Upon his visit to Montreal last week, prominent Haitian lawyer Mario Joseph accused Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre of lying to the Canadian people. Coderre has denied the accusations, dismissed Joseph's request for an apology, and refused to answer questions about his role in Haiti.
In a Canadian Press article which appeared in the Ottawa Citizen, Vancouver Sun, and various other newspapers across the country, Joseph was quoted as saying: "We can't discuss Canada's harmful role without explaining to you the just-as-harmful role of Mr. Denis Coderre and his lies to the Canadian people."
Joseph was referring to the fact that in February of 2004, Coderre had told the press that Canada's position was to keep elected President Aristide in office as an armed rebellion attacked government offices and moved toward Port-au-Prince, the capital. "We think Aristide must remain in place," Coderre told journalists on February 19th.
However, the Canadian position changed dramatically on February 29, when Canadian armed forces assisted the US military in kidnapping President Aristide, flying him out of the country, at which point he was exiled for several years. Contrary to his claims on the 19th, the Canadian government had begun planning the invasion at least nine days prior to Coderre's statement.
In the months after the coup, Coderre repeatedly met with the unelected, US-appointed Prime Minister Latortue in Port-au-Prince and in Montreal. During this time, Latortue's government was undertaking killing thousands of political opponents, according to numerous human rights reports. Thousands more were imprisoned, and according to a study that appeared in the medical journal Lancet, tens of thousands of women were raped. The Haitian National Police, who carried out the assassinations and massacres, were acting under the direct oversight of agents from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. During this period, the Latortue regime enjoyed the full diplomatic, political, logistical and financial backing of the Canadian government.
Coderre's response to claims? "I have nothing to apologize for," he told the Canadian Press. He added: "I am a friend of Haiti."
According to Nydia Dauphin, Coderre even refers to himself as "Montreal's Haitian Mayor" within certain circles. Dauphin, who was honoured by Coderre and others as a Black History Month Laureate this year, published an article at the end of January entited Don't Mistake Montreal's Mayor For a Friend of Haiti. Dauphin wrote: "Thanks to Coderre's solemn skills, gross violation of human rights have characterized the post-coup regime in Haiti since 2004, resulting in the loss of thousands of innocent lives; a tragedy that has largely gone unnoticed in Canadian media."
A day after the Canadian Press article appeared, veteran Gazette reporter Sue Montgomery followed up with a feature article entitled Secrecy shrouds Canada’s role in Aristide’s ouster from Haiti. In it, Mario Joseph is quoted as saying “Coderre should apologize because he used Canadian money to cause disorder, chaos and misery.”
But Coderre, Montgomery writes, "refused to answer questions about his role in 2004."
Meanwhile, over 800 Canadians have signed an apology to Haiti, detailing the ongoing suffering that can be linked to the 2004 coup d'état and the decade-old UN military occupation. Canada's involvement in the coup is a decade-old memory for most Canadians. If Joseph's statements are correct, Canada's actions in the last decade have contributed significantly in the misery and government repression which are a lived reality for Haitians today.