Haitian Lawyer Mario Joseph and Educator Rea Dol Complete Successful Speaking Tour to Canada
by Roger Annis
photo's by Darren Ell
Haiti’s leading human rights lawyer, Mario Joseph, and one of that country’s inspiring educators, Rea Dol, recently completed a five-day speaking tour that took them to Montreal and Ottawa. Additionally, Madame Dol visited Toronto and Orillia, Ontario for five days. Hundreds of people attended their public talks and seminars. Their visit also received widespread coverage in Canadian media.
“The speaking tour exceeded our expectations,” reports Darren Ell of the Montreal Haiti Solidarity Committee, one of the sponsoring organizations. “We wanted to give a big boost to ongoing solidarity efforts in Canada with Haiti and we have certainly achieved that.”
Ryan Sawatzky organized Dol’s visit to Toronto and Orillia. The goal was to introduce educators and educational institutions to the SOPUDEP School that she directs. “The school requires international support in order to survive, especially since the earthquake,” he reports. “Our foundation seeks partners for its work and we have met new ones as a result of Rea’s visit.”
Montreal visit is widely reported and packed with activity
The room was full on Jan. 21 for the press conference that launched Joseph and Dol’s visit to Montreal. He is the Director of the Office of International Lawyers (Bureau des avocats internationaux or BAI) in Port-au-Prince and a member of the board of directors of the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. Joseph’s comments on post-earthquake Haiti, the Nov. 28, 2010 elections, and Jean-Claude Duvalier’s return to Haiti on Jan. 17, 2011 were widely reported in Quebec and Canadian media in the days that followed.
An article in the Jan. 22 French-language Quebec daily Le Devoir was headlined, “Canada is no friend of Haiti.” Quoting Joseph, it read: “Canada understands democratic values, so why is it supporting a government in Haiti that does not respect the constitution?” Joseph condemned the Nov. 28 election, calling for its cancellation and encouraging Duvalier regime victims to contact his office with their testimony in order to help the BAI build a legal case against Duvalier for human rights crimes.
Joseph was interviewed at length by Le Devoir in preparation for the article. He also met with reporters at La Presse, the largest circulation French-language newspaper in the Americas.
In an interview published on the weekly web journal of the influential Quebec print monthly, l’Aut’Journal, Joseph criticized the failure of members of the Canadian Parliament to advocate for justice and democracy in Haiti. “In the US, a group of 45 members of Congress have condemned the fraudulent elections held in Haiti on Nov. 28. In Canada, it seems that all parliamentarians - including the Bloc Québécois and the NDP- have basically accepted the framework of the first round of the Haitian elections,” he said.
He said that René Préval’s presidency should not be extended beyond the end of its mandate on Feb. 7. A provisional government should be formed according to the terms of Haiti’s constitution. One of its tasks would be to organize a free and fair election.
Joseph appeared on Radio Canada, Canada’s French-language national broadcaster, with two of its most well-known hosts, Michel Désautels and news anchor Anne-Marie Dussault. In the interviews, Joseph discussed the work of the BAI and the case against Duvalier. He argued that Duvalier's surprise arrival in Haiti demands prompt action by justice officials to prosecute him. He also observed that Duvalier’s case is conveniently serving as a distraction from the deeper issues of fraudulent elections and a failed reconstruction plan.
The weekly, French language Guide to North Montreal, published in the heart of the city’s 80,000 strong Haitian community, reported on the Jan. 24 public forum in Montreal where Joseph and Dol outlined Haiti’s dire situation and the critical aid and reconstruction needs that are not being met. One hundred people attended the forum.
The two spoke at Kreyòl-language public meetings in Ottawa and Montreal, attended by 100 and 125 people respectively.
On Jan. 21, Joseph spoke to a meeting of 45 lawyers and law students at the provincial court building in Montreal. The meeting was organized by Attorney Daniel Tardiff, a Quebec lawyer who assisted the BAI with legal training for one month following the earthquake. Discussion at the meeting focused on how lawyers in Quebec can support the work of the BAI as well as other legal aid projects in Haiti.
Joseph gave one example of support that could be offered. The BAI has launched a pilot project with Zanmi Lasante/Partners In Health in three prisons to bring legal representation and health treatment to prisoners. He notes that 80% of prisoners in Haiti are being held in preventive detention, that is, with no charges against them and no opportunity to plead their case before a judge. “The project has been a success, and we would like to expand it to more prisons,” he said.
Building support for SOPUDEP
Ryan Sawatzky is the president of the Sawatzky Family Foundation. For the past three years, it has been an important supporter of the SOPUDEP School, located in Pétionville, a town near Port-au-Prince. Prior to the earthquake, the school had an enrolment of close to 600 students. It served as an example of what the future public school system in Haiti could look like; it charges no fees to students whose families can’t afford to pay. The school was destroyed by the earthquake but it is slowly getting back on its feet, thanks, in part, to international support.
Sawatzky reports: “Rea met with educators, school boards, newspaper editors and many other people during her visit to Toronto and Orillia. This has opened new doors for funding and other forms of support to the school.” Dol spoke to a public forum in Toronto on Jan. 14 attended by 45 people. She also met with editors of the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest circulation daily newspaper. SOPUDEP has figured among the social organizations that the Star has appealed to readers to support following the earthquake. At the public forum, $2,600 in donations for the school were raised.
On Jan. 21, she spoke to 40 people in a forum organized by the Freire Project at McGill University in Montreal. It is an institute dedicated to critical pedagogy and social justice. A lively discussion took place, focused on how to realize the ideals of education in a country struggling with deep poverty and a major earthquake’s fallout.
Fifty human rights groups from around the world, including Mario Joseph and the BAI, have issued a statement urging the Haitian government to investigate and prosecute Jean-Claude Duvalier for human rights crimes. You can read it here: http://www.canadahaitiaction.ca/content/prosecute-jean-claude-duvalier-s....
The interview with Mario Joseph by l’Aut’Journal on January 27 was the most comprehensive published report on his visit to Canada. The original French-language version can be read here:
The English language translation can be read here: