‘Catastrophic’: Quebecers worry about family amid crisis in Caribbean country – Montreal


Wedne Colin says he feels like he’s leading a “double life,” living in Montreal but constantly worrying for his family in Haiti.

“It’s like we’re here, but at the same time we’re in Haiti,” he said Monday in an interview. “We can’t get rid of Haiti, Haiti follows us. Haiti sticks to our skin.”

Colin says his family members have had to flee their homes several times to find a place that’s safe from the armed gangs he says have seized control of the capital city of Port-au-Prince. Sometimes, he said, they spend a week sleeping outside with no possessions other than a handful of important documents, like passports.

He said his family lives in fear of violence and kidnapping, noting that some of them received letters demanding they hand over money by a certain date. But, as many times as they leave home, they always end up returning, he said, “because nowhere is safe.”

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Colin and Orlando Ceide, who both work at the Maison d’Haiti community centre, are two of the many Haitian Montrealers who are worried about loved ones amid the violent gang attacks that have paralyzed the Haitian capital.

Ceide describes the situation in his home country as “catastrophic.” His own family members in Haiti are relatively safe from violence because they live in a small town away from the capital. But he said the latest crisis is impacting the availability of basic goods and services including food, water and health care.

As a former student activist, he said that if he were still in Haiti he would probably be in the streets protesting. But in Montreal he finds it hard even to talk about the homeland that he misses.

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“I have a feeling of helplessness in relation to what’s happening,” he said.

Both men say the Canadian government needs to do what it can to help Haitians, including making it easier for them to leave and join their families in Canada. They also say Canada can play a role in the efforts to stabilize the country, but that effort, they add, needs to be led by Haitian people themselves.

Canada confirmed on the weekend it was sending an official to attend an emergency meeting in Jamaica on Monday, following an invite from Caribbean leaders who want to discuss escalating violence in Haiti. A spokesperson for the office of Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said Bob Rae, Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, was to attend.

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Caricom, the 15-nation Caribbean bloc, said in a statement late Friday that “the situation on the ground remains dire” in Haiti, which has faced a protracted security crisis since the mid-2021 assassination of former president Jovenel Moïse.

In 2022, Haiti’s unelected prime minister, Ariel Henry, asked for an international military intervention to clear out the gangs, an idea that is deeply divisive within that country.

Washington had asked Canada to lead such a military intervention, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said it’s unclear whether that would stabilize the country. He cited past interventions organized by the United Nations, in which foreign soldiers sexually exploited Haitians and introduced cholera to the country.

Kenya agreed last fall to lead such a mission, though that decision is being contested by Kenyan courts.

In comments made last week, Canada’s chief of the defence staff said past military interventions in Haiti have failed.

“I think if we take a look at our experience in military interventions over the last quarter century, three decades, where we have done security force substitution — that is, taking in or bringing in a foreign force — it quickly becomes seen as an occupying force,” Gen. Wayne Eyre said Thursday evening during his keynote address to a security and defence conference in Ottawa.

Eyre said efforts need to instead focus on helping Haiti develop a local force that is capable of managing security, which he admits could be a lengthy, difficult process in a country like Haiti, which also lacks a solid political and economic framework.

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In Quebec’s large Haitian community — estimated at more than 140,000 — it can feel hard to know what to do.

Stephania Dorvilus, who recently arrived in Montreal from Haiti, said she sometimes cries when she thinks about what’s happening back home. Like many others in Port-au-Prince, her family has left their home seeking refuge, likely in a government building.

“No one should … live what the Haitian people are living,” she said Monday at Maison d’Haiti. But while she wants to help family, she’s 25 years old and just moved to a new country, without money to spare.

Colin said that while the solution has to come “by and for Haitians,” the international community has a role to play, including in helping to stop guns and ammunition from entering the country. He said he also feels people need to start talking as much about Haiti as they do about conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, noting that Haiti’s problems “didn’t start yesterday.”

“There has been a silence around Haiti for a long time,” he said, “and this situation allowed gang leaders, criminals and the corrupt to take advantage.”

— With files from The Canadian Press’ Dylan Robertson and The Associated Press.

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