Wednesday, March 31, 2010

New horizons

Apologies to those who have checked in over the last month -- I have left you hanging. But it has been filled with its share of trials and tribulations. Those have ended, starting today. I share with you my departing message to UNDP colleagues.

I am going to take another month (or so) to decide how to best continue my blogging and promise to keep you posted but, in the interim, to my readers, supporters, and champions in cyberspace -- I thank you, from the bottom of my heart. There are challenges ahead for our country, but major opportunities, as well. Today, I begin my journey towards helping solve some of the issues facing Canada and putting our country back on a respectable track. It will take time, but with the support of you all, I will stay the course. Merci!
Dear friends and colleagues in the Partnerships Bureau (and beyond),

Today was my last day at UNDP -- thank you all very much for an interesting, engaging, and event-filled year.

Though I move on to new challenges in Canada, the calling remains the same: help those less fortunate; promote peace, order and good governance; and help establish just and inclusive societies for all. I will remain keenly tuned to UNDP under the leadership of the new Administrator, and from the cold, windy shores of historic Halifax harbour, promise to cheer you on in all your international development efforts. It is for that reason I say goodbye for now, and not farewell forever -- considering how small the world is, it's not a matter of if, but when, our paths cross next.

I have tried to say personal goodbyes to as many of you as possible. If I didn't get a chance to share a laugh or a hug, please know that I was thinking about you and look forward to the next time we meet. (Of course, visits to Nova Scotia are more than welcome!)

Au revoir et bonne chance.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Phase II begins soon

Apologies to you, loyal readers. I am a little late with my post this week, but there is good reason. 

Almost a year ago, I started this blog with the intention of articulating thoughts about what it means to me to be Canadian, about how growing up Canadian shaped the way I see our country's place in the world, and how I envision a future for our country in an increasingly globalized, interconnected world. This blog was born out of a strong sense of pride, after being laughed at for wanting to be a more involved in Canadian political affairs.

Something similar happened again this weekend. In responding the question about where I was from, "I'm sorry about that" was the response from Richard, who tagged along with a friend to a wine tasting I was at this past Saturday. He may have been teasing, he may have been serious, but I still wanted to throw him the Trudeau salute. Being true to national character however, I cracked a joke, bit my tongue and kept my digits to myself.

Whether it is a testament to my perseverance, pure luck, or divine intervention, I will be moving on to a new position back home in Canada within 45 days -- I call it Phase II in the plan to restore Canada's reputation in the community of nations. I am mulling over what to do about blogging but, in the meantime, I have another four weeks to share feelings and thoughts about being a Canadian in the United Nations. I hope you'll join me as this journey winds down and help me as I plan another wild adventure in my home and native land.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Not hip to be uncool

Ah, the Winter Olympics! The eyes of the world are on Canada, land of ice and snow.

So is it just me who finds the warm weather and lack of snow at the mountain venues on the outskirts of Vancouver just a bit ironic? Or how about the fact that, despite all the hype about these games being the "greenest ever", organizers have been buying and trucking in snow. Juxtaposed against our less-than-genuine efforts in Copenhagen, I think we have the makings for a delicious 'sundae of irony'.

Would you like some sprinkles with that?

And by sprinkles, I mean latest word from an international survey by Globescan that shows that Canada's reputation has slipped amongst the community of nations. We just don't enjoy the same kind of respect we used to. It wasn't that long ago, in September 2003 to be exact, that The Economist dubbed Canada a 'rather cool place' to live. The ensuing years have been rough. We now have The Economist mocking our country and, in particular, our government, for having to prorogue parliament on the pretext that the Olympics would be a distraction to the act of governing.

How stupid have Canadians become? In a world increasingly used to multitasking, are you telling me that we can't handle sports and politics? What about war and politics? Or worse, sports, war and politics. When will the insanity in Ottawa stop?

