Dangerous Hope: Canada’s Betrayal of Democracy in Haiti

June 14, 2018

Elaine Brière, David Putt, & Garry Auguste 

Thursday, June 14, 6:00PM–9:00PM, Room 1900, SFU Harbour Centre

Sponsored by SFU's Institute for the Humanities

Dangerous Hope tells the story of the rise of a grass roots movement for democracy in Haiti after the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship and how Canada became involved in the derailment of that movement.

In 2009 I accompanied my partner to Haiti to work on clean water development projects in some of the rawest slums in Port-au-Prince. Like most Canadians we had bought into the dominant narrative of Haiti as an almost ungovernable, failed state. We understood the “rescue” mission that sent President Aristide into exile in 2004 as one of many acts in a sorry Haitian drama in which Canada, out of humanitarian motives, provided much needed assistance to this chaotic country.  

But many people in the poor neighbourhoods we worked in recounted a version of the politics of the last 20 years that completely contradicted the Canadian narrative we had accepted. They described a series of popular elected governments that for the first time in Haiti's history delivered services to the impoverished majority – especially education, public health and rural development programs.   

Back in Canada we learned more about the recent history of Haiti and how Canada became a part of planning and executing the coup of 2004. We learned how Canadian mainstream media and even some Canadian NGO's, though vocal in demonizing the government of Haiti before the coup, were virtually silent on Canadian participation in the coup and the mass killings and incarceration of civilians after the coup.

Formerly Canada's foreign policy towards Haiti was independent of the US. Canadian aid in the seventies supported health, agricultural and rural development in Haiti. The Canadian government did not actively support the Duvalier dictatorship militarily, with arms and training, as the US did. How and why did this change?

This film asks some hard questions. Why the gap between Canada's proclaimed humanitarian goals and our funding of undemocratic opposition to the elected government in Haiti? Why was Canadian aid cut to the country when they were demonstratively making progress on human rights and the rule of law?  Why did Canada participate, along with the US and France, in an illegal and covert coup d'état in Haiti on the night of February 29, 2004?

This is the first time Canada has played a strategic and military role in the removal of a democratically elected government.

Dangerous Hope aspires to revisit this little known dark chapter in recent Canadian history and promote a discussion about Canada's actions in Haiti and the failure of our own democracy in allowing this to happen behind a veil of secrecy to this day. 



Elaine Brière is an award-winning filmmaker and documentary photographer. She holds a masters in Liberal Studies from Simon Fraser University and has guest lectured at Emily Carr, York University and the Harvard film school in Boston. Her photographs have been exhibited in the Netherlands, Sweden, Australia, Japan and France. The visual arts section of the National Archives of Canada has collected her work. Her first film Bitter Paradise: The Sell-out of East Timor, won Best Political Documentary at the l997 HOT DOCS! film festival in Toronto. Her current film, Dangerous Hope: Canada's Betrayal of Democracy in Haiti began as a Master's project at SFU and completed independently in May 2018.

David Putt is an agronomist/geologist from Nelson, BC.  He has worked extensively on projects involving environmental protection and management of soil, water and forest resources. After his retirement he began volunteering on water projects in Latin America. He went to Haiti for the first time in the late fall of 2009 to work with an American NGO on clean water projects in some of the poorest parts of Port-au-Prince. He was in the basement of an office building in when the earthquake hit on January 12.  He remained in Haiti for three months after the quake organizing water deliveries to clinics and hospitals and negotiating for aid for the poorest parts of the city. 

Garry Auguste grew up in the Bel Air district of Port au Prince, a poor area that was a centre of support for the Lavalas democracy movement. He was part of a group of 100 recruits trained by the RCMP in 1996 to be  police officers in the Haitian National Police. In 1998  U.S. officials displaced the RCMP and took over training of the HNP. The U.S. placed compromised ex Duvalier era Haitian Army officers in the higher ranks of the HNP. This undercut the integrity of the force and put the lower level officers at risk. Twelve of the group that Garry had trained with were killed over a six month period. In late 1998 he was warned that he was being targeted and he went underground for about four months before escaping to Canada. In Canada he  trained as an accountant.  He maintains active links with Haiti and supports education initiatives in Port au Prince.