Montreal Gazette

Canada's values tested as chaos hits Haiti

Compassion is not enough, write Julia Anderson and

- Mark Brender. Julia Anderson is the CEO of the Canadian Partnershi­p for Women and Children's Health. She lives in Peterborou­gh, Ont. Mark Brender is the national director of Partners In Health Canada. He lives in Toronto.

There are no two ways about it: Haiti is in a dire place.

Gangs now control more than 80 per cent of the capital, having killed 1,200 people and injuring nearly 700 more in 2024 alone. More than 362,000 people have been internally displaced. Millions need humanitari­an aid. Rates of food insecurity are among the worst in the world.

Now, the resignatio­n of Prime Minister Ariel Henry raises the question of what comes next. Echoes of the same question reverberat­e here in Canada — Haiti's second-largest bilateral donor after the United States.

Canada has a long history of investing in Haiti, providing more than $1.87 billion in funding since the 2010 earthquake, including $100 million in internatio­nal assistance just last year. Focus areas have spanned from education to gender-based violence, to nutrition and beyond — all closely aligned with Canada's internatio­nal assistance priorities.

These investment­s have not been for naught. When support is delivered through local partners, focused on local priorities, the outcomes are both transforma­tive and lifesaving. Funds like these offer pathways to dignity, and uplift communitie­s where hope is a rare commodity.

But to put it bluntly, our efforts haven't been good enough, or effective enough. The need in Haiti has far outweighed the level and type of support to date — support that has actually declined compared with pre-2010 earthquake levels.

This comes as no surprise to the internatio­nal co-operation sector, where ties to Haiti run deep.

One of those organizati­ons, Partners in Health (PIH), was founded in Haiti nearly four decades ago. Known as Zanmi Lasante in Haiti, PIH is the country's largest health-care provider after the Ministry of Health, with its 6,300 Haitian staff now living the crisis and responding in real time — knowing the instabilit­y is making people sicker, and more in need of care, while the broader health system collapses.

PIH'S late co-founder Dr. Paul Farmer often spoke of “pragmatic solidarity.” He believed in taking practical steps to address the immediate material needs of the most vulnerable, while also attacking root causes of poverty and disease rather than being consumed by them.

Pragmatic solidarity is a sound approach for what should come next from Canada.

We categorica­lly reject suggestion­s that Canada should stand aside while the country burns. We reject the low ambitions of Band-aid solutions and the hubris of outside-imposed master plans that have failed Haiti for decades.

Pragmatic solidarity calls for a robust humanitari­an response. It requires strengthen­ing Haitian social safety nets with a generation­al partnershi­p commitment to support the capacity building of Haitian institutio­ns, led by Haitians. The first step must be to help stop the violence.

None of this will be easy, and it won't come quickly. But alongside necessary security investment­s and political reform, a long-term focus on addressing immediate material needs — health care, education, food security — is essential. Without it, millions of people will have no chance of lifting themselves out of poverty, and the cycle of instabilit­y will continue.

UN support is equally paramount. Canada should leverage its influence to encourage increased internatio­nal assistance. However, we must also make a concerted effort to use assistance funds more efficientl­y. For far too long, donor countries have used political instabilit­y as an excuse to undermine national institutio­ns rather than support them through mutual accountabi­lity frameworks.

By making a generation­al commitment of 20 years, Canada can set a new standard for meaningful long-term partnershi­p. This commitment should be accompanie­d by a programmin­g strategy concentrat­ed on a select group of developmen­t partners with a profound grasp of Haiti's unique challenges.

The time for the sympatheti­c status quo is long behind us. For Canada to live the values it champions, we need to move beyond compassion. It's time to get unapologet­ically practical.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada