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Toronto armoured vehicle company rejects Haiti's claim it hasn't lived up to its word

OTTAWA — Haiti's troubled government is accusing Canada of stalling in its promised delivery of armoured vehicles, and argues the delay is hindering a plan to clear violent gangs from Port-au-Prince.
A parent, carrying his child after picking him up from school, runs past police as they carry out an operation against gangs in the Bel-Air area of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Friday, March 3, 2023. Haiti's troubled government is accusing Ottawa of stalling in its delivery of purchased armoured vehicles, and argues the delay is hindering a plan to clear violent gangs from Port-au-Prince. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Odelyn Joseph

OTTAWA — Haiti's troubled government is accusing Canada of stalling in its promised delivery of armoured vehicles, and argues the delay is hindering a plan to clear violent gangs from Port-au-Prince.

Yet the Toronto company making the mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles says it's working as fast it can in the face of supply-chain disruptions and mistakes by Haitian officials. 

In a Monday interview with Haitian radio, the country's acting justice minister, Emmelie Prophète-Milcé, said in French that the majority of the 18 armoured vehicles her country ordered had yet to arrive.

"The supplier did not keep its word," Prophète-Milcé alleged.

Violent gangs have held control over most of Haiti's capital for months, leading to a shortage of essentials and medical care and a rise in sexual assaults.

As part of its response, Ottawa has said it is airlifting armoured vehicles to the country that were purchased by the Haitian government. Canada has so far opted to provide support to Haitian police rather than taking up the idea of an international military intervention. 

Prophète-Milcé said that "the police could implement their strategy if all the armoured vehicles were delivered on time."

The firm involved, INKAS, says it has moved as quickly as possible and has not breached the contract.

"There are statements being made by an individual who's new to this position that are not necessarily connected to reality," said Eugene Gerstein, a managing partner of the company who has visited Haiti numerous times.

Gerstein says between seven and 10 of the vehicles have made it to Haiti so far, with four "going out shortly" and roughly another four "slated for a few weeks afterwards."

The former military officer said his company has also donated $1 million worth of other vehicles to Haiti, such as armoured personnel carriers. 

Gerstein said there are two main reasons for the delays.

First, he said Haitian officials kept changing their minds on modifications, particularly when it came to how best to protect the top of the vehicles from being shot at from above.

"We build something, (then) they would turn around and say, 'You know, we don't really like that; can you change it?' And so that has eaten up some time," he said.

The other issue Gerstein flagged surrounds supply chains, particularly for wiring harnesses. Automakers have them in short supply, leaving the company to design them from scratch instead of waiting.

"We're literally reinventing the wheel. We've gone where no man has gone before," he said.

Gerstein also said that the Haitian National Police ruined one of the new vehicles by jamming the differential, because they enacted a setting under the wrong conditions. He said the mistake was akin to switching between two- and four-wheel drive in a vehicle that is accelerating at high speed.

"They were explicitly told multiple times, 'Guys, do not push that button,' and they still went ahead and pushed it," said Gerstein. He added that he saw a video of police trying to push the damaged vehicle with a bulldozer, which he says would have ruined its gears.

Global Affairs Canada has not yet responded to a request for comment about Haiti's claims.

Prophète-Milcé'saccusations come as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continues to call upon Europe and the U.S. to follow Canada in sanctioning Haiti's elites.

"For me, the best way to restore stability for Haiti is to first punish the elites, to tell them that they can no longer finance gangs (nor) political instability," Trudeau said in French on Monday.

He was speaking at a public event in Montreal's Saint-Michel neighbourhood, which has a large Haitian diaspora.

Canada has sanctioned 17 of Haiti's political and economic elite over alleged ties with gangs, barring them from financial dealings in Canada. Many of those sanctioned dispute those claims and argue Ottawa has acted on shoddy information.

Last December, Trudeau urged Europe to follow suit, and Canada's ambassador to the United Nations, Bob Rae, said in January that France could make a difference by imposing its own sanctions.

Trudeau indicated Monday he was not satisfied by the response. "The United States has started to impose more sanctions; we need them to do a lot more. We need Europe, France, to do more," he said.

France has said it's instead sticking with a slow-moving United Nations process aimed at sanctioning bad actors in Haiti, which effectively bars them from visiting most countries and having virtually any financial transactions with foreign entities.

The process has listed just one person since it started last October.

France's ambassador to Haiti, Fabrice Mauriès, was critical of Canada's approach in an interview last December.

"I think it's a collective effort that must be carried out. If the sanctions remain Canadian (only) they will fail," he told Radio France Internationale.

Haiti's unelected government has asked for an international military intervention to clear out the gangs, but the idea is deeply divisive among Haitians.

The UN has documented that foreign troops it oversaw in past Haitian deployments sexually assaulted locals and sparked a cholera outbreak.

Separately, Trudeau said on Wednesday that Ottawa has helped Haiti in many ways since its dictatorship ended in 1986, but there needs to be more viable change.

"We have delivered military missions, we have built hospitals, we have trained police officers, delivered prison guards — like, done a huge amount of intervention and yet the problems persist," he said at a press conference in Newfoundland.

Trudeau argued that a "fresh approach" is needed where Haitians are in charge.

"Outside intervention as we've done in the past hasn't worked to create long-term stability for Haiti."

In any case, Canada's top soldier doubts Ottawa has "capacity" to lead such an intervention.

"There's only so much to go around," Gen. Wayne Eyre, chief of the defence staff, told Reuters this week. "It would be challenging."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 15, 2023.

— With files from Émilie Bergeron

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

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