Haiti’s recent history has been marked by disaster, social strife, and violence – the products of both internal and external forces. In 2004, democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown in a joint U.S.-French-Canadian operation. In 2010, Haiti was rocked by a massive earthquake that killed an estimated 250,000 and contributed to the return of cholera to the country. In 2021, President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in a nighttime raid. All these shocks have undermined the capacity of the Haitian state.
In early October, during large-scale public protests calling for Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry to step down, the Haitian government requested international support to address the “humanitarian and security situation.” Key features of this situation were widespread acts of violence perpetrated by the country’s many armed gangs. These groups have a history of committing brutal violence, including random killings, torture, and instances of gender-based violence. Since September, Haiti’s gangs have also been responsible for blockading fuel depots and the ports where humanitarian goods from international donors were trapped.
THE TRANSFER OF CANADIAN-MADE MILITARY GOODS
On October 15, Global Affairs Canada (GAC) announced that Canada and the United States had jointly responded to Haiti’s pleas. A Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) C-17A Globemaster III aircraft had participated in the delivery of six Canadian-made armoured vehicles to the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince.
GAC stated that the vehicles were purchased by the Haitian government, meaning that they did not constitute military aid. Canadian officials told CBC News that the Canadian government specified that the vehicles were to be used to “break the blockades” and not for “crowd control.”
A readout from the Canadian Prime Minister’s office published three days later indicated that the “tactical and armoured vehicles… will help restore security to the country.”
The Miami Herald reported that Canadian suppliers were under contract to deliver a total of 18 armoured vehicles, and that United States Air Force C-17s assisted in the delivery of the initial shipment to Haiti, picking up from Canadian Forces Base Trenton.
THIS VIDEO STILL SHOWS AN INKAS ARMOURED VEHICLE LEAVING RCAF TRANSPORT, OCTOBER 2022. IMAGE CREDIT: RADIO-CANADA
Haitian media reported the value of the transaction at 10-million U.S. dollars, with the goods to be used in the “fight against criminal actors who are fomenting violence and disrupting the flow of critically needed humanitarian assistance” [translated from French].
INKAS ARMOURED VEHICLES
Although Canadian officials didn’t identify the manufacturer of the vehicles, INKAS Armoured Vehicles, based outside of Toronto, quickly announced that they had supplied the military goods. Images posted online show at least four of the vehicles that were provided on October 15.
Two vehicles pictured appear to be from the popular INKAS Sentry line of vehicles. According to INKAS promotional materials, the Sentry is built on a heavy-duty Ford F-550 truck chassis and sports armour that can withstand penetration from 7.62mm ammunition, commonly used in assault rifles. The Sentry line is described as a customizable platform that is “100% designed and built in-house by INKAS skilled engineers.”
The variant of the other two, smaller vehicles is not immediately clear. CBC reporting describes them as commercial-pattern vehicles.
FERRYING THE GOODS
While news reports state that all 18 vehicles will be sourced from INKAS, only images of these four have so far appeared online. INKAS produces several lines of armoured vehicles, from small sedans with upgraded armour to large trucks designed for riot control.
According to the Miami Herald, the initial contract for the 18 vehicles was signed earlier this year, but deliveries were delayed. While delays are common, the joint Canadian-U.S. decision to fly these vehicles to Port-au-Prince on military aircraft to “ensure delivery of the vehicles” was unusual.
Such arrangements are more typically associated with the provision of military aid, such as Canada’s ongoing shipments of armaments to Ukraine since the Russian invasion in February, but certainly not with private commercial transactions between a Canadian manufacturer and a foreign client.
A SURVEY OF CANADIAN MILITARY EXPORTS TO HAITI
Haiti is not a major importer of Canadian weapons. In recent years, annual military exports from Canada to Haiti have been valued at less than $1,000.
But exports reported for 2021 were an exception. According to the 2021 Exports of Military Goods report, Canadian officials authorized two export permits to Haiti for armoured vehicles valued at $864,000. Because of a lack of clarity in how Canada reports military exports, it isn’t certain whether these vehicles were manufactured by INKAS or another Canadian-based armoured vehicle manufacturer.
Data published by Statistics Canada (StatCan) on commodity transfers also includes some information on the export of armoured vehicles to Haiti. In August 2021, transfers to Haiti of outgoing Canadian-made armoured vehicles associated with Harmonized System commodity code 8710 were valued at $1,088,479; this figure roughly corresponds to the values reported in the 2021 Exports of Military Goods report. More recently, StatCan reported $377,322 in armoured vehicle transfers to Haiti in August 2022. It is unclear if these exports are related to those announced in October.
Global Affairs Canada has identified the end-user of the vehicles as the Haitian National Police (Police Nationale d’Haiti or PNH). Images of the vehicles emblazoned with PNH can be found online.
CANADIAN-MADE INKAS VEHICLES WITH PNH DECALS, HAITI, OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2022. IMAGE CREDIT: RADIO RFM 104.9
Credible sources have tied the PNH with a long list of alleged human rights abuses, particularly during periods of social upheaval. Several UN agencies have published reports that link the PNH to extreme violence against civilians, including torture and extrajudicial killings.
A 2021 report by l’Observatoire Haïtien des Crimes Contre l’Humanité and the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic details numerous allegations of human rights abuses against civilians by the PNH. In two instances, PNH officers shot at civilians from foreign-sourced armoured vehicles, resulting in multiple deaths and injuries. According to the report, only rarely does the PNH investigate such abuses by its officers.
This report also describes that in other occasions, PNH armoured vehicles have been diverted to gangs, and subsequently used in abuses. While it is not clear how gangs came to possess the vehicles, the report argues that “further investigation may show that police officers were also complicit in making the resources available [to the gangs] for the purpose of facilitating” attacks.
In its 2021 report on Haiti, Human Rights Watch cites findings from the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti that suggest that between February and May of 2021, members of the PNH committed 238 human rights violations, including killing 42 and using tear gas indiscriminately. Since August, at least 54 individuals have been killed during protests, most “allegedly because of disproportionate use of force by police officers”, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
CANADA’S ARMS CONTROL OBLIGATIONS
Under the Arms Trade Treaty, Canadian officials must assess on a case-by-case basis the risk that arms exports could result in the violation of international human rights law, among other abuses. Factors to consider include the past behaviour of the end-user and the type of goods being proposed for export. If there is a substantial risk that the proposed export could result in facilitating such violations, then the transfer must be denied.
Given the PNH’s track record of abuse, there is a justifiable fear of these military goods being misused. Canadian armoured vehicles – similar to those that have recently arrived in Haiti – have previously been deployed by repressive security forces to respond to protests. Canadian officials must actively and continuously assess the risk associated with these exports, particularly as most vehicles are yet to be delivered.
CONSIDERING THE RISKS
A 2006 report published by Control Arms argued that “there is a real danger that arms supplied to Haiti’s police will be used in abuses by police officers, or channeled to other armed
Groups.” Despite the passage of time, it would be hard to conclude that those same risks do not exist today.
The solution to Haiti’s ongoing crisis in not immediately clear. Any political process needs to be led by the Haitian people for the Haitian people. The government of Canada should do everything it can to amplify Haitian voices calling for peaceful political solutions to the ongoing turmoil, while ensuring that Canadian technology does not contribute to human rights abuses.
Photo: Canadian-made INKAS vehicles with PNH decals, Haiti, October/November 2022. Image credit: Radio RFM 104.9