"Pettigrew, tu tue nos enfants en Haiti!"

{"Pettigrew, you're killing our kids in Haiti!"}
by Aaron Lakoff

To view a photo-essay from the demonstration, visit:

Montreal, January 2, 2006 - Exactly 202 years and one day after the slaves of the colony of Hispaniola succeeded in overthrowing their French masters and colonizers – leading to the birth of the republic of Haiti – about 45 members of the Haitian community gathered in the Villeray area of Montreal to celebrate, but also to vent their rage.

The celebration was of course Haiti’s independence day, observed on January 1st every year. The occasion was marked in Montreal with a festive atmosphere, upbeat Haitian kompa music, and dancing in the cold and icy streets.

However, the gathering was also fueled with anger, as the crowd assembled outside the riding office of Pierre Pettigrew, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister. It is safe to say that Pettigrew could easily be one of the most detested figures amongst the Haitian community these days. Pettigrew has overseen an abhorrent Canadian presence in Haiti in the aftermath of the 2004 coup d’etat which ousted democratically-elected leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Thousands of Haitians have been killed since this coup, and the victims are more often than not targeted for their affiliation to Aristide’s Lavalas movement, according to Amnesty International.

However, when Pettigrew was questioned in 2005 about a University of Miami human rights investigation in Haiti which brought these points to light, he dismissed this as “propaganda which is completely uninteresting”. He preferred instead to gloss over the matter and talk abstractly about the wonderful role Canada is playing in bringing democracy to the poor Caribbean nation.

Amidst the jubilant flag waving, there was also a marked anger in the air. Cries of “Pettigrew assassin!” and “Stop the genocide in Cite Soley! Stop the genocide in Belair! Freedom for Haiti!” could be heard throughout the neighborhood with a large immigrant and Haitian population.

Many people spoke passionately in French and Creole about the pitiful role that Canada is playing in Haiti, sending RCMP officers to train the brutal Haitian National Police (HNP), and offering their support for an election process that many have denounced as sham ‘selections’. As one speaker put it more bluntly, “Canada is colonizing Haiti!”

Attention was also largely focused on the Canadian media, and the role they play in the coup. As video footage was shown from Kevin Pina’s film “Haiti: The Untold Story”, speakers declared that media outlets who didn’t show these images of Haitians being killed by the HNP and the UN were complicit in the coup, and propagating racism.

Food staples such as rice and beans were also piled up in front of Pettigrew’s office doors, with a note demanding that he deliver the food to disadvantaged communities in Haiti. Chavannes Clerveaux, a local Haitian musician and one of the organizers of the demonstration, explains, “As our brothers and sisters are picking through garbage for food, Canada is participating in massacres!”

Amongst the demands the demonstrators were making were an immediate repatriation of all Canadian forces currently in Haiti, and for a public investigation into the genocide perpetrated in Haiti between February 2004 and December 2005. If this investigation isn’t launched by January 15th, the community is ready to follow up with action. As the presidential elections were delayed in Haiti again, Haitians in Canada are determined to take advantage of our own elections to put some heat on the rulers.

Perhaps given Pettigrew’s role in the Haitian crisis, he chose a bad riding to run in. Villeray is now riddled with posters which declare “Pettigrew: Wanted for War Crimes in Haiti”. The postering campaign was initiated by Haiti Action Montreal, and many activists here are determined to bring down Pettigrew in the upcoming federal elections on January 23rd.

For more information on Haiti Action, visit www.outofhaiti.ca.

(Aaron Lakoff is an activist and independent journalist with CKUT community radio in Montreal. He can be reached at aaron at resist dot ca)