Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Canada: why the premature withdrawal from Haiti?

By Andy Blatchford, Toronto Star, January 11, 2011
The Canadian government turned down a plea to extend its military relief effort in Haiti after last year’s earthquake, says a top United Nations official in Port-au-Prince.

Canada was widely praised for rushing to provide emergency help, including clean water, security and medical care, following the devastating temblor last Jan. 12.
Armed with heavy equipment, Canadian military engineers also cleared rubble and helped Haitians reopen their roads, particularly in the hard-hit areas around the cities of Leogane and Jacmel.
But despite attempts by the UN and local authorities to persuade Ottawa to keep the engineers in Haiti beyond the end of Canada’s relief mandate, the military packed up and left.
“I think there was a strong request that they stay on,” Nigel Fisher, the UN’s head of humanitarian aid in Haiti, said from Port-au-Prince.
“Many felt that they wished they had stayed because they were extremely effective.”
Canada’s original mandate was to provide a rapid, short-term response and the UN says there was no obligation to extend the mission. Still, Fisher says, it would have been better if Canada had stuck around longer than a couple of months.
Effective, yes! And Canada can be proud of that intervention. So why did we leave when we were being asked to stay, and to continue our efforts on behalf of the Haitian people?
If this story is even mostly credible, then the Canadian government must have and be required to answer for our relatively quick exit.
On a basic level, premature withdrawal is usually an attempt to prevent a permanent commitment. Isn't it?
Was it a budget that did not support the extension of this mission, by the Canadian military?
Was it a fear that conditions at home might require these men and equipment for our own assistance?
Was it a fear that the Haitians might come to depend on our assistance?
If the Canadian government can and does take legitimate credit for "matching" dollar for dollar every single dollar of assistance provided by individual and corporate donors to the Haiti relief fund, would our expertise not be an appropriate place to apply those funds?
Of course, an outside lay person knows literally nothing of the inner workings of the "collective mind" of either the Cabinet or the military.
However, we can observe that some  $2 billion has been announced for additional prison cells, across the country, at a time when the national crime rate is falling significanly.
We can also observe that the government has not problem assigning some $20 billion for new fighter jets, but of course, these are completely separate files, none of them in any way impacting this file directly.
So we have to see this file in isolation, as we are supposed to see all government files.
Is this case of the Canadian withdrawal of highly commended and highly effective resources from Haiti part of the background to our rejection in our bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council? Who knows? And, more importantly, who is going to answer the question?
Is this another of the many situations where this government's public position is not substantiated by its actions, given its not-so-subtle over-commitment to the value of public relations, at the expense of reality.
There is a Canadian Advertising Standards Council Public Service Announcement that expresses an appropriate view, when the teen states that she is going to the library as she climbs out the window of her room, and the actors/dancers/singers enter her room to confront her father; the important message: dressing up the message does not change the truth! I wonder if the Prime Minister and his Cabinet have seen the spot, and if they have, are they aware that millions of the rest of us have also?
Accountability and transparency...the two words that Harper promised to bring back to Ottawa...
What has happened in the last five years on this score?



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