Montreal Gazette

Canada failing in its pledge to Haitians


The story has been buried amid the fall of Kabul, forest fires in B.C. and the federal election. But I can assure you, it has not gone away. Less than a month after the Aug. 14 earthquake that devastated the south of Haiti, the humanitari­an crisis is still as dire. And the Canadian government's promise to “stand ready to help” has yet to materializ­e into what community leaders have repeatedly been asking for: regularizi­ng the status of Haitian asylum seekers.

At this point, the decision should be a no-brainer. In 2017, many Haitians who had been living and working in the United States fled to Canada when then-president Donald Trump announced their status would be revoked. More have come directly from Haiti, fearing for their lives given the political crisis that no one sees ending any time soon. Just in 2020, of the 1,273 people who asked to be recognized as refugees, only 474 claimants were accepted, while 719 were turned away. The previous year, 2,206 people (out of 3,585 claims treated) were refused. In 2018, 1,555 people (out of 2,256) suffered the same fate. Despite lovely words about Canada being a welcoming place, on average two out of three Haitians who have sought refugee status here in the last few years have been rejected.

Quietly, the government has been deporting hundreds of Haitians. When protests in the country took a turn for the worse, the Canada Border Services Agency declared a moratorium on expulsions as of February 2019 for “humanitari­an reasons.” Since then, armed gangs — several of which have been linked to the republic's ruling party — have solidified their hold over several neighbourh­oods in the capital,

Port-au-prince. Hundreds of people (including some Canadian citizens) have been wounded by gunshots, kidnapped, threatened or killed. The president himself, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinat­ed in July, under circumstan­ces that have yet to be fully elucidated.

Moïse had been clinging to power despite his mandate being over, and was using the COVID-19 crisis as a way to delay holding elections. At this moment, the terms of all Haitian members of parliament have expired. Only 10 senators out of 30 are still in office. The chief judge of the Supreme Court passed away from COVID-19 in June. There is, of course, no president, and the legitimacy of Ariel Henry, who was installed as prime minister at the end of July, is questionab­le to say the least. So much of the Haitian government has been destroyed that there is no constituti­onal path forward for elections to be held.

In the midst of all this, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake hit the country, killing 2,200 people and injuring thousands more. The public servants at the Directorat­e for Civil Protection are co-ordinating a response in spite of the political crisis. It's estimated that 40,000 homes have been destroyed and as many have been severely damaged. Families are displaced in camps, where necessitie­s are missing and their safety — especially for women — is at risk.

What has been Canada's response so far? The federal government announced $5 million in humanitari­an assistance. Of that aid, $2 million was to be distribute­d through a matching fund, intended to encourage individual donations to a select group of national charities (many of which are not exactly known for spending all their funds on local population­s). While this is better than nothing, one needs to admit that relative to the federal budget, we are talking pocket change.

And what of the Haitians who are already here? Justin Trudeau has repeated that “Canada stands ready to help the people of Haiti and offer any assistance they need.” Yet does his offer extend to those who have been asking for status in Canada for years? Are they to continue to live in limbo, not deported yet not regularize­d? For how many more years? After all, if our government thinks Haiti is too unsafe for people to be sent back there, surely their justificat­ion for refusing so many asylum claims no longer holds. Could we not create a program to regularize status for all, and not just the lucky few who have been able to solve the bureaucrat­ic mess that is the CAQ'S “guardian angels” special program? Unless, of course, Canadian authoritie­s can foresee an end to the political, economic and humanitari­an crises in Haiti that Haitians themselves cannot picture.

Since the earthquake, there has been no announceme­nt by the federal government or commitment by electoral candidates on the fate of Haitians living in Canada whose status has not been regularize­d. It surely does not help that the question has yet to be raised on the campaign trail by journalist­s or opposition parties. It is certainly not too late to change that — if Canadians want to stand in solidarity with Haitians not only in words, but also in actions.

 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada