No Contrition From Canadian Press Over Haiti

  Source:Canuck Media Monitor (CMM)

On February 29, 2004, Haiti’s democratically elected government under Jean Bertrand Aristide was overthrown in a coup strongly backed by Canada. Unsurprisingly, the coup led to 4000 political killings in the two year period that followed according to a scientific survey published in the Lancet medical journal. [1] Haiti’s jails were also filled with political prisoners. Overwhelmingly, the perpetrators of these crimes were Canada’s allies in Haiti. Today the perpetrators remain not only at large, but on the job with the Haitian police, the judiciary and UN "peacekeepers" (MINUSTAH). The fifth year anniversary of the coup passed with no sign of contrition, or even awareness, in the Canadian press about the lethal propaganda it has spread about Haiti.


The following information was readily available to journalists before US troops removed Aristide from Haiti on February 29, 2004 while Canadian soldiers secured the airport. [2]

After invading Haiti and imposing a brutal occupation between the years 1915 – 1934, the US departed after ensuring that the Haitian army would keep control. A series of US backed dictators, most notoriously the Duvaliers, murderously enriched themselves and foreign (mainly US) investors. It is widely accepted that the Duvaliers are responsible for the murder of 50,000 Haitians. That estimate does not include those who died from the abject poverty the regime imposed on them. Today, at least 40% of the external debt the Haiti is obliged to pay stems from loans made to the Duvaliers.

In 1991, seven months after an electoral victory applauded around the world as the birth of Haitian democracy, President Jean Bertrand Aristide was overthrown in a military coup. The junta immediately began a campaign to destroy Lavalas – the movement of Haiti’s poor majority that brought Aristide to power. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) the military killed at least 3000 to 4000 people while it was in power. The US finally ordered the junta to step down in 1994 after outrageous concessions were secured from Aristide. HRW published very detailed reports highlighting the US imposed concessions. The US (under Clinton) insisted that the perpetrators of the coup not only escape justice but penetrate the security forces of his government. For years HRW publicly asked the US to deport Emmanuel Constant, leader of the FRAPH death squads, and to return 160,000 pages of documents seized from FRAPH offices. The US refused to return the documents unless the names of US citizens were deleted. HRW explained US efforts to keep criminals out of jail and on the job as follows:

"Washington’s reasons ranged from a misguided belief that the army was the only institution capable of securing order in Haiti to a realpolitik calculation that the army was necessary to keep leftist political forces in check." [my emphasis]

The US also insisted that Aristide implement economic polices favored by the Haitian elite who had backed the coup. All of this was consistent with US policy objectives in Haiti and throughout Latin America for over a century – ensure that a pro-US elite remains firmly in control – preferably while maintaining a democratic facade but through outright dictatorship if necessary.

In 1995, ignoring US objections, Aristide disbanded the Haitian army. That year Rene Preval, another Lavalas leader, was elected president. Aristide was obliged to step aside because the Haitian constitution does not allow two consecutive terms, and because the US insisted that Aristide’s years in exile count as years in office. In 1995 the US began to block the disbursement of aid to Haiti in retaliation for Aristide’s, then Preval’s, reluctance to implement unpopular "free market reforms".

The US spent 70 million dollars between 1994 and 2002 directly on Haitian NGOs in an attempt to build up Aristide’s political opponents.

The US greatly intensified economic sanctions against the Haitian government after the legislative elections in 2000 were won handily by Lavalas candidates. The elections of 2000 were not only free and fair, but the results were completely in line with what US commissioned polls had predicted. The OAS observers initially praised the elections but later objected to the way voting percentages were calculated. According to the OAS several senate seats, out of thousands legislative positions contested, should have gone to a second round. The OAS knew about the procedure for calculating voting percentages beforehand. The procedure had been used, without objection, in previous elections observed by the OAS. Though the OAS conceded that the procedure made no significant impact on the results it became the basis for widespread claims that the 2000 elections were "deeply flawed", "fraudulent" or "stolen" depending on the ignorance or audacity of the commentator.

Months after the legislative elections, Aristide won the presidential election in a landslide as very unpopular opposition candidates boycotted using the "flawed" legislative elections as a pretext. The OAS bolstered the opposition’s efforts to discredit the elections of 2000 by refusing to monitor the presidential election. Objections to the legislative elections were rendered even more trivial when the winners of the disputed senate seats stepped down a few months after Aristide’s inauguration in 2001.

The severity of the sanctions imposed on Haiti, already among the poorest nations in the world, would have been very hard to justify even if the 2000 elections had been "flawed" as Aristide’s opponents claimed. The US, joined by Canada in 2002, blocked 500 million dollars worth of aid to the Haitian government between the years 2001 to 2004. To put that in proportion, the Haitian government’s total budget in 2003 was only $300 million (with roughly $60 million per year of those meager funds diverted towards servicing debt).

