Mr. Chair, you know that the political situation in Haiti has been in the media headlines for some weeks now. As Canadians and Quebeckers, we have all followed the story attentively. As a member of Parliament, I have taken an even greater interest.
The Government of Canada is very sensitive to issues affecting the other francophone country in the Americas and does not believe that we can isolate ourselves from what is happening within its borders. Like Canada, Haiti is a member of a number of international organizations including the Francophonie, the Organization of American States and the United Nations.
Moreover, there are many people of Haitian origin living in Canada, particularly in and around Montreal. The Canadian government wants to support them and has a very special interest in what happens in Haiti. Canada, as an active member of the international community, is aware of the fact that the continuing problems in that country pose great risks to its citizens. That is why we responded firmly to the pleas for intervention.
I believe that all members would agree that the Canadian government could not ignore the calls to help restore peace in Haiti. I am very proud of the Canadian government's initiatives on this. They are aimed at restoring calm and order in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and all over the country, through our participation in the United Nations Multinational Interim Force.
Canada's commitment goes beyond simple emergency measures, because we want to ensure that the conditions exist that would allow a true democratic culture to blossom in Haiti. Creating a real democracy is a long-term process and will require a sustained international presence.
The Canadian government's commitment is serious and responsible, since we want to ensure that the new regime is stable and that we will not witness a new series of coups d'état and autocratic regimes in Haiti. We are working with the international community and the local population to ensure that this sad page of Haitian political history is truly finished and that a new page, written in the language of democracy, will be started today.
On March 5, the Minister of National Defence announced that the Canadian Forces would deploy some 450 soldiers to Haiti. These soldiers will be active members of the United Nations Multinational Interim Force. The Canadian contingent will be supported in its mission by six helicopters.
The Canadian Forces are already involved in many areas throughout the world, including in Afghanistan, but the Chief of Defence Staff has indicated that the Canadian Forces can play a key role in Haiti without compromising their other commitments and obligations in Canada and abroad.
The mandate of the interim force is to restore safe living conditions in Haiti. They will have to restore order within the law enforcement agencies and the interim government. Guaranteeing public safety is the cornerstone of the constitutional process that would restore a democratic government in Haiti.
If the citizens of Haiti are in constant fear for their safety, they will not be able to help build a new political system. Each and every one of them needs to take part in the debates, because the principles of equality and universality lie at the very heart of democratic values.
Canadian troops will serve alongside their counterparts from various countries to ensure that fear, intimidation or uncertainty are not used to exclude anyone from the process.
Canada has also provided financial assistance to this Caribbean nation. On February 20, Canada announced that it was granting an additional $5 million to the special mission of the Organization of the American States in Haiti. Just yesterday, the Minister for International Cooperation announced that Canada has pledged another $5 million in support of the United Nations humanitarian assistance, reconstruction and transition efforts in Haiti. This money complements the $1.95 million already announced for humanitarian assistance since the current crisis began.
Canada responded strongly to the call of the people of Haiti and the international community.
The mandate of the UN interim multinational force in Haiti is about three-month long. However, Canada realizes that this short period will not allow to establish a representative and functional democracy in that country shaken by several years of political, economic and social instability, which only intensified in the last weeks. A long-term commitment is required. Here again, Canada is taking its responsibilities.
The UN Secretariat was given a period of at least one month to define the options for the follow-on forces. These will be in place at the end of the three-month mandate undertaken by the interim force.
Canada will play a leadership role in this follow-on mission. We will not simply stay timidly in the background while others make decisions. We will be key players. Canada's ability to act in a crisis is recognized internationally, particularly through its participation in Afghanistan, the Balkans and Africa. We will bring our experience and effectiveness to help the people of Haiti during these times of upheaval.
Since the beginning of the crisis, Canada has shown support for a political agreement that would come from a wide consensus among representatives of the Haitian government, opposition political parties and the civil society. Our action during the months to come will seek to create and maintain the conditions that are needed to articulate and implement such a consensus within the political and social structures of that country.
Canadians and Quebeckers will be there to allow the emergence of a stable democracy in Haiti. Our troops will not leave the country at the first opportunity, but will stay until the satisfactory completion of that mandate. The Prime Minister clearly said that Canada will play a major role in the follow-on mission.
Canada intends to take multilateral action in Haiti. We will work in conjunction with the United Nations, the Organization of American States and the Caribbean Community and Common Market, CARICOM, to help Haiti find lasting solutions to the recent crisis.
This spirit of cooperation we are witnessing in the international community in response to the dire need of one of our members is clear proof of our commitment to democratic values. Multilateralism works when each member's participation is recognized and considered valid. This message of inclusion is something we hope to develop within Haitian society and its political institutions.
Our country has long taken multilateral action in Haiti. In 1994, we actively participated in the international US-led force and, later, in the UN mission to Haiti. From 1993 to 2001, Canada sent police officers to help Haitians restore democracy, stability and the rule of law.
Our activities abroad, in Haiti and elsewhere, always aim to promote a reliable justice system, full recognition for human rights, economic development and the establishment of a civil society.
Yesterday, His Excellency Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, gave an important speech in the House of Commons. He reminded us that the international community will need to make a decisive contribution to buttress Haiti's democratic institutions. He said, “Only through a long term commitment to help the country can stability and prosperity be assured. Half-hearted efforts of the past have been insufficient. We cannot afford to fail this time”. Through initiatives recently announced, Canada is answering this call.
Haiti is facing enormous challenges. It remains one of the poorest countries in the Americas.
The Canadian government recognized well before the current crisis that peace and democratic development could not be maintained without sustainable and equitable economic development in that country. To that end, in 2002-03, our official development assistance to Haiti totalled $23.85 million. This is the largest assistance program provided to any country in the Americas. We have also contributed $3.25 million to the Organization of American States Special Mission since its inception in March 2002; $500,000 of this contribution has been given to the Agence intergouvernementale de la Francophonie.
I reiterate my support for all the actions taken by the Canadian government in Haiti in response to the recent crisis. These measures are in place to continue the commitment made many years ago to this country in the West Indies to promote democracy and sustainable development. This commitment has intensified following the events of the past weeks.
We are currently at a critical time in Haiti's history. In the short term, Canadian troops will help restore order so that democracy can truly take hold. In the long term, our commitment, together with our international partners, will be the gauge of success of these initiatives.
I am proud that the Government of Canada is taking its responsibilities multilaterally, based on current information and with an eye to the future. This will be the key to a happy ending in Haiti, and Canada will be able to proudly say that it made a significant contribution and took a leadership role that was very fitting under the circumstances.