The priorities -- at least to me -- are glaringly clear. Put our fiscal house in order, protesting loudly when money is squandered by the government on ideological rubbish; make strategic investments to help Canadians transition to more localized economies, including boosting spending for, and building more, public transit, repurposing urban sprawl, and encouraging localized agriculture; building high-speed rail links between every major urban centre from coast to coast to coast, creating a high-speed backbone supported by conventional rail links to smaller provincial centres; boost spending to increase access to education, specifically in the areas of nutrition, civics, international relations, and languages; and of course, focus Canadian ingenuity in energy, technology and medicine.

See, that wasn't so hard! I was typing this while sipping a cup of coffee and listening to the radio. I wonder if that would make me overqualified to work in Ottawa these days?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Join in the celebration, and tales of the onion ring that could

Today marks the start of the 20th anniversary of International Development Week.

Between 7 and 13 February, a collection of meetings and lectures across Canada will publicize the work of the Canadian Government and other Canadian organizations regarding progress achieved and lessons learned in international development work. For more information about happenings in your area, check out the calendar of events and get involved.

Notwithstanding the current Government and the general meander away from a centred, solid politic in Ottawa over the last 7 years, Canada has a tradition of helping others. In fact, it's a rather short legacy in which we should all take pride -- it's only since the 1960s that as a nation, we began to understand the value of international development and helping others beyond our borders. Pearson really built the foundation, which then blossomed into a reputation for non-politicized assistance to developing countries in the ensuing years.

'Non-politicized' is really the key. Today, that has changed dramatically with the unenlightened, rather provincial and downright Machiavellian conservative yahoos who have steamrolled Ottawa. So let me get this right -- prorogue parliament but take away a couple of week-long breaks for MPs? How utterly stupid. Change internationally agreed-upon language in foreign policy documents to a sanitized and incompatible lexicon? When did Ottawa become a national daycare centre?

So forget about Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament -- that train has left the station. How about a grease-soaked, translucent onion ring for Prime Minister... I can almost guarantee we'd have better politics and better foreign policy, too.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

In Memoriam

UPDATE -- 9 February

Jean-Philippe Laberge, Civil/Military Coordination Officer

Jean-Philippe Laberge, 1974 - 2010
Mr. Jean-Philippe Laberge, a national of Canada, had been working as a Civil/Military Coordination Officer with the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) since 2005 when he was killed in the earthquake that struck Haiti on 12 January 2010. He was 36 years old.

He held a Bachelor of Science degree in International Relations and Political Analysis from Université du Québec in Montréal and later received a Master’s degree in European Politics and Policy from the London School of Economics.

Since early 2000, Jean-Philippe, always eager to transmit his knowledge and share his working experience, regularly gave briefings to students at the prestigious Institut d'Études Politiques de Paris. He was also sought after to prepare various case studies for the school.

After his first job as a parliamentary assistant at the Canadian Parliament, he worked for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Bosnia as a Human Rights Officer and Project Manager (1999-2000), and from there he moved to Kosovo to work for the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) as a Minority Affairs and a Return Officer.

In Kosovo, Jean-Philippe was a “tireless advocate for the most downtrodden of the territory's ethnic minorities, its large Roma population, many of whom fled to neighboring states during the NATO bombing campaign. His passionate enthusiasm for their cause and the links of personal trust he built with Roma representatives were critical in overcoming suspicions of the UN, encouraging them to return to their homes in Kosovo and rebuild their lives,” said his former supervisor there.

Jean-Philippe worked in Kosovo for over three years during the reconstruction phase after the war. It was there that he met his future wife, Victoria, who was also working with UNMIK.

After Kosovo, he took up a post in the Middle East with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) as an Operation Support Officer in the Gaza Strip. Victoria followed him there, later taking up a position with the World Food Programme (WFP) in Jerusalem.

Jean-Philippe’s “kindness and generosity were unique and made him a wonderful human being and friend,” said his colleagues from UNWRA in a letter signed, among others, by the agency’s Commissioner-General, Karen Abu-Zayd. He was a “true leader, taking the right decisions particularly in difficult situations – as was often the case in Gaza.”

“I can not forget Jean-Philippe’s sense of humor even in very difficult and dangerous situations, especially in the village of Beit Hanoun where we had to facilitate UNRWA’s medical staff access,” remembered another colleague who also described how Jean-Philippe put in long hours during tough negotiations.

Jean-Philippe left UNRWA to follow Victoria to Haiti. “They had a tacit agreement to follow each other by turn. They traveled a lot together, always had new ideas and plans, and were extremely respectful of one another. To their friends, they were the most beautiful, lovely couple. Everybody admired them as friends, humanitarian professionals, a couple, and, of course, parents,” said a close friend.

A memorial service is scheduled to take place in Montreal on 10 February 2010. Additional details are available in the eRoom.

Jean-Philippe is survived by his wife Victoria, their two children, Emilie, three years old, and Maxime Antoine, one year old, his mother Marjolaine Lord and his father Jocelyn Laberge.

UPDATE -- 4 February

Sadly, the names of colleagues -- Canadiuns -- who perished in the Haiti earthquake continue to be reported to headquarters. As a show of support, I wanted to leave this post up for another week and, with great sorrow, add the following:

Sgt. Mark Gallagher, United Nations policy, UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH)
Sgt. Mark Gallagher, 1959 - 2010
Sgt. Mark Gallagher, a national of Canada, was a member of the United Nations Police serving with the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) when the earthquake struck Haiti on 12 January 2010.

A veteran police officer who also was an avid boating enthusiast, Mark garnered 25 years of professional experience in Canada. Before starting his nine-month peacekeeping mission in Haiti, he had most recently served as Media Relations Officer in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) where he had been working since 1998. Prior to that, he worked for the Moncton Police Service in New Brunswick for 14 years.

In 2002, he was awarded the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Commemorative Medal and the Police Exemplary Service Medal for over 20 years of police service.

Deployed to Haiti in July 2009, Mark worked as Officer in the Haitian National Police (HNP) Development Pillar and was responsible for coordinating HNP needs in MINUSTAH.

Mark was one of 100 Canadian police officers who have served with MINUSTAH.

“This is the first time that a serving Canadian police officer has been killed on active duty in an international peacekeeping operation,” said Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in an official statement.

“He was a fine officer who always put the welfare of others before himself,” said Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter, adding, “It was this selflessness that led him to volunteer in Haiti.”

Described as a “gentle, kind spirit” by those who knew him, Mark went to Haiti to help the less fortunate. He told his colleagues that “the smallest gestures can make all the difference for those living in such extreme poverty.”

Given the day-to-day realities of life in Haiti, Mark had a hard time adjusting to his comfortable lifestyle in Canada during his recent Christmas trip back home, according to those close to him.

Attendees at his funeral were told that “Mark discharged his responsibility with dignity, with respect and with a great deal of compassion.”

Thanks to his honorable service, the Premier of New Brunswick plans to nominate Sgt. Gallagher for the Order of New Brunswick, the province’s highest honour given to individuals who have “demonstrated excellence and achievement and who have made outstanding contributions to the social, cultural or economic well-being of New Brunswick and its residents.”

Mark is survived by his wife Lisa, his son Shane and his daughter Heather.


With the dust mostly settled in Haiti, the aftermath and devastation can now be truly understood. The situation is, in a word, tragic.

Let me share the names of those Canadians who were an integral part of the United Nations family serving in Haiti, and who paid the ultimate price in the service of humanity. They are:

Renée Carrier, Personal Assistant to the Special Representative
Doug Coates, Acting Commissioner, United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH)
James Coates, Administrative Assistant
Alexandra Duguay, Public Information Assistant
Guillaume Siemienski, Political Affairs Officer

Sadly, the ranks of those killed may yet swell; there are staff who remain unaccounted for. The United Nations has a memorial webpage and has encouraged colleagues and friends to eulogize all those who perished. So far, there are stories available for two of the five CandiUNs. I post their stories here, for your consideration and will update them as they become available:

Renée Carrier, 1955 - 2010 [added 25 January]
Ms. Renée Carrier, a Canadian national, had been serving as the Personal Assistant to Special Representative Hédi Annabi at the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) since 2007 when she died in the Haiti earthquake of 12 January.

