life in Vancouver, despite feeling lonely during holidays and having to work multiple jobs to make a living.

Rosenberg said young immigrants with lots of work years ahead of them were favoured for their ability to contribute to the Canadian economy in a “meaningful and direct way.”

“So, the bias is towards people who are a bit younger, highly educated, and can speak English or French, and then having experience in Canada, (rather) than experience earned outside of Canada,” said Rosenberg.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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Girl Guides of Canada announces two potential new names for Brownies program

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Girl Guides of Canada is asking its members to vote on two new name options for its Brownies program — comets or embers.

Last month the national organization told members it would be changing the name of the program for girls aged seven and eight because the name has caused harm to racialized Girl Guides.

Girl Guides says that some Black Canadians, Indigenous residents and people of colour have chosen to skip this program or delay joining the organization because of the name,  adding a change can ensure more girls feel like they belong in the program.

Members were invited to vote for one of the two new name contenders in an email sent Tuesday.

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The email says the name comets was chosen because they inspire as they travel through space, boldly blazing a trail, and the name embers were selected because they are small and full of potential that can ignite a powerful flame.

Girl Guides says members can vote until December 13 and the new name will be announced in late January.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2022.

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Veterans’ cases raise fresh concerns about expanding assisted dying law

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Revelations that some Canadian veterans have been offered medically assisted deaths while seeking help from the federal government are adding to worries about Ottawa’s plans to expand such procedures to include mental-health injuries and illnesses.

Veterans’ organizations are instead calling on Ottawa to increase access to mental-health services for former service members, which includes addressing the long wait times that many are forced to endure when applying for assistance.

“Mental-health injuries can be terminal only if they’re untreated, unsupported and under-resourced,” said Wounded Warriors executive director Scott Maxwell, whose organization runs mental-health support programs for veterans and first responders.

“That should be where we’re focused: resourcing, funding and investing in timely access to culturally competent, occupationally aware mental-health care.”

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While medical assistance in dying was approved in 2016 for Canadians suffering from physical injuries and illness, the criteria for MAID is set to expand in March to include those living with mental-health conditions.

While that plan has already elicited warnings from psychiatrists across the country, who say Canada is not ready for such a move, Maxwell and others are also sounding the alarm about the potential impact on ill and injured ex-soldiers.

Those concerns have crystallized in recent weeks after reports that several former service members who reached out to Veterans Affairs Canada for assistance over the past three years were counselled on assisted dying.

Those include retired corporal and Canadian Paralympian Christine Gauthier, who told the House of Commons’ veterans affairs committee last week that she was offered an assisted death during her five-year fight for a wheelchair ramp in her home.

The federal government has blamed a single Veterans Affairs employee, saying the case manager was acting alone and that her case has been referred to the RCMP. It also says training and guidance has been provided to the rest of the department’s employees.

The issue has nonetheless sparked fears about what will happen if the criteria for MAID is expanded in March, particularly as many veterans with mental and physical injuries continue to have to wait months — and even years — for federal support.

Those wait times have persisted for years despite frustration, anger and warnings from the veterans’ community as well as the veterans’ ombudsman, Canada’s auditor general and others about the negative impact those wait times are having on former service members.

“My fear is that we are offering a vehicle for people to end their lives when there are treatment options available, but those treatment options are more difficult to access than medically assisted death,” Oliver Thorne of the Veterans Transition Network recently testified before the Commons’ veterans affairs committee.

And despite the government’s assertions that a single Veterans Affairs’ employee was responsible for proposing MAID as an option, Royal Canadian Legion deputy director of veterans’ services Carolyn Hughes said the reports have added to longstanding anger and fears in the community.

“Many veterans have been angered and retraumatized by this situation, seeing it as an extension of the perception of ‘deny, delay, and die’ from VAC to veterans,” she told the same committee.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that the government is looking at striking the right balance between providing access to assisted deaths and protecting vulnerable Canadians, including veterans.

But the Association of Chairs of Psychiatry in Canada, which includes heads of psychiatry departments at all 17 medical schools, is calling for a delay to the proposed MAID expansion, saying patients need better access to care including for addiction services.

The Conservatives have also called for a delay, with democratic reform critic Michael Cooper underscoring the need for more study and preparation.

“Many veterans who turn to Veterans Affairs for services and support are vulnerable,” he said. “Many have physical injuries and mental-health issues arising from their service. What they need is help and support. And it can be devastating to be offered death instead of help.”

NDP veterans affairs critic Rachel Blaney said it is essential that the government increase access to services for veterans.

“We should always make sure that there’s resources and services out there,” she said. “We don’t want anyone to feel like this (MAID) is ever the first option for them. “

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2022.

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