Canadian UN Missions in Haiti

1990s and 2004–Present

By: Patrick-Aurel Fournier

Patrick-Aurel Fournier

Historical Contributor

Patrick-Aurel Fournier holds degrees in both History and Criminal Justice from Nipissing University and is currently working towards his Bachelors of Education and completing his Masters Degree in History with his research titled: “Poppy Ville: The Commemorative Transformation of Welberg, Netherlands, 1945-2021”. Pat has always had a deep passion for history, more specifically in the reasons why and methods behind commemorations. In 2019, Pat was selected as 1 of 7 Canadian guides to work at the Juno Beach Center in Normandy, France; during the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. Born and raised in Northern Ontario and currently living in North Bay, ON; he hopes to one day begin teaching in the area and help foster the love and curiosity for history as was sparked in him by past educators. Pat is extremely excited to be able to help DMC in sharing our country’s history and hopes to spark curiosity and passion within his readers.

Political turmoil in Haiti reached a boiling point in 1991. Jean-Bertrand Aristide had been elected president at the end of 1990 with 67% support of voters; and the United Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS) both hoped that President Aristide’s time in office would bring an end to a long period of dictatorship and political instability and mark the shift toward a time of economic and social progress and democracy. However, Aristide was ultimately forced into exile after being overthrown in a coup d’état, headed by Lieutenant-General Raoul Cédras and the Haitian Armed Forces, in September 1991.

Canadian and Argentinian peacekeepers on foot patrol in Gonaives, Haiti following the overthrow of the country’s first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Image courtesy of the Canadian Department of National Defence.

Between 1991 and 1993, the UN and the OAS consistently denounced the Haitian Armed Forces for their actions and demanded the release of power and the restitution of President Aristide. The UN and the OAS implemented numerous embargoes against Haiti, attempting to force the Armed Forces to surrender to their requests. The UN and OAS also had a joint humanitarian mission active in Haiti at this time, allowing them to ensure that human rights in Haiti were still being observed and to undertake public-information and human-rights-education campaigns.

Civilian Police

Civilian police or UN Police officers are national police officers who are serving with the United Nations for a limited period of time. They aim to reinforce or re-establish domestic police services to create the conditions for sustainable peace and development. For more information, click here

In September 1993, the UN Security Council authorized the UN Mission in Haiti (UNMIH), which would commit nearly 1,300 civilian police and military personnel to help modernize the Haitian Armed Forces and establish a new police force. Canada agreed to contribute 500 Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel to the mission, primarily engineers and civilian police officers. The mission stalled on October 11, 1993, when the initial UN ship was met at the port by armed civilians, called “attachés,” who forced them to turn around.

In less than a week, the UN Security Council answered by creating a Multinational Force to ensure the strict implementation of an oil and arms embargo against Haiti, and in particular the halting and inspection of ships travelling toward Haiti in order to verify their cargoes and destinations. As part of this Multinational Force, three Canadian warships participated in the embargo until mid-December, when a series of single Canadian warships replaced them. By the time the embargo ended on September 29, 1994, Canadian sailors had made just shy of 1,400 armed boardings and diverted 119 ships from making deliveries to Haiti.

In the summer of 1994, the joint UN/OAS humanitarian mission reported an alarming increase in violence and human rights infractions on Haitian soil, including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and suspicious deaths. In response, the UN Security Council authorized the Multinational Force in July 1994 to enter Haiti and ensure the return of Aristide to power, by whatever means necessary. The Multinational Force met no resistance when they landed in Haiti in September. President Aristide returned to power, and UNMIH resumed.

In March 1995, approximately 500 CAF personnel arrived in Haiti. Composed mainly of aviation, engineering, transportation, and administrative support personnel, their role was to provide construction and logistical support to the UN mission. Canada’s contribution to the mission expanded a year later, in March 1996, when a new 750-person contingent arrived to replace previous forces, this time including infantry, engineers, helicopters, and logistics personnel. With President Aristide’s demand to the UN to continue its peacekeeping role in Haiti and assist the Haitian National Police, the UN altered its initial mission to focus more on support – becoming the UN Support Mission in Haiti (UNSMIH) – and extended its mandate until July 1997. As UNSMIH came into effect, the CAF sent another new contingent of 750 members to Haiti to support it, including reconnaissance, engineers, helicopters, and support elements.