Renée began her UN career as a Secretary in the French typing pool in 1988 and soon after was assigned as an Editorial Clerk in the French Unit of what is now the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management (DGACM). As her friends and colleagues all attest, her “legendary professionalism” led her to a first peacekeeping post in 1991 when she began working for the Force Commander of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).

Though she returned to UN Headquarters in between assignments, she enjoyed life in the field. She served twice in Haiti and once in the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) during her 22 years of service.

For Renée peacekeeping was more than an assignment, as she shared with one colleague when asked why she never married: “I am already married to the United Nations and my spouse, the UN, always invites me to join him whenever he is invited to serve.”

“She was the dream employee every supervisor wants.” As one colleague put it, “I always had the impression that her bosses felt they had won the lottery when Renée decided to apply for a position in their team. And in fact, they did.”

What separated Renée from everyone else was her work ethic. “She stood out for her poise, utmost professionalism and the effortless way in which she resolved even the most challenging difficulties at short notice,” said Under-Secretary-General for Management Angela Kane who worked with her in Asmara, Eritrea. “She never said ‘no’ or ‘that can't be done.’ Instead, she listened carefully, went back to her desk, only to return soon thereafter with a solution.”

Ambassador Legwaila Joseph Legwaila of Botswana, former UNMEE head with whom she worked as a Personal Assistant, described her as “peerlessly efficient and dedicated, a valuable friend and colleague and an indispensable partner.”

“She was organized and super efficient perhaps from her background as a school administrator in Quebec before joining the UN.”

A colleague with whom she worked closely in Peacekeeping Operations commented: “I don’t think I ever saw her make a mistake in the years we shared offices.”

This petite dynamo of a woman, who worked closely with Force Commanders and Special Representatives of the Secretary-General was also a loyal friend and helpful colleague to everyone with whom she worked, regardless of rank or level.

But it was her ability to engender trust and confidence that endeared her to so many.

More than her dedication to duty and her consummate professionalism, what her friends will remember most are the special times they shared with her and her many acts of kindness. As one colleague noted, she attached great importance to doing the right thing and was uncompromising about it.

One colleague recalls “my own children loved her dearly, and she was often a part of our family celebrations.”

Others talked of Renée’s laughter and her love of life: “I remember her goofy sense of humour and her sensitivity about her braces and how she was the world’s worst karaoke singer and would only do it if we gave her a bunch of white wine first.”

She also took pride in being fit and ran long distance both in the New York City, when at home, and wherever she was in the field.

Haiti, which she loved, was to have been Renée’s last assignment as she was making plans to retire in her beloved Quebec.

“She had recently bought an apartment and was getting ready to go home and settle down. Her friends were in line to spend more time with her and enjoy her company,” shared a close friend in a tribute to her.

But as another friend who exchanged emails with her some twenty minutes before the earthquake reminds us, Renée will always live on in our memories for her selfless “love for Haiti and the passion for the job she was doing there” to help the people of that country.

General Robert Gordon with whom she served in Eritrea said: “Her star still shines.”
Renée is survived by her brother Marc and her sisters Andrée and Danielle.
Doug Coates, 1957 – 2010
Doug Coates of Canada was serving as acting commissioner at the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) at the time of his death in the 12 January 2010 earthquake.

A Royal Canadian Mounted Police superintendent, he made frequent UN peacekeeping missions to Haiti over a 17 year period.

Former colleagues noted that Doug’s passion, energy, focus and professionalism were instantly recognizable.

