American Hopes for Canadian Military Leadership in Haiti Likely to Be Dashed

OTTAWA — When President Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada meet on Friday, one thorny topic likely to be on the table will be a worsening humanitarian crisis in Haiti, where criminal gangs have unleashed waves of violence and now control much of the capital.

The increasingly dire conditions, including a national police force that lacks the personnel or the weapons to take on the gangs, have spurred the country’s government to plead for outside military forces to restore order, an extraordinary move for a country with a traumatic history of foreign intervention.

Fearing that the chaos in Haiti will send Haitians in larger numbers to the United States, President Biden is trying to rally a multinational force without having to commit American troops.

Mr. Trudeau initially showed some support for the idea, but it now appears unlikely that he will offer to lead any such intervention during his discussions with Mr. Biden, as the U.S. administration hopes.

Before the president’s visit to the Canadian capital, Ottawa — his first as president — Canadian officials tried to deflect questions about using the country’s military to quell the violence, instead focusing on actions Canada had already taken to help Haiti.

Mr. Trudeau has already made clear his view that a large influx of foreign troops is not the answer to bringing stability to Haiti, where the assassination of the president three years ago plunged the country into terror and disorder.

“Outside intervention, as we’ve done in the past, hasn’t worked to create long-term stability for Haiti, so we are now working closely with partners on the ground to enable the Haitian national police and other institutions to stabilize the country,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters last week.

In February, Canada pledged just over 22 million Canadian dollars (about $16 million) for protection of Haitian women and girls as well as hygiene and food programs in Haiti. Ships from the Royal Canadian Navy have been gathering intelligence off the Haitian coast for “security assistance,” the government said, and Canada is sending additional armored vehicles to the country. It has also contributed to a United Nations fund intended to shore up Haiti’s embattled police force.

Canada has also imposed sanctions on top Haitian politicians, including a former president, who are believed to have ties to gangs that are terrorizing the Caribbean island nation.

Last fall, Canada sent a team of experts to Haiti to determine the most effective way to tackle the crisis. They were followed by Bob Rae, Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, who was pessimistic about the country’s future, suggesting that any large military intervention was likely to fail.

“We have to admit there’s been a history of what I would call large-scale military interventions that have not worked,” Mr. Rae told a Canadian newspaper.

Haiti’s acting prime minister, Ariel Henry, was not elected and is widely viewed as ineffective. Political opponents have criticized his request for outside intervention as an effort to shore up his claim to power.

Also dampening Canada’s enthusiasm for a major military role is what officials have described as the depleted state of its armed forces.

Canada’s top military commander, Wayne Eyre, told Reuters last month that NATO commitments in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia as well as support for Ukraine, including training, had stretched the armed forces to their limit. A series of sexual abuse and sexual assault cases involving high-ranking officers have also left the forces struggling to recruit members.

Deploying troops to Haiti under those circumstances would be “challenging,” he said.

“My concern is just our capacity,” Mr. Eyre added. “There’s only so much to go around.”

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