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Officials dodge question of Canada’s possible role in military mission in Haiti

Haiti ravaged by plunderous gangs amid a worsening cholera outbreak
Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a news conference with Canada’s Foreign Minister Melanie Joly, Friday, Sept. 30, 2022, at the State Department in Washington. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Ottawa today, where he will meet with Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Jacquelyn Martin

Efforts to organize a multilateral military intervention in gang-ravaged Haiti are ongoing — but neither Antony Blinken nor Mélanie Joly was willing to say publicly Thursday whether Canada would be tapped to lead it.

The U.S. secretary of state and his Canadian foreign-affairs counterpart met in Ottawa on day 1 of Blinken’s two-day visit north of the border, his first in person since becoming the Biden administration’s top diplomat last year.

They discussed Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, the escalating protests over women’s rights in Iran and Canada’s newly announced decision to seek membership in a U.S.-led trade framework in the Indo-Pacific, among other things.

But addressing the crisis in leaderless Haiti, a place ravaged by plunderous gangs amid a worsening cholera outbreak, has taken on fresh urgency — especially after U.S. officials name-checked Canada this week as a potential key player.

Any such mission would be “limited in scope,” Blinken said, and focused on providing support to overwhelmed police forces in Haiti so that security can be restored, humanitarian aid can flow and elections can take place.

“We’re talking between us, but also … with many other countries about who might be willing to participate in such a mission, as well as who will lead it,” Blinken told a news conference with Joly at his side.

“That’s an ongoing conversation that we’re both having, and having with others. So this is a work in progress, and we’re continuing to pursue it.”

Haiti, Joly said, is now facing a “triple crisis” that has been developing ever since President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in July 2021: a near-total lack of public security, a deepening humanitarian disaster and a powerless interim government.

Marauding, warring gangs have taken over key institutions in the capital city of Port-au-Prince and elsewhere, and are blockading access to a key oil terminal, exacerbating a shortage of basic goods, clean water and medical services.

On top of it all, the country is contending with a cholera outbreak. Haiti’s health ministry said as of Sunday it was aware of 2,243 people with suspected cases and 55 who have died — numbers that the UN says likely understate the extent of the disaster.

Earlier Thursday, Joly announced Canada is undertaking an “assessment mission” in Haiti to get a sense of the situation on the ground, consult with regional partners and determine how best to “contribute to the international response.”

“We’ve said it many times: we will always support solutions that are by and for Haitians, because we believe in the fact that solutions are better, when … they’re taken by them and that we support them,” she said.

“We need to make sure that it is, yes, Canada and the U.S. collaborating with the Haitians, but also with many other countries. At the end of the day, we need to make sure that there is strong legitimacy for this approach.”

Canada and the U.S. have already sent armoured vehicles, and the United Nations is considering a military intervention to restore order, which has been endorsed by UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

U.S. officials say that resolution is expected to pass by early November, and have expressly mentioned Canada as a candidate to lead such a mission.

“There are a number of countries that have the skills to do that, and among those countries is Canada,” Blinken’s deputy for the Western Hemisphere, Brian Nichols, said earlier this week during a media briefing in advance of the trip.

One significant step Canada could take, Joly said, would be to impose sanctions on the individuals and organizations that are involved in financing the gangs and their lawlessness.

“We need to make sure that we have a strong approach when it comes to sanctioning” in tandem with parallel efforts that are taking shape at the UN Security Council, she said.

“The conversation regarding sanctions is well and alive, and we need to make sure that the people that are benefiting from the violence in the streets of Port-au-Prince are held accountable.”

Blinken and Joly also discussed the latest Canada-U.S. irritant: a standoff over the trusted-traveller program known as Nexus, a bilateral effort between border authorities to fast-track pre-screened visitors.

While Nexus offices in the U.S. — shuttered during the COVID-19 pandemic — have been open since April, Canada’s 13 enrolment centres remain closed because Customs and Border Protection refuses to send agents to staff them.

The agency wants its Nexus agents in Canada to have the same level of legal protection they enjoy at existing ports of entry like the land border and airports, but the federal government has suggested such changes would be impossible.

Both Blinken and Joly suggested Thursday that the two close allies will be able to resolve the impasse sooner rather than later.

“We are in solution mode and we will find a solution, I am convinced,” Joly said.

—James McCarten, The Canadian Press

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