Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude 'Baby Doc' Duvalier attends a news conference in Port-au-Prince in January. Haiti wants Canadian support in prosecuting Duvalier. (St-Felix Evens/Reuters)

The Haitian government wants Canada's help in prosecuting former dictator Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier for crimes against his country.

René Magloire, the current president's special adviser on legal matters and a former Montreal resident, said Haiti's jurists need guidance from their Canadian counterparts.

"There are a number of jurists and Canadian experts who could help the public prosecution office prepare the file," he said, pointing particularly to Quebec.

"There are jurists who would be able to assist, some who worked on international criminal tribunals, so they have experience in similar matters."

Magloire, who was on Parliament Hill appearing before the Commons committee on foreign affairs, also asked for a formal statement of support from Canada for Haiti's prosecution of Duvalier.

Haiti is trying to build a case against Duvalier, who was arrested in January on his return to the country after almost 25 years in exile. Duvalier was accused of corruption and embezzlement, then released.

The Haitians are hoping to drum up support from Quebecers who could eventually testify in a case against the former dictator, the CBC's Dan Halton reported.

'What message would it send to future political leaders? It would send the message that you can commit massive atrocities, you can steal all the wealth of the country, and you can enjoy impunity.' —Payam Akhavan, McGill University

"Not just money, but more so their legal expertise," Halton explained. "[It's] a massively complicated affair, and Magloire says Canada has a duty to help, as one of the western countries that turned a blind eye during the Cold War, when these alleged atrocities were being committed. Magloire wants to see Canada try to redeem that by helping out with offering some legal expertise, some modest financial resources…"

The case is complicated by the fact that Haiti's laws currently make no provision for crimes against humanity. As well, there is a 10-year statute of limitations, and Duvalier still enjoys some apparent popularity in the country.

"A judge now has until April to decide whether formal charges against Jean-Claude Duvalier for crimes against humanity and human rights abuses will go ahead — and whether there will be a trial," Halton said.

The effort has some high-profile support from McGill University law professor Payam Akhavan, who was the first legal adviser when the International Criminal Court pursued members of the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda regimes.

Message to future  leaders

Akhavan calls Duvalier one of the worst tyrants in the Haiti's history and says he mustn't be allowed to go unpunished.

"What message would that send to the people of Haiti?" he asked. "What message would it send to future political leaders? It would send the message that you can commit massive atrocities, you can steal all the wealth of the country, and you can enjoy impunity."

With a presidential election runoff scheduled for March 20, attention is also being focused on Quebec's expatriate Haitian community.

Candidate Mirlande Manigat, who faces former singer Michel (Sweet Micky) Martelly in the  runoff, was in Montreal last week, saying she hopes former presidents Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Duvalier will keep a low profile in the remainder of the campaign.

She was drumming up support in Montreal, urging her compatriots there to take advantage of the democratic process.

Haitians who live abroad won't be able to vote, but the large expat population can play an important role, Manigat said.

"I know they can't vote, but they can inspire family, relatives, friends, neighbours to vote," Manigat said, adding with a laugh: "And of course, to vote for me."

With files from The Canadian Press and the CBC's Laura Payton