His son stated that he was proud of his work mentoring police officers while at the UN Mission in Haiti. “He has touched the lives of countless Haitians,” he said.

Secretary-General BAN Ki-moon called him a UN hero and said he was “a great police officer who believed to his core in the importance of rule of law and justice.”

One of Doug’s defining achievements with the UN was to open five police stations in the Grand Anse region of Haiti, re-establishing police services for the estimated 800,000 citizens of that area.

In 1993, Doug undertook his first of numerous missions to Haiti, where he helped train local law enforcement officers. After several months, he was pressured to leave due to civil unrest in the region but returned in 1995 to continue his work, receiving a medal for his peacekeeping efforts on this subsequent trip.

As a decorated officer, Doug saw his peacekeeping experience as more than a job. According to colleagues, he would close all meetings and correspondence by saying, “Working together in the service of peace” – his personal motto.

This devotion was evident throughout his extensive law-enforcement and peacekeeping career that began in 1978, when he joined the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. He specialized in mountain search and rescue among other things.

After showing his strengths as an investigator in Alberta, Canada, his interests led him to Ottawa where he became part of an elite emergency response team.

In 1996, he assumed responsibility for the management of Canadian police deployments, his competency eventually bringing him to head the Proceeds of Crime Unit in Quebec which focused on money laundering. He also took secondments at Pearson Peacekeeping Centre in Ottawa and the Australian Federal Police.

During the course of his extensive career, Doug was the recipient of a Canadian peacekeeping service medal, a Queen’s Golden Jubilee medal, a 30-year silver clasp and the police exemplary service medal. He will be remembered as a brave and generous friend, colleague, father and husband.

He is survived by his wife, Lise and his three children, Julie, Mathieu and Luc.
James Coates, 1972 - 2010 [added 26 January]
James Coates, a native of Canada, held several positions in the Department of Public Information (DPI) before joining the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) in the summer of 2008.

After a musical childhood in which he played guitar and piano and was an avid singer and gymnast, James left Newfoundland to pursue a Bachelor of Arts at Laval University in Quebec City. He also received a degree from the London School of Journalism.

Described as “sharp-witted, personable and disarmingly charming,” James was well-read, well-traveled and passionate about seeking out new experiences.

His career outside the UN included jobs in Togo, Benin, Vietnam and Italy, as well as in Toronto and Quebec City, where he lived for many years. James spoke English, French and Vietnamese.

One colleague remembered that “his travels were also occasions to show what an amazing photographer he was, which I strongly believe has to do with the way he saw the world. James was also very fond of nature and the great outdoors.”

To satisfy his passion for writing and music, he worked as a journalist and a disc jockey, and frequently wrote reviews of music and travel destinations.

In New York, James worked in the Meetings Coverage Section of the Press Service in DPI’s News and Media Division and then in the Communications Campaigns Service of DPI’s Strategic Communications Division. He also worked with the team that drafted the Report of the Independent Panel on Safety and Security of UN Personnel and Premises Worldwide.

According to one colleague, “James' sense of humor brought such joy at the end of a long day and our lunch dates were a bright spot in my weeks. James had an ability to be light and funny, but he also had a profound appreciation for the complexity of our lives and the lifestyle we had chosen as UN staff. He offered invaluable counsel to his friends and never shied away from being lovingly honest.”

Another said that James “always gave [his friends] the best advice. He was very fond of practical solutions and was incredibly helpful in solving complicated situations.”

"James made friends easily because he could always connect on some common ground. And people, no matter who they were, just seemed to like to talk to him,” added a close friend.

“I was with James when he found out he had been selected to go to Haiti on mission and I will never forget how happy and excited he was,” said a colleague. “He was good to the people and good for this planet […] He had this great ability to really seize the day and live it fully and peacefully at the same time. He was very much appreciative of life and was making the most of it.”

