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 acts."

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 countries.

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 growing.

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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