Canada's New Export to Haiti
Fair and Balanced Reporting
by Isabel MacDonald
ZNet, August 10, 2005
Despite continuing political repression
carried out by the Haitian National Police and by UN "stabilization"
forces in Haiti, Canada is continuing to push the Caribbean island
nation to stick to its schudule for October/November elections.
On August 6, the Canadian Prime Minister's Special Advisor on
Haiti, Denis Coderre, gushed to the CBC about how "moving"
he had found the sight, during his recent trip to Haiti, of "thousands
and thousands of people who were in line to register for the
election." Tellingly, Coderre has dismissed the University
of Miami law school's documentation of the violence by the Haitian
National Police as "propaganda reports".
As part of the Canadian government's strategy
to legitimate the elections, the Canadian International Development
Agency (CIDA) is providing two million dollars to Canadian NGOs
to work with Haitian media organizations and journalists for the
"strengthening of the media's ability to provide fair and
balanced reporting". However, looking at the quality of
recent Canadian media coverage on Haiti, one might wonder whether
Canada is in a position to teach anyone a lesson in this regard.
Off the mainstream media radar
Since a February 2004 coup backed by Canada,
the US and France overthrew the democratically elected Haitian
government, liquidating 7000 government officials from office
and dissolving Senate, political repression has been the order
of the day in Haiti. The constitutional Prime Minister, Yvon
Neptune, has been languishing in jail for over a year without
even facing charges, while Father Jean Juste, a priest who was
anticipated to become the leader of Haiti's most popular political
party, Fanmi Lavalas, is also in prison without charges. A study
by the University of Miami's law school has documented escalating
human rights abuses, and there is evidence of a campaign of violence
being waged against the Haitian poor living around Port au Prince,
in neighbourhoods where calls for the return of the constitutional
government have been loudest. In protest against ongoing political
persecution, Lavalas is boycotting the elections process.
With no legitimate government in power,
and the justice system in disarray, there has been a surge in
kidnappings and violence. The de facto Haitian government and
its apologists have repeatedly tried to blame "Aristide supporters"
for recent violence in Haiti, a claim which has provided a convenient
pretext for continued repression of poor Haitians living in neighbourhoods
that have been most vocally opposed to the coup. However, this
opportunistic argument by Haiti's de facto rulers has been widely
challenged. An International Crisis Group report, funded in part
by the Canadian government, has stated that "criminal activities,
particularly drug-trafficking and contraband [...] are behind
much of the current wave of violence"; the report noted that
criminal elements in Haitian society have much to gain from delaying
the reestablishment of the rule of law. (Fenton)
Fair and balanced reporting, anyone?
The Canadian national media has recently
been justifying the continued repression of Lavalas and its supporters
by uncritically parroting the Canadian government and the de facto
Haitian government's unfounded claims that "Aristide supporters"
are responsible for the violent kidnappings. Two recent stories
in the Canadian national media provide a case in point. On August
1, The Globe and Mail published an article that emphasized that
"many observers believe the current level of political violence
is an attempt by gangs loyal to Mr. Aristide to destabilize the
country" . However, the sole evidence cited in the article
to back this claim was the opinions of political players in Haiti
who are known for being anti-Lavalas and pro-coup partisans. One
of The Globe and Mail's sources was a "virulently anti-Aristide
reporter" by the name of Nancy Roc, who until recently worked
for a Haitian radio station which was one of the "active
players in the US campaign to destabilize Haiti's constitutional
government" in 2003-4. The only other source quoted was
the privately-funded Washington, D.C.-based Haiti Democracy Project,
which has close ties with right wing Haitian elites and US foreign
policy elites, and which had been one of the prime groups lobbying
in the US for the constitutional Haitian president to step down.
Meanwhile, on the August 6 edition of
CBC Radio One's The House, Denis Coderre faced not the slightest
challenge from the host of The House when he blamed "people
supporting Mr. Aristide" for kidnappings and other "terrorist
Legitimating the war on the Haitian poor
Both of these recent national media stories
call for the escalation of repressive forces. The Globe and Mail
article stated that UN forces had recently not used as much force
as they ought to have. Similarly, the host of The House stated
that "for more than a year UN forces have been trying to
bring stability to the poor Caribbean nation but there has been
little progress". Speaking about the ongoing problem of
human rights abuses, the CBC host stated, "does Canada not
need to and troops to Haiti again to make sure that these elections
are free and fair and democratic?"
This comes less than a month after the
UN carried out the documented massacre of residents of Cite Solei,
a slum near Port au Prince. While the recent Globe and Mail story
did make mention of this event (referring to it as a positive
and much needed "show of muscle"
by the UN), the newspaper failed to mention the civilian casualties,
stating only that it "left 6 armed gang members dead."
In the context of the violent repression that has been carried
out by UN forces in Haiti, the host of The House's suggestion
that human rights are being undermined because the UN has not
done enough is akin to mandating a fiercer fox to guard the chickens.
Challenging Canada's role in Haiti
Despite the slew of disinformation about
Haiti in the Canadian press, a growing number of people are tuning
in to hear what's going on behind the media charade.
The launch of the Toronto Haiti Action
Committee, which featured Montreal Haitian community activists
Megalie X and Mr. Emmanuele, University of Toronto professor Dr.
Leslie Jermyn, Ottawa Haiti solidarity activist Kevin Skerrett
and activist and Jafrikayiti journalist Jean Saint-Vil, garnered
a turn-out of about 80 people.
Crammed into the University of Toronto's
international student centre, these 80 participants listened to
details about the leading role that Canada has played in the brutal
overthrow of Haitian democracy--from the shameful role that Department
of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) Minister Pierre
Pettigrew has played in legitimating the coup to the Canadian
International Development Agency's (CIDA) cozy relationship with
a partisan, pro-coup front group that, posing as a "human
rights organization", has assisted in the prosecution of
the democratically elected Haitian prime minister Yvon Neptune.
Speakers criticized the racism in Canadian officials' rationalization
of intervention in Haiti through the doctrine of the "Responsibility
to protect," a doctrine which implicitly eschews the principle
of national sovereignty enshrined in the United Nations, and legitimates
interventions by powerful First World governments in Third World
Similar racist assumptions have also animated
much of the Canadian media coverage of recent political events
in Haiti, from the vilification and dehumanization of young Haitian
men from poor neighbourhoods with the term "chimeres"
(a term with deeply classist and racist overtones which made its
way, unexplained by journalists, into Canadian mainstream media
coverage around the time of the coup), to the comments of an Ottawa
Citizen columnist, who charged that the "international community"
had failed, despite years of "help" to Haiti, to create
"a people capable of self-government."
The presentations concluded with a power point presentation by
Saint-Vil featuring photographs of the casualties of the recent
violence and murders that the Haitian National Police and the
United Nations "stabilization" forces have carried out
in poor neighbourhoods in Haiti--a powerful reminder of the violence
that has been executed behind the Canadian media's complicit silence
and its misleading and dehumanizing portrait of Haiti's poor.
Meanwhile, a talk about Haiti the following
day by Justin Podur from znet drew a crowd of over 40 people in
Hamilton, Ontario. With five Canadian cities now officially hosting
active groups integrated with the cross-border network of Haiti
Action Committees, and with residents of Hamilton now talking
about forming their own group, the movement seems poised to keep
This growing Haiti solidarity movement
has already enjoyed a significant victory. The massacre in Cite
Solei saw protest actions in cities across Canada on July 21,
organized in concert with actions across Brazil and the US. The
UN, which had initially denied that any massacre had taken place,
was shamed into announcing that it would investigate the July
6 Cite Solei massacre. This successful day of action came at the
heels of demonstrations on the one-year anniversary of the February
2004 coup, which included a protest of over 500 people in Montreal,
and protests on June 16 and 17 at the Montreal International Conference
on Haiti, as well as protests for Canada day on July 1st.
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