A brief biography of James can be found at the journalism web site “suite101,” to which he was a regular contributor.
Alexandra Duguay, 1978 - 2010
Ms. Alexandra Duguay, a national of Canada, began her career at the United Nations some 12 years ago. Then only 19 years of age, she started as an assistant during the General Assembly and then took on various communications roles within the Department of Public Information before joining the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) in 2009. She had been in Port-au-Prince for seven months.

Known occasionally as “Miss Sunshine” or simply as “Alex,” she served as a warm welcome to all new staff covering the General Assembly. This sunny attitude ensured she always remained courteous under stressful situations. One colleague remembered how nicely she approached a then newcomer to help evacuate the building on 11 September 2001.

Originally from Québec City, a colleague described Alex as “a perfect example of the type of ambitious, accomplished, multilingual, effortlessly cool young person who is drawn to New York and the UN.”

She moved to Haiti in June 2009, spurred on by her sense of adventure, eagerness to help out, and to join her partner and UN staffer, Marc-André Franche (Canada), who survived the earthquake.

“She had been drawn to the UN by her passion for humanitarian affairs that had existed since childhood,” said her mother.

This devotion was evident, as she consistently looked for extra ways to help where she could in Haiti. In December, Alex was involved with the work of Sister Flora, who runs an orphanage on the island of Ile à Vaches.

A truly selfless person, she helped neighborhood children. She designed and decorated colorful new street signs for “Impasse Tulipe” in her neighbourhood in Port-au-Prince where many streets are nonexistent. Alex took the initiative to construct a sign herself.

This notion of injecting the world with color was natural to Alex. Colleagues and friends recollect her signature sense of humor, boundless enthusiasm and infectious laugh.

She is perhaps best summed up with the following quote from one colleague: “Alex is the equation between energy and perpetual motion."

Alex enjoyed all aspects of life. She ran marathons in New York and in Paris, loved traveling and children, and was fascinated by arts and photography. She was described by her professor at the NYU School of Continuing and Professional Studies as his “star student.”

As a UN figure that made a positive impact on everyone with whom she came across, most will agree with one of her colleagues who said, “The memory of your light will fill the void. The tragedy of your loss reminds us never to take anything for granted.”

Her family is planning to organize a public funeral to take place towards the end of next week in her hometown of Québec City.

She is survived by her parents, her four sisters, her brother and Marc-André Franche.

Guillaume Siemienski, 1954 - 2010
[added 27 January]
Mr. Guillaume Siemienski, a Canadian national, started working with the United Nations in 2008 when he was posted as a Senior Political Affairs Officer with the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) in Tbilisi. He was reassigned to the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) in Port-au-Prince in August 2009. He was 55 years old when the earthquake struck.

Before joining the UN Guillaume worked in the Canadian Ministry of Citizenship and Multiculturalism for over ten years. From 2001-2005, he worked in Canadian Embassies in Moscow, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Ankara. During this period he also went on a few missions for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). In 1999, he was appointed Senior Development Officer at the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

On 16 January 2010, the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement on the deaths of Guillaume Siemienski and another Canadians stationed in Haiti. “Their deaths are a reminder of the sacrifice Canadian men and women … are willing to make in order to bring Canadian generosity and aid to Haiti and the world.”

Guillaume was the head of the Messaging Unit in the Political Affairs Division in MINUSTAH and was in charge of reviewing and supervising the production of all speeches, ranging from medal parade speeches to speeches for inaugurations, and daily and weekly situation reports.

His team described him as “a pleasant, jolly colleague.”

He was remembered for “cracking jokes and laughing loudly during Monday morning team meetings.”

He was “very personable and had a great way of never making you feel supervised.”

He always inspired positive energy among his family, friends and colleagues. “The house would shake from the energy that he inspired.”

“He was the sunniest, most loving person,” said his sister.

Guillaume held an Honours Bachelor’s degree in Russian and Slavic Studies from McGill University and another degree from Université de Paris III, in Contemporary Soviet Studies. He spoke several languages fluently including English, French, Russian, and Polish as well as German less so.

