Canada has faced pressure in recent months to lead a military mission in the Caribbean nation, which has been plagued by gang violence. The idea is divisive among Haitians, but the country’s unelected president, Ariel Henry, has requested it, and the United Nations has called for the creation of a “rapid action force” to intervene.
Biden’s administration has appeared skeptical of sending troops to Haiti, which has a long history of U.S. military intervention, and has suggested Canada ought to lead it.
After months of questioning, Trudeau on Wednesday appeared to pour cold water on the idea of “outside intervention” in Haiti.
“Outside intervention, as we’ve done in the past, hasn’t worked to create long-term stability for Haiti, so we are now working closely with partners on the ground to enable the Haitian National Police and other institutions to stabilize the country in this very difficult time,” he told reporters in Newfoundland.
“We will continue to stay focused on working hand in hand with Haitians to get their country back on track.”
Biden will be in Ottawa on March 23 and 24 for his first official visit as president, and the two leaders are expected to discuss the instability in Haiti.
Gang activity has ground Haiti’s economy to a halt and hastened a resurgence of cholera. A United Nations report last month detailed “indiscriminate shootings, executions and rapes.” Police have failed to contain the widespread violence.
Haiti’s political instability has simmered since the 2021 slaying of former president Jovenel Moise. He had faced opposition protests calling for his resignation over corruption charges and claims that his five-year term had ended. He dissolved the majority of parliament in January 2020 after failing to hold legislative elections in 2019 amid political gridlock.
The crisis in Haiti reached new highs in the fall when Henry announced the end to fuel subsidies, causing prices to double.
As a result, a coalition of gangs, which have a significant presence in the country, blocked the entrance to a major fuel terminal, leading to fuel shortages. Hospitals also cut services and businesses, including banks and grocery stores, reduced their hours as the country faced scarce fuel supply.
Clean water has also been hard to find, which led to a resurgence of cholera. Haiti’s last cholera outbreak was in 2010 as a result of United Nations peacekeepers introducing the bacteria into the country’s largest river by sewage. Nearly 10,000 people died and more than 850,000 were sickened.
In January, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said it was critical to identify a country to take the lead on Haiti, and said Canada had expressed an interest in that role, but Trudeau has not committed to it.
Last week, the country’s top soldier told Reuters he was concerned that Canada’s military, which is already stretched thin by support for Ukraine and NATO, doesn’t have the capacity to lead a security mission in Haiti.
“My concern is just our capacity,” Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre told Reuters.
“There’s only so much to go around.… It would be challenging.”
Over the past year, Canada has spent more than $1 billion in military assistance to Ukraine. Now, Canada is preparing to nearly double its presence in Latvia, which shares a border with Russia and Belarus.
Haiti has a troubled history of foreign military intervention, including a 1915 U.S. occupation that lasted 20 years, and more recent UN and U.S. troop deployments following political turmoil and natural disasters, some of which led to allegations of abuse.
In recent months, Canada has sent armoured vehicles to Haitian police, and it has two small ships patrolling the coast. It has also sanctioned several former politicians and gang leaders.
Canadian officials have called for a Haitian-led solution, and while Trudeau reiterated the federal government’s recent steps on Wednesday, he said it’s time for a new approach in Haiti.
“Over the past three decades, Canada has been there for our friends in Haiti in many different ways: we have delivered military missions, we have built hospitals, we’ve trained police officers, delivered prison guards, done a huge amount of intervention, and yet the problems persist,” he said.
“What is clear is that there needs to be a fresh approach to Haiti that actually puts the Haitian people themselves in the driver’s seat on building strong opportunities and a strong democracy for them.”
— with files from Reuters