Despite relentless US efforts to undermine Aristide, polls commissioned in 2002 by USAID found that Aristide remained by far Haiti’s most popular politician. Though he would not be constitutionally allowed to run for another term, it was clear that the Lavalas movement was very likely to prevail at the polls again. By February of 2004 armed insurgents launched raids in northern Haiti and were threatening to march into Port-au-Prince.

Some of the Best Haiti Coverage in Canadian Press

The constraints that the corporate press imposes on public debate are most clearly understood by looking at the best coverage on any given topic, not the worst. Consider the following bright spots in the Canadian media’s Haiti coverage since February of 2004 based on a Lexis search of major newspapers.

1) Paul Knox says that ‘Aristide’s Fate must not be decided thugs and cynics"

Very recently Paul Knox reviewed Canadian author Peter Hallward’s book (Damning the Flood) about the 2004 coup and its consequences. In that book review Knox wrote

"As a Globe and Mail reporter and columnist, I spent four weeks in Haiti in February-March 2004. In a column published four days before Aristide’s departure, I called for Canada and other nations to send a multinational force to bolster his government against the insurgents. To my knowledge, I was the first Canadian journalist to do so. Nevertheless, readers should know that some commentators accuse the Canadian news media of complicity in Aristide’s overthrow, and that I am not spared in their analysis."

The article that Knox referred to was published on February 25, 2004 with the title "Aristide’s fate must not be decided by thugs and cynics". True enough, Knox wrote that Canada should try to prevent the ouster of Aristide’s government, but in that article Knox also wrote that Aristide

"….failed to curb violence among his own supporters, alienated influential backers and shown remarkably little skill at alliance-building. The election in 2000 that brought him to a second term as President was hardly a thorough sounding of the popular will."

Knox argued in favor preventing a coup, but then undercut his argument by casting aspersions on Aristide’s legitimacy and human rights record – something Knox had done in several reports from Haiti during those crucial weeks before the coup. I had exchanged emails with him at the time about his reports. The exchange is archived online and I won’t go over it in detail. The main thing revealed is that Knox ignored information that was readily available and that, if reported, would have made it difficult for Canada to support the coup. Knox wrote a total of roughly 15,000 words in several reports from Haiti in February of 2004. In about 200 words (as shown above) he could have thoroughly demolished the bogus claims about the elections of 2000. All that was required was a little research he could have done from his office in Canada. Instead, Knox failed to get basic facts straight – like distinguishing between the presidential and legislative elections of 2000. [3]

Knox now concedes that human rights abuses under Aristide were "greatly exaggerated". However, this also could have been shown through minimal research.

As part of an article published in May of 2004, Peter Hallward (not a professional journalist) reviewed Amnesty International reports and other sources. Despite the ever present threat of a coup (a coup attempt was thwarted in 2001), and the assassination of Aristide supporters, it was clear that human rights abuses under Aristide did not begin to approach what had taken place under the despised regimes of the past. Perhaps 30 political killings can be attributed to the police or Aristide supporters during his second term (2001-2004). Some estimates run as low as 10. Unlike Knox and countless journalists at the time, Hallward provided context and noted that the Aristide government’s control over the police, thanks to deliberate US efforts, was limited.

Before leaving the Globe and Mail to teach journalism, Paul Knox rejected an article about Haiti submitted by Yves Engler, one of the author’s of the book "Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority." [4]

2) Toronto Star blasts Canada for standing "idly by"

On March 1, 2004, a day after the coup, The Toronto Star said

"Prime Minister Paul Martin stood idly by as Aristide, re-elected in 2000, was driven into exile – for the second time by a small band of 300 armed opponents."

This statement, though critical, tacitly endorsed the official US (and Canadian) version of events about what took place the night Aristide was removed from Haiti. Moreover, it was already obvious that Canada had not "stood idly by". Among other things, Canada had joined the US in imposing brutal economic sanctions on Aristide’s government, and joined the propaganda campaign against Aristide.

Nevertheless, this editorial must count as a high point in the media’s coverage compared to what other Canadian newspapers were saying:

The Montreal Gazette, making no attempt to be humorous, ran an editorial entitled "Only U.S. can help Haiti now" on February, 26, 2004 – just as the consequences of US "help" were about to bear fruit for the Haitian elite.

The Globe and Mail wrote:

"Aristide’s fall from power yesterday was mainly a result of his own misrule… When Mr. Aristide finally fled early yesterday morning, the international community, and many Haitians as well, said good riddance."

The National Post editors could not resist putting their bigotry on full display in an editorial that disparaged not just Aristide but all Haitians. The title of the editorial, appropriately enough given the racist content, was "Voodoo is not enough".