He spent most of his life doing humanitarian work. “He truly believed in working towards democracy and human rights,” his sister also said.

Guillaume and his wife had just returned to Haiti after a visit to Montreal, where the couple spent the Christmas holidays with their family. At the gathering, he sang a song he composed to describe his life with his wife, Maria Karolina.

Guillaume is survived by his wife, and two sons, Christopher who resides in Poland, and Martin who attends university in Montreal.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

It's Haiti, not Hate-y

Strange title. I'll explain.

First, in the context of the terrible devastation that has struck Haiti, let me say that my thoughts and prayers go out to its people, my United Nations colleagues, and the wider development community. The UN and NGOs stationed on the front lines are staffed with good people, trying to overcome hellish odds, to do good work for the betterment of humanity.

Yet, I can't help but see the week's tragic events in Haiti in its larger (and I would argue more important) context.

I am not an imperialist. But given the relatively close proximity of Haiti to the US and Canada, we must see this destructive tragedy as a mirror. Our hemisphere has failed to deliver fair and equitable development assistance and has failed to transfer the skills needed to build a sustainable society and reinforce democratic principles in support of self-determination and sovereignty.

We have forsaken the people of Haiti and it was on full display this week. Most, if not all of the government buildings were destroyed in the earthquake (note the 'before' and 'after' photos of the presidential palace, for example). A vast majority of the functionaries critical to ensuring government continuity, were killed or are unaccounted for. Systems for communication, internally and externally, were essentially destroyed. At a special session of the Joint Meeting of the Executive Boards of UNDP/UNFPA, UNICEF and the World Food Programme on the situation in Haiti last Friday, the representative spoke emotionally and passionately about the situation on the ground. (I intend to post his audio here - please check back)

We have known for a very long time that Haiti, despite the efforts of the UN, has been unable to combat its dire poverty or put its internal affairs in order. Instead, for most of the 20th century, the world was preoccupied with obfuscation and confusion of the real issues, focused more on the instability brought about by a myriad of puppet dictators and petty thugs, each claiming to be the political saviour for the Haitian people. With the exception of the name plaque on the office of the President, has anything changed? We certainly witnessed the literal collapse of the Haitian government this week.

So now, the question in my mind related to the title of this blog post is, do we hate Haiti? Do we value our lives more than those in Haiti?

While we can barely manage our own population of poor and disenfranchised in Canada, is it not in our best interest to invest in democratic institutions (and associated redundancies) so that a country like Haiti can be self-sufficient and stable, even in the worst time of need? The burden of responsibility is extra heavy on Canada -- we are as much French as we are English; Quebec has been -- and remains -- a beacon of hope for many Haitians. From a justice and dignity perspective, we must begin to play a greater role in ensuring the requisite knowledge for modern physical and social constructs are shared swiftly and take firm root immediately. Meanwhile, isn't it a shame -- actually, isn't it disgusting -- that our politicians aren't around (thanks to prorogation) to show solidarity with the people of Haiti on behalf of Canadians? Another nail in the coffin of the ideological and the negatively-progressive Conservative government.

At the Joint Meeting of the Boards, the WFP representative on the podium was quite candid. He said things would get worse, before they get better. My prayer for Haiti is that we are in a position to turn our hate into hope... and action.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

My Protest

It's official -- Parliament is on vacation until 3 March.


I am anti-rogue!

Bring democracy back to Canada.

Bring accountability and transparency back to the Canadian political system.

Dump Harper. Dump Ignatieff. Dump Layton.

It's time for real leaders and genuine leadership.

Write your MP and express your disdain. Get involved in local politics.

The time for change is now. Join in the anti-rogue campaign!


On this day, 10 January 1946, the first United Nations General Assembly opened in London. Have a listen to the opening statement.

Harper cartoon copyright Graham MacKay.