Its Policy towards Haiti is a Shameful Episode in Canada’s Recent History

Corporate media bias on foreign policy is more pronounced than most critics even imagine. As part of a recent fact check for A Propaganda System: How Canada’s government, corporations, media and academia sell war and exploitation I discovered my own misplaced trust.

I searched Canadian Newsstand to confirm no media outlet commented on or investigated a 2011 Canadian Press report demonstrating Ottawa militarized its response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti to control the population. According to an internal file CP uncovered through an access to information request, Canadian officials worried that “political fragility has increased the risks of a popular uprising, and has fed the rumour that ex-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, currently in exile in South Africa, wants to organize a return to power.” The government documents CP acquired also explain the importance of strengthening the Haitian authorities ability “to contain the risks of a popular uprising.”

To police Haiti’s traumatized and suffering population 2,000 Canadian troops were deployed (alongside 10,000 US soldiers). At the same time the half dozen Heavy Urban Search and Rescue Teams in cities across the country were readied but never deployed because, reported the Toronto Sun five days after the earthquake, foreign affairs “opted to send Canadian Armed Forces instead.”

I assumed the CP article was picked up by various media outlets, but that its revelations were ignored in subsequent reporting. It was cited alongside other examples of information that upends the dominant thinking only to be sent down the memory hole. But, the suppression was far more significant than I remembered/imagined. Canadian Newsstand shows only the Kamloops Daily News ran CP’s initial report in its paper (a recent Google search found three outlets put it on their website). In a remarkable example of bias, news editors across the country, who mostly have access to CP and often rely on the wire service for a significant share of their copy, considered this explosive information un-newsworthy.

While A Propaganda System details media bias on topics ranging from Palestine to East Timor, investment agreements to the mining industry, the suppression of critical information regarding Canada’s role in Haiti over the past decade and a half is particularly stark. On two occasions last year Huffington Post blocked my reference to Canadian officials citing the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine to justify destabilizing and overthrowing Haiti’s elected government in 2004. In an article linking newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to past Liberal governments’ foreign policy I wrote:

Canadian officials also cited R2P to justify cutting off assistance to Haiti’s elected government and then intervening militarily in the country in February 2004. In discussing the January 2003 Ottawa Initiative on Haiti, where high level US, Canadian and French officials discussed overthrowing elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Liberal Secretary of State for Latin America and Minister for La Francophonie Dennis Paradis explained that ‘there was one thematic that went under the whole meeting… The responsibility to protect.’ Similarly, in a highly censored February 11, 2004 cable from the embassy in Port-au-Prince to Foreign Affairs, Canadian ambassador Kenneth Cook explained that ‘President Aristide is clearly a serious aggravating factor in the current crisis’ and that there is a need to ‘consider the options including whether a case can be made for the duty [responsibility] to protect.’

While I supplied a link to the interview between independent journalist Anthony Fenton and Dennis Paradis and another to the documents Fenton uncovered through access to information, the editor said “we need mainstream sources to verify the facts in your blog and unfortunately the facts below are only in the publications cited (or printed elsewhere by the same authors).” I replied, “Huffington Post cannot publish something if it has not been in the corporate media. This seems like a fairly major flaw/admission and I’m very curious to know if it is official policy?” Rather than answer my question, they published the piece but removed the paragraph on Haiti, taking the position that since the corporate media had ignored the destabilization of Haiti’s elected government during the previous decade they should too.

This isn’t exactly correct. In fact, all of this was reported – in a government trial balloon designed to gauge the public’s response – a year before the coup actually took place. In a March 15, 2003 article titled “Haiti put under U.N. Tutelage?” L’Actualité, Quebec’s equivalent to Maclean’s, mentioned R2P when it reported on the Ottawa Initiative on Haiti meeting where Canadian, French and US officials discussed ousting elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, putting Haiti under UN trusteeship and re-creating the Haitian army. But, the dominant media has largely ignored the Ottawa Initiative meeting since the l’Actualité report, even though information about it is easily accessible online and solidarity activists across the country referenced it repeatedly. A recent Canadian Newsstand search found not one single English language report about the meeting (except for mentions by myself and two other Haiti solidarity activists in opinion pieces).

A stark contrast exists between how Canadian policy in Haiti has been portrayed in the dominant media versus left media outlets. Dozens of articles, reports, theses, documentaries and books have detailed various aspects of Canada’s violent, antidemocratic, policy in that country over the past decade and a half. But, only tidbits of the story have been reported in the corporate media.

Canadian policy towards the hemisphere’s most impoverished country is a shameful episode in this country’s recent history. It also demonstrates the importance of reading, contributing to and funding left media.

Yves Engler is the author of 12 books. His latest book is Stand on Guard for Whom?: A People's History of the Canadian Military . Read other articles by Yves.