Even the Toronto Star, in its editorial, would feel obliged to say the following about Aristide

"…with his divisive style, his alleged corruption and his reliance on gangs to impose control, those who seem likeliest to replace him arrive with still less legitimacy."

The best editorial written at the time spread the propaganda that made the coup possible – that Aristide’s government was basically criminal and its legitimacy dubious.

3) Marina Jimenez mentions Thomas Griffin and Father Gerard Jean-Juste

Another high point in the media’s coverage came from an unlikely source. Marina Jimenez consistently produced articles after the coup that uncritically regurgitated assertions made by Canadian and Haitian officials. One her worst was an article from January 22, 2005 ("Backyard Bagdad"). [5]

However, a lengthy article of hers from February 7, 2005 (Haitians languish in squalor awaiting trial) made mention of a detailed report about human rights conditions in Haiti after the coup. The report was written by Thomas Griffin of the University of Miami’s Center for the Study of Human Rights. It was published in November of 2004. Since then, according to a Lexis search, only eight articles in Canadian newspapers have mentioned it.

The Jimenez article also mentioned the case of Father Gerard Jean-Juste – a prominent Aristide ally who was illegally arrested twice after the coup (the second occurring months after the Jimenez article). He was declared a "prisoner of conscience" by Amnesty International after his second arrest. Jean-Juste’s imprisonment disqualified him from running as a candidate in the Presidential election of 2006. The dictatorship insisted that he register in person – something he could not do from his jail cell.

The Jimenez article was the only one in a US or Canadian newspaper to mention both the Thomas Griffin report and Gerard Jean-Juste. [6] Her aritcle focused on Yvon Neptune, the former Prime Minister under Aristide who remained a political prisoner of the dictatorship for almost two years.

Jimenez reported Griffin’s conclusion that the courts were ""twisted against poor young men, dissidents and anyone calling for the return of the constitutional government," However, her article omitted facts that should have been of tremendous interest to any Canadian journalist who had read Griffin’s report. Griffin had uncovered that the Canadian government (through CIDA – the Canadian International Development Agency) was paying the salary of Haiti’s Deputy Minister of Justice, Philippe Vixamar. [7] The report went into detail about the close working relationship between CIDA; the Haitian judiciary and police; and a Haitian "human rights group" known at the time as the National Coalition for Human Rights – NCHR.

Pierre Esperance, the director of NCHR, was quoted in the Jimenez article justifying the Jean-Juste arrest by citing police "suspicions". She did not point out that Esperasnce’s group was the official human rights group of the dictatorship. The group vetted police and the regime had formally agreed to prosecute anyone Esperance denounced – Yvon Neptune was his most well known victim. Soon after the Jimenez article appeared Anthony Fenton obtained documents using the access to information act showing that Esperance’s group was also funded by CIDA.

4) Toronto Star Editorial Says "Canada betrayed Haiti’s democrats"

In an editorial of February, 2006; just before the first elections since the coup were about to be held, the Toronto Star basically recycled the editorial it had written in 2004. The bogus charge that Canada "did nothing" was repeated as were the same old smears against Aristide:

"He is a fiery populist who fanned rich-poor tension, relied on gangs and tolerated corruption. But the unelected Haitian elite who chased him from office, with the approval and support of U.S. Republicans, was no better."

Support for the coup went far beyond the Haitian elite and US Republicans. The Canadian and US governments (under Clinton and Bush) funded NGOs hostile to Aristide. Some of the Canadian funded groups were progressive (Christian Aid, Oxfam Quebec, Alternatives, Right and Democracy) yet dutifully parroted the right wing talking points about Aristide. By 2005 this had been extensively documented by Yves Engler and Anthony Fenton. Invariably, these CIDA funded groups would rely on another CIDA grantee, Pierre Esperance, for their information about Haiti. [8]

5) The Lancet Study Gets Noticed

In August of 2006 the results of a scientific survey conducted by Athena Kolbe and Royce Hudson was published in the Lancet medical journal. It found that 4000 political killings were perpetrated in the greater Port-au-Prince during the two years Haiti was under dictatorial rule. The perpetrators were overwhelmingly the Haitian police and militias allied with them.

Since the survey was published there have been only eight articles in the Canadian press that mentioned it – three in the Toronto Globe and Mail, the other five in the Montreal Gazette (which includes one editorial). Information quickly surface that Athena Kolbe, then going by the name of Lyn Duff, had volunteered at an orphanage established by Aristide. The Lancet investigated the allegations of bias and concluded that it "has confidence in Kolbe and Hutson’s findings as published."

The study generated much more scrutiny of Athena Kolbe than of Canada’s murderous policy. The only editorial provoked by the study was entitled "Haiti Study deserved to be trashed" (Montreal Gazette, September 11, 2006).

