Mr. Chair, I am very pleased to take part in this evening's take-note debate on the situation in Haiti.
I will begin by saying that I am somewhat distressed to see the situation in which these people have been living for decades and decades. There was one dictator after another. There was so much hope placed on President Aristide when he took power and gave free rein to democracy at last. The turn of events leaves us with something of a bitter taste in our mouths.
I have nothing but good words for the Haitian people who, in my opinion, have often been persecuted and victimized by all these coups d'état, not to mention the associated tragedies.
I must say a few words about a woman who came to see me. Her name is Cassandra Duvert. Some years ago, she came to Canada with her partner, one of Aristide's lawyers. She brought one of her two children with her; one stayed in Haiti while the other came to Canada with his parents. The lawyer returned to Haiti with the child and left this woman here alone. From that time on, she practically lost track of her children. There was no question, naturally, of giving the woman legal custody. One day, unexpectedly, her husband telephoned her, following the regime change, to tell her she needed to take the children back because there had just been an attempt on his life. The children were with him in the car at the time, which made him fear for their safety.
We can imagine all the tragedies being stirred up by this regime change. In fact, I am in discussions with the Minister of Foreign Affairs to try to get these children out of the situation they are in.
This brings us back to the question of whether or not Aristide's departure was a coup d'état. It could be discussed at great length. I am not opposed to having an international panel look into the matter.
However, if we really want to give democracy in Haiti a chance, we must also focus on the fact that there are so many illegal weapons in that country, many in the hands of the factions, that it is no longer democracy being expressed, just the power of weapons. In that respect, much work remains to be done.
My colleague from Mercier and I were somewhat critical of the government for being slow to react. I believe that we could have acted sooner. I am not even sure if the troops are already in the field, since apparently there was a slight delay in operations. In our opinion, it took time before Canada said it would be sending 450 soldiers.
I also know that this is putting stress on the rotation of Canadian troops. I cannot deny this, and I am even one of the first to acknowledge it. However, given the urgency of this situation, given that there could be a bloodbath, it seems to me that the international community, and Canada above all, has a responsibility to intervene and restore some security to a country is torn as this.
I do, however, want to praise the work of the Canadian Forces that will be in the field probably in a matter of hours. Soldiers from the RCR in Gagetown are there. I had the pleasure of meeting them in Eritrea, when I visited the Canadian camps. This Canadian Forces presence was authorized under a UN chapter VII resolution for peacekeeping. As we know, there was no man's land between Eritrea and Ethiopia. I had the opportunity to meet soldiers from the RCR there.
There is also the Canadian Forces Joint Operations Group, which is currently in Haiti, as well as 430 Squadron from Valcartier, a group of helicopter pilots I had the pleasure of meeting when I trained in Valcartier. I must say that I was very impressed by their manoeuvres. I have no doubt that they will be able to accomplish a great deal in Haiti, particularly in terms of providing humanitarian assistance.
So, there is indeed a stress. We still have troops in Bosnia and in Afghanistan. As we were told earlier, there are some 3,700 Canadian troops taking part in missions such as this one around the world. Right now, it would be difficult to add another 450. It should also be understood that the current mission is a peacemaking mission, which is much more difficult than a peacekeeping mission. The social climate is very unstable. Many weapons are circulating and tragedies can occur. These people are not holidaying, they are not tourists out there. They are needed to provide a degree of security that currently does not exist.
Earlier, the Minister of Foreign Affairs told us that he wants to implement chapter VII, the peacekeeping process, in three months. This process is in fact much less difficult.
I was able to provide some testimony in this regard, because I visited the Canadian camps in Bosnia, during rotation 9. That was truly a peacekeeping mission. The danger is not nearly as great for troops engaged in peacekeeping missions. However, they still have to travel, to go abroad and to spend time there. We know that this is very difficult, because there is currently a large number of missions.
I want to get back to the issue of disarmament. We should emphasize this aspect. Just today, the New York Times —and that was the subject of one of the questions that I put to the minister earlier—mentioned that the Americans are now saying that the disarmament process should begin.
If we really want to give democracy a chance, to let public and private institutions regain strength and to truly try to create the most normal context possible, we will have to ensure that the power of arms does not exist anymore.
I will tell you exactly what Col. Charles Gurganus said today in connection with the U.S Marines. He described the action as “active and reactive disarmament”. So the Americans are aware of that.
I am therefore asking the minister this evening whether, from now on, if the troops are not yet there, as soon as they arrive, they will join with the Americans in disarming these factions, because these are still in place and still active.
There are, for instance, the chimères, who support the departed Aristide. They are still spreading terror in Port-au-Prince with their armed incursions. Looting, rapes and murders are still far from uncommon, and weapons are always involved. It is therefore important to confiscate these weapons.
The problem with Aristide is that, in 1994, he demobilized the army completely. He sent the soldiers home but he did not tell them “leave your weapons behind, and go back home”, so away they went with their guns. As a result, there are plenty of weapons in circulation. Then there is the fact that they are so close to the Dominican Republic, with its rather porous border, and guns can easily get across. There is no one patrolling the border. So there are gun traffickers within Haiti, and as a result the opposing factions have armed confrontations.
There are not just the chimères. There are also the dissident chimères, who make up the infamous cannibal army of Gonaïves. They too are armed and have their own interests, their own line of action, which always involves weapons.
Then there is the famous Guy Philippe, the self-proclaimed army and paramilitary leader, you will recall, but that did not last more than two or three days. His followers are habitual criminals and all are armed.
These factions must be disarmed. I implore the Minister of National Defence to give the order immediately. I have not seen the rules of engagement. I have not seen the exact mission, except for the fact that it comes under chapter 6 of the UN charter, which is a rather elaborate resolution. Even if it is not specific, we feel there are enough provisions in the current resolution to allow for disarmament. We must take this direction with the U.S.
I hope we achieve disarmament. I hope that the people of Haiti find real democracy again. For years now, Haitians have been denied real democracy, an active federal public service and an active public sector. For years, now, private enterprise has been sidelined. No one wants to invest money when there is such insecurity.
For the situation to return to normal, to give Haiti's democracy and economy a chance, these factions have to be disarmed. The U.S. has understood. Now I would like the Minister of National Defence to understand as well and to give orders accordingly so that this democracy can be restored.