Liberal government announces $100M in aid to shore up police forces in Haiti
UN concerned as 'extreme violence continues to spiral out of control' in the country
Canada will provide $100 million in aid to the Haitian National Police to help the country restore law and order as gang-fuelled violence continues to cause widespread human suffering across the Caribbean nation.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement Friday during U.S. President Joe Biden's two-day visit to Ottawa, during which the president was expected to press Canada to take a leadership role in restoring order in Haiti.
Determined to avoid being dragged into the quagmire of urban violence in Haiti, Canada has pushed back against calls to lead an armed international stabilizing force.
Friday's announcement says the $100 million will be used "to bolster Haitian-led solutions to the crisis and support peace and security." The wording suggests that Haitians, not Canadians, will be at the sharp point of the spear.
A government statement said Canada is also imposing sanctions on two more Haitians: former senator Nenel Cassy and businessman and former presidential candidate Steeve Khawly. Their assets in Canada will be frozen and they will no longer be allowed into the country.
The funding announcement comes days after the UN issued a statement expressing grave concern for the country because "extreme violence continues to spiral out of control."
According to the UN, 531 people have been killed, 300 have been injured and 277 have been kidnapped in gang-related incidents that took place mainly in the capital of Port-au-Prince between Jan. 1 and March 15 of this year.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Marta Hurtado said that in the first two weeks of March alone, clashes among gangs killed 208 and injured 164, while another 101 were kidnapped.
"Most of the victims were killed or injured by snipers who were reportedly randomly shooting at people in their homes or on the streets," said a statement issued by Hurtado.
"Sexual violence is also used by gangs against women and girls to terrorize, subjugate and punish the population. Gang members frequently use sexual violence against abducted girls to pressure families to pay a ransom."
The violence has led to the displacement of at least 160,000 Haitians, while surging prices for food have left half of the country's 11 million citizens without enough to eat.
Leading Haiti mission 'would be challenging': Eyre
Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre said this month he doubted Canada could pull off such a mission right now, given its commitments in Europe.
"My concern is just our capacity," he told Reuters earlier this month. "There's only so much to go around ... It would be challenging."
Retired lieutenant general Steve Bowes ran Canadian Joint Operations Command, the headquarters charged with planning such interventions. He said a fight against Haiti's gangs would be much like the army's long war with the Taliban.
"For all intents and purposes, the gangs act as insurgents," he told CBC News. "So it's not dissimilar."
Port-au-Prince is a mountainous city built around a bay, with about three million inhabitants and some of the world's most crowded shantytowns. It is controlled by a patchwork of dozens of gangs, several of which have grouped together into larger alliances such as G9 and GPep.
All of the gang leaders live off the proceeds of kidnapping and extortion and terrorize the city to squeeze money from its impoverished population.
Their arms and ammunition mostly enter Haiti through its loosely-controlled port, which includes terminals controlled by elite Haitian families and businessmen accused of arming the gangs and employing them to further their own interests.
With files from Reuters and the CBC's Evan Dyer