Canadian Media on Haiti

Yves Engler

November 05, 2004

Haiti's a mess. That's about as much we get from Canada's dominant media.

The picture of Haiti we receive through the media is greatly distorted by uncritical reporting of both the Canadian (and US) government's position on Haiti as well as those of installed President Gerard Latortue's regime.

Our media simply reprints government statements that point to former president Aristide's supporters as the main agitators in any instance of violence. Most notably in reporting about the recent upsurge in violence the media parroted out the term, "operation Baghdad", coined by Latortue in reference to the violence allegedly caused by Aristide supporters.

Probably of more significance in the overall media distortion, however, is the downplaying (omission) of information contrary to the Canadian Government line that would have us not only believe that supporters of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide are to blame for Haiti's problem, but that Canada's presence (100 RCMP officers who command the UN police contingent) is helping Haiti out.

The following are a few recent examples of important information the mainstream media downplayed.

Last Tuesday, according to numerous eyewitnesses, Haitian police rounded up 12 young men in the Fort National slum. The police forced them to lie down and shot them in the back of the head. Ambulances waiting nearby immediately took away the bodies.

Even though numerous international media organizations reported on the affair and the United Nations special envoy to Haiti cited the incident as needing investigation Canadian media barely reported on the killings. CBC online ran a article but nothing in the Globe and Mail, National Post, Montreal gazette, Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Star or Quebec's Le Soleil.

Montreal's La Presse printed a passing mention of the incident halfway through a 150 word blurb on Haiti.

Similarly, last Thursday four young men from Bel Air, a slum stronghold of Aristide, were executed by Haitian Police. Again this story was reported by a number of international media organizations though I have yet to see anything about the killings in the seven previously mentioned papers or elsewhere in the Canadian media.

Two weeks ago, according to Haitian journalist Kevin Pina, the Port au Prince morgue director announced that it was filled to capacity with 600 dead bodies. No major media outlet has reported on this announcement and Canadian papers continue to run articles claiming there have only been 79 people killed since September 30th when violence resurged.

On October 13th Gerard Jean-Juste, a prominent Catholic priest and Lavalas (Aristide's Party) supporter was arrested while serving food at a soup kitchen he runs for poor children. A couple of Canadian newspapers reported on the arrest from the government's perspective and then still, not prominently. And none of the seven papers I mentioned earlier followed up on the story even though mainstream groups such as Amnesty International released statements condemning the arbitrary arrest and it was revealed that three children were shot during the operation.

Jean-Juste was arrested for disturbing the peace, which according to Haitian law demands an 11 gourde - 40 cent - fine. More than two weeks later he's still in jail with a dozen high-ranking Lavalas officials and untold hundreds of less prominent Lavalas supporters (or people who simply live in poor neighborhoods). England's Observer reports that as of Sunday only "21 of the nearly 1,000 inmates [in the penitentiary] have been convicted of anything."

Two Sundays ago, according to the Associated Press, ten armored cars lead a major military/police incursion into Bel Air. Canadian Police led the raid yet it was barely of interest to our media (the Gazette had 50 word on the event) even though entering an Aristide stronghold to provide cover for house-to-house searches and arrests is highly political. Many observers have criticized the United Nations (two Canadian forces in the UN command structure) for disarming anyone aligned with Aristide while allowing the paramilitaries to control large swaths of the country. The former soldiers who killed police during the revolt against Aristide have still not been charged with any crimes and they openly intimidate people by brandishing weapons in demonstrations across the country.

The issue of paramilitaries controlling major regions of the country and terrorizing the population has been denounced over the past several months by numerous rights organizations, however, you wouldn't know that by reading Canadian papers. This past week Guyana's foreign minister Rudy Insanally remarked: "rebels are parading around the country with all sorts of consequences." His comments were part of a statement reiterating Guyana's opposition to reestablishing Haiti's membership within the 15-member Caribbean Community (Caricom), which has been frozen since shortly after Aristide's February 29 ouster. Canadian media rarely acknowledges that Caricom refuses to recognize Haiti because to do so would bring into question the legitimacy of Canada's operations in Haiti.

Reporting on Caricom's rationale for freezing Haiti's membership - they don't want to support an illegitimate government - would lead Canadians to ask, "was my government involved in removing an elected head of state?" And "have their actions lead to the death of hundreds, if not thousands of people?" An empathic yes would undoubtedly be the informed conclusion.

Instead the media (and Liberal government) cite Canada's military mission in Haiti as a good reason to increase funding for the armed forces. Why not, there is barely any information or prominent people contradicting the government's position on Haiti. But it is an article of faith on the left that military funding ($13 billion annually) should be cut and the money spent on social programs. Yet, Canadian unions, mainstream left wing columnists and especially the NDP have been unwilling to challenge Canada's military (political) involvement in Haiti.

How come? Certainly there is substantial compassion for Haiti's impoverished population, as evidenced by the outpouring of aid after Haiti's recent floods. In addition, how can we (the left) argue that military funding is a waste when we are unable to stand up and say "no Canada's military is not a force for good in Haiti"?