Haiti: Canada’s new Afghanistan

These past few weeks, Haiti has captured the world’s attention. Not to be left out, the Canadian government has wasted no time in sending relief to the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince and other earthquake-affected areas of the country.

With Canada’s current involvement in NATO’s mission in Afghanistan, Globe and Mail columnist Christie Blatchford argues that Haiti provides the government with a “feel-good opportunity” to produce tangible development and relief-related results.

The Globe and Mail reports that the focal point of Canada’s post-quake relief efforts will be on the hardhit city and earthquake epicentre of Jacmel. Jacmel has been the focus of Canadian public and private sector involvement for more than 10 years.

Today, virtually every structure in the city lies in ruins.

To some, the emergency response to Haiti has afforded the Canadian government, which has come under harsh criticism over the mission in Afghanistan and the proroguing of parliament, an opportunity to renew itself.

In an attempt to do so, after the Canadian public raised $67 million for aid organizations in Haiti, the government raised the previous $50 million cap they put on their donation to match the public’s donation.

Almost immediately, many have begun to compare Canada’s efforts in Afghanistan to those in Haiti.

One of the issues discussed at this weekend’s Global Citizenship Conference on campus was Canada’s role in Afghanistan, with Wilfrid Laurier University global studies professor Sara Matthews and Laurier student Adam Lewis participating in a panel on the issue.

The discussion turned towards a drawing of parallels between Canada’s commitment in Afghanistan and our growing dedication to Haiti.

“It’s interesting that there’s a lot of focus on Haiti right now,” said Lewis. “Because this is one region of the world where Canada has had a very strong influence, much in the way that they’ve had in Afghanistan.”

Blatchford wrote that in light of the public’s faltering patience regarding Canada’s current commitment in Afghanistan, Haiti offers the government, military and development initiatives a good opportunity for some much needed positive publicity.

While Haiti has become a relief effort that Canadians have begun to rally behind by donating time, supplies and money, Afghanistan is left waiting in the wings.

Public support for the mission in Afghanistan is crumbling as the Canadian death toll rises. The CBC reports that as of Jan. 18, 139 Canadian soldiers have been killed since 2002.

No matter which way you look at it, Canadian aid workers and civilians helping Haitians in need make for a much more positive photo-op. Such images also detract the public’s attention from the lack of tangible results in Afghanistan of late.

Blatchford claims that many of the things political leaders and others are saying about Haiti were said about Afghanistan eight years ago, when Canada’s mission first commenced. She also claims that Canada has become weary of the amount of soldiers and resources lost and aggravated by a lack of results.
Arguably, Canada has stronger ties with Haiti than Afghanistan.

This is evident in Canada’s relatively large Haitian communities, French as a common language and the accessibility of the island for Canadian troops.

Perhaps most importantly, Blatchford points out that Haiti provides Canadian search-and-rescue specialists, airmen and sailors a chance to create positive change without putting themselves in the line of fire.

Dealing with looters and civil unrest successfully portrays a better sense of security for our forces. It also provides a good opportunity for organizations to produce tangible results with their aid relief.

Afghanistan may perhaps be in worse shape politically, developmentally, socially and economically than ever before, and Blatchford concluded that in the fast-paced world of emergency aid and reporting, “We have moved on: Haiti is hot, Afghanistan is not.”

The annual Global Citizenship Conference focused on “breaking the culture of silence,” with a strong emphasis on creating dialogue surrounding certain issues, including Afghanistan. As Haiti continues its domination of the headlines, and if Canada wishes to make any positive impact in Afghanistan, it is imperative that Blatchford’s conclusions do not continue to be the reality.

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