OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse on Wednesday, saying Canada would stand by the country and its people in tough times ahead.
"It is absolutely unacceptable and not something anyone wants to see anywhere in the world," Trudeau told reporters in Calgary.
"Canada has been and will continue to be a close friend to the Haitian people," he added.
"They've had a number of difficult years, including politically. Canada has continued to be there for them and we will continue into the coming difficult months to stand with the people of Haiti and move toward greater stability and greater opportunity for everyone."
A group of gunmen killed Moïse and wounded his wife in their home early Wednesday, inflicting more chaos in the Caribbean country already enduring an escalation of gang violence, antigovernment protests and a recent surge in COVID-19 infections.
Moïse, 53, had been ruling by decree for months after he failed to hold elections while the opposition demanded he step down. Moise was killed a day after he nominated Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon, as Haiti's new prime minister. Claude Joseph took over the job of interim prime minister in April following the resignation of the previous premier, Joseph Jouthe.
Kevin Edmonds, an assistant professor of Caribbean Studies at the University of Toronto, said Canada and the United States have been involved in cultivating over the long term the current political situation in which the assassination took place.
In February 2004, a military coup overthrew a democratically elected government led by president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. He accused the United States, France and Canada of orchestrating his ousting.
About 500 Canadian troops went to the Caribbean country after the coup "to restore order until a new UN stabilization mission could be well established," according to Veterans Affairs Canada website. It says UN peacekeeping missions in Haiti reached about 7,500 military members and civilian police, from dozens of countries. It also says that at times, over 750 members of the Canadian Armed Forces and 100 civilian police officers have served there.
Since 2004, Edmonds said, a series of fraudulent elections have brought deeply unpopular presidents to power while a UN mission supported them.
Haiti is the largest recipient of development assistance from Canada in the Americas.
Since the January 2010 earthquake, Ottawa has provided $1.5 billion to Haiti, including $345 million in humanitarian assistance and $1.15 billion in development assistance.
Edmonds said Canada played a role in pushing for a national election to be held in 2010, when many Haitian parliamentarians and politicians had lost their lives in the natural disaster. The general election originally scheduled to take in February was put off until November that year and the presidential election was held the following spring.
"Canada and the United States were very insistent that elections happen right away, and a lot of voices within in Haiti, civil society, politicians, the citizens were saying 'let's wait a bit,'" Edmonds said, adding there were concerns about electoral fraud and parties banned from running.
In a 2019 report, Human Rights Watch said the Moïse government’s elimination of subsidies led to widespread protests that had escalated since July 2018, with opposition groups demanding Moïse’s resignation amid allegations that he had mismanaged government funds designated for social programs.
Edmonds said Moïse was "very repressive," but that he was also friendly to foreign investment as he was getting rid of regulations for mining, oil and gas companies and repressing labour unions.
"Having a weak but accommodating centre-right government in Haiti is good for Canadian interests U.S. interests," Edmonds argued.
"I would have thought that Moïse would have been tipped off that something's gonna happen but this (assassination) is kind of unprecedented."
This report was first published by The Canadian Press on July 7, 2021.
— With files from The Associated Press.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press