Only Marina Jimenez reported the Lancet’s findings regarding the allegations of bias ("Author of study on Haiti cleared of bias by journal" February 9, 2007).

6) Token Lefties Speak Out

Two writers who could be described as leftists have regular columns in the corporate press – Rick Salutin (Globe & Mail) and Linda McQuaig. (Toronto Star).

Over the past five years, Linda McQuaig has written two articles about Haiti, both early in 2004 and both touching very lightly on Canada’s role. [9] In September of 2006 she explained why the Star had rejected her suggestions that Haiti be debated more frequently as follows:

"I have pushed it a few times, but I know there’s no interest in stories that aren’t attracting a lot of news attention, so I have tended to leave it."

In other words, she timidly accepted the corporate media’s priorities. They didn’t consider Canadian responsibility for the worst human rights disaster in the Western Hemisphere newsworthy – so why push it?

Rick Salutin also wrote two articles about Haiti over the past five years. His articles were much more hard hitting and informed about Canada’s role than McQuaig’s. [10] I emailed him in 2006 asking him to write more about Haiti. He replied as follows:

"I watch the situation there closely and admire the tenacity of the Haitian people as well as that of their supporters, but I tend to write on a topic only when I feel I have something to say that hasn’t been said."

His reply made no sense at all unless there were other writers consistently challenging the government’s propaganda about Haiti in the corporate press. That clearly wasn’t the case. I replied to Salutin reminding him of that, and pointing out that the government’s propaganda succeeds through repetition- not originality. He made no further reply.

Writers like Salutin and McQuaig make the corporate media seem far more open than it really is. As Medialens put it (referring to the UK media) they act "as a kind of vaccine—tiny doses of dissent that inoculate people against the idea that they are subject to thought control. But the reality is that this dissent is flooded and overwhelmed by propaganda that keeps us thinking the right way,…"[11]

A remarkable illustration of how well the media has induced Canadians to think the right way was provided shortly after the fifth year anniversary of the coup. Phares Pierre, a former member of Aristide’s cabinet, was appointed by the Federal government to the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB).

"How did a top official in a government denounced for human rights abuses end up being appointed to the tribunal that decides Canada’s refugee claims?" asked Elizabeth Thompson in an article that ran in the Toronto Sun. The version published in the Seult Star ran with the headline

"Former chief of staff to Haitian dictator Aristide is appointed to Montreal immigration board " [12]

The text of the Seult Star article also referred to the "Aristide dictatorship". The Liberals and Bloc Quebecois called on the Conservatives to cancel Pierre’s appointment. The Conservative Immigration Minister responded

"If I had known his background in Haiti it is very probable that I would not have made a recommendation to cabinet."

Five years after helping to install a brutal dictatorship in Haiti, Canadian politicians can openly criminalize any association with the democratic government they helped overthrow. That speaks volumes about how well the corporate media have covered up Canada’s crimes in Haiti. Joseph Goebbels would have been impressed.


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[1] Athena R Kolbe, Royce A Hutson. Human rights abuse and other criminal violations in Port-au-Prince, Haiti: a random survey of households. Lancet 2006; 368:864-873;

[2] For Human Rights Watch reports see sources cited here Znet: "Haiti and HRW"

For most of the rest see Peter Hallward; Option Zero in Haiti;

Or his book "Damning the Flood"

[3] Paul Knox Review;

Peter Hallward’s reply to Knox is at

My exchange with Knox from 2004 is archived at Http://

[4] Znet; Yves Engler; "Haiti Lies";

[5] For letter to Jimenez and her editors re "Backyard Bagdad" see

[6] Lexis search of "Haiti",Thomas Griffin", "Jean-Juste"

[7] A Lexis search of "Haiti" and "Philippe Vixamar" turned up only one article over the past five years: Montreal Gazatte: Sue Montgomery; "Lean on Haiti, activists urge:"March 12, 2005


[9] "Bush short on empathy for Haitians"

The Toronto Star, February 29, 2004 Sunday, 828 words, Linda McQuaig "Is Chavez in America’s crosshairs?"

The Toronto Star, March 14, 2004 Sunday, 852 words, Linda McQuaig

[10] Democracy if necessary, but not …

The Globe and Mail (Canada), March 4, 2005 Friday, COMMENT COLUMN; Pg. A17, 702 words, RICK SALUTIN

Failed states all over

The Globe and Mail (Canada), March 5, 2004 Friday, COLUMN; ON THE OTHER HAND; Pg. A19, 813 words, RICK SALUTIN


[12] Elizabeth Thompson; Former chief of staff to Haitian dictator Aristide is appointed to Montreal immigration board