On July 7, 2021, Haitian president Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in circumstances that, even a month later, remain murky. His death, and the manhunt that followed, shocked Haiti and the world.

It is impossible to know whether the assassination could have been avoided, but it is arguable that Haiti’s situation could have been less precarious if developed countries had offered proper, sufficient assistance to the country beforehand.

The political crisis generated by this event is only one of the crises that Haitians are currently experiencing. Gang violence, a lack of COVID-19 vaccines, the precarious state of healthcare facilities, plague Haiti, sinking the country further into instability. A 7.2-magnitude earthquake, striking on August 14, makes matters significantly worse, with the full scope of destruction yet to be revealed.

Due to the instability, thousands of Haitians have been forced to flee the country, putting pressure on countries like Canada, the U.S., and others to open their borders.

After news of the assassination broke, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Twitter that Canada was ready to help Haiti. “I strongly condemn the appalling assassination of President Moïse this morning,” Trudeau wrote. “Canada stands ready to support the people of Haiti and offer any assistance they need.”

While Trudeau’s offer is a nice gesture of solidarity for Haitians, it raises a few questions. Firstly, why did Canada wait until the situation got this dire in Haiti before offering assistance to the country? Surely, the pandemic has captured most of the international community’s attention this year, shifting Canada’s focus to domestic policy (to the detriment of foreign policy).

That said – considering most Canadians are getting their second doses – the devastating socio-economic situation of developing countries like Haiti should be one of Canada’s top priorities. While Canadians are worried about when life can return to a pre-COVID-19 ‘normal,’ citizens of developing countries like Haiti are having a hard time simply keeping their heads above water.

Haiti struggled to provide healthcare, and other basic needs, even before the pandemic, and will most likely continue to struggle when the pandemic is over.

The Trudeau government is on the right path in helping developing countries fight COVID-19 with its recent #GiveAVax Fund. This fund, created in partnership with UNICEF, aims to deliver two billion COVAX vaccines, “along with syringes and safe disposal boxes,” to lower-income countries. Donations from individual Canadians will be matched by the federal government, up to $10 million.

Haiti struggled to provide healthcare, and other basic needs, even before the pandemic, and will most likely continue to struggle when the pandemic is over; the country’s slow progress on its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) speaks to a broader disconnect between aspiration and action. For that reason, the #GiveAVax Fund is welcome and much needed in Haiti, but only a first step in stamping out Haiti’s lingering structural issues.

For Haiti’s situation to improve, Canada should invest more in foreign aid and diversified forms of international assistance. This could help prevent humanitarian crises from piling up on top of each other.

Secondly, considering that Haiti is already Canada’s largest foreign aid recipient in Latin America, is foreign aid alone enough to assist Haiti?

In 2019, according to the Canadian International Development Platform (CIDP), about 1.5% of Canada’s foreign aid was disbursed in Haiti, making it the 11th-largest recipient of Canadian foreign aid and the largest recipient in the Americas.

Yet Haiti has received 21% less international assistance from Canada since 2011, which represents the second sharpest decline in Canada’s year-over-year international assistance levels after Afghanistan, which stands at 22%.

At the time of Haiti’s January 2010 earthquake, Canada’s annual foreign aid contributions toward the country exceeded $300 million. This amount decreased considerably from 2011 to 2014. Since then, it has stabilized to around $100 million per year.

Considering Haiti’s current situation, Canada should not only provide more international assistance to Haiti, but improved forms of assistance. As demonstrated by the CIDP, international development assistance is not only about foreign aid; it is also about trade, investment, migration, and remittance flows.

“To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength. #WelcometoCanada.

Prime minister Justin Trudeau

Canada could assist Haiti by finding a way to receive more refugee protection claims as part of a wider policy of addressing Latin America’s refugee crisis as a whole.

Since 2017, Canada has received only a fraction of Haiti’s refugee protection claims. In 2020, only 37% of Haiti’s refugee protection claims were received by Canada, representing 474 out of 1273 claims. The rest were either refused or abandoned in the process. Trudeau seems to understand that Haiti needs help locally, but he should go beyond and assist all Haitians, including those who seek protection in Canada.

In 2017, after one of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration announcements, Trudeau announced on Facebook: “To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength. #WelcometoCanada”.

Following Trudeau’s announcement, many Haitians tried to settle in Canada. Unfortunately for them, they soon encountered Canada’s complicated refugee and asylum processes.  In 2017, these processes were particularly unsuccessful. That year, Canada rejected 90% of asylum claims filed by Haitians. It was then revealed that Trudeau’s ostensibly ‘welcoming’ message to Haitians and what really happened at the borders was contradictory.

This year, the story repeats itself. On July 13, 2021, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas warned Haitians and Cubans in crisis that they “will not [be allowed to] come to the United States” if they try to flee by sea.

Trudeau’s government must now decide if it wants to keep the welcoming promise it once made to the Haitians – or if it wants to mimic the U.S’s stricter stance on immigration.

There is still hope for improved Canadian assistance to Haiti. Trudeau has offered Canada’s help to Haiti and his government is fighting COVID-19 in the region. What’s more, he seems to be, at the the very least, aware of Canada’s complicated refugee and asylum processes.

This is not the end, but a beginning, to ensure the well-being of Haitians. Canada will have to prioritize action, rather than tweets, to show Haiti that it really cares.

Jérémy Cotton is an MA candidate at Carleton’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. Jérémy specializes in International Development Policy.

Photo Credit: Peru’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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