Canada contributed again as the UN undertook the United Nations Transition Mission in Haiti (UNTMIH) from August to November 1997, providing a combined total of 650 members of both civilian police personnel and military personnel to the mission, including the force commander, Brigadier-General Robin Gagnon. The UN Civilian Police Mission in Haiti (MIPONUH) succeeded UNTMIH and operated from December 1997 to March 2000. This mission’s role was to continue the professionalization of the Haitian National Police, supported by a force of 300 civilian police members from 11 countries, including Canada. The CAF also provided six armoured personnel carriers and up to 11 driving instructors and maintenance personnel. By the conclusion of the UNTMIH, the UN did not feel the need to replace or renew their mission in Haiti, marking an end to the near decade of UN involvement in Haiti.

Later UN Involvement in Haiti

After another revolt in Haiti saw a change of power in 2004, the new interim president, Boniface Alexandre, requested help from the UN once again to help re-establish peace and safety. The UN rapidly responded with a multinational interim force. Canada sent 500 personnel to Haiti to assist the force, mainly staff officers, infantry, helicopters, and support personnel. As the multinational interim force evolved into the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti in June 2004, Canada’s role evolved with it. CAF sent a contingent of military personnel who participated in emergency relief operations in southeast Haiti after heavy rains hit the region, while helicopter teams delivered food, water, and other aid to civilians. CAF member Marc Vaillancourt remembers how the clear-cutting of trees augmented the impact of the heavy rains, further imperilling the food resources:

It used to be an absolutely beautiful place. Unfortunately, they’ve clear-cutted everything. All the trees are gone from the bottom of the hills right up to the highest point. So every evening there is a downpour of rain and it’s torrential. So all of that rain washes all of the topsoil from the tops of the hills all the way down, and it just cascades all the way through the streets and flows right into the oceans. So all the topsoil is gone. They can’t grow anything. All that topsoil is now in the ocean and it’s destroying the coral reefs, pushing the fish stocks farther and farther away, and their little boats aren’t capable of getting farther and farther away for fishing.

As part of Operation Hamlet, Canada also agreed to send up to 100 police officers annually to Haiti. Following a major earthquake that hit the country in January 2010, the CAF provided a joint task force to Haiti consisting of nearly 2,050 personnel, in air, land, and naval components of the mission.

Since 2017, the UN has held multiple missions in Haiti with the aim of promoting and protecting human rights, as well as assisting in the continuing development of the Haitian National Police and the strengthening of the justice and prison systems. Twenty-five Canadian police officers participated in the UN Mission for Justice Support in Haiti from 2017 to 2019. Since the establishment of the UN Integrated Office in Haiti in June 2019, Canadian police officers continue to work to strengthen political stability, help advance a peaceful and stable environment, and protect and promote human rights throughout the country. As of March 2021, there were still four Canadian police officers serving in the Integrated Office.

Canadian Armed Forces member in a helicopter keeping watch over Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Image courtesy of the Canadian Department of National Defence.

Master Corporal Joseph Vital André Lavallée

When the UNMIH mandate was extended to September 1996, the new 750-person Canadian contingent included Master Corporal Joseph Vital André Lavallée. Between March and September 1996, during Operation STANDARD, Master Corporal Lavallée and his fellow CAF members were tasked with numerous support roles throughout Haiti, ranging from a military police platoon providing support for the contingent, to reconnaissance elements of infantry battalions for patrols and other operations.

Following the general election in 1995, which saw René Préval become president, the need for security and stability was paramount. While deployed on Operation STANDARD, Master Corporal Lavallée was named a section commander of a counter-ambush group, tasked with providing a sense of security and stability while repressing rebel groups. From May 3 to June 3, 1996, Lavallée was stationed at the National Palace in Port-au-Prince, where he was regularly recognized for his work ethic and his exceptional professionalism. During President Préval’s visit to the National Palace in late May, Lavallée demonstrated immense courage and initiative alongside the section he was commanding, as he and his men were responsible for preventing approximately 1,000 people from entering the palace. Lavallée would be commended for his bravery and his dedication to Préval’s safety and to the UN contingent he was a part of. On November 26, 1997, he was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal for his service and sacrifices in Haiti.

Sources & Additional Reading

Canadian Encyclopedia. “Canadian Peacekeepers in Haiti.”

Government of Canada. “Effects on Environment,” in Veterans Affairs Canada – “Video Gallery” (June 20, 2019).

Government of Canada. “The Canadian Armed Forces in Haiti,” in Veterans Affairs Canada – “Haiti 1974–2010.”

Government of Canada. “United Nations Mission in Haiti (UNMIH),” in “National Security and Defence” (December 11, 2018).

Government of Canada. “United Nations Support Mission in Haiti (UNSMIH),” in “National Security and Defence” (December 11, 2018).

Office of the Secretary to the Governor General. “Master Corporal Joseph Vital André Lavallée,” on The Governor General of Canada.

Organization of American States. “Who We Are.”

United Nations. “International Civilian Support Mission in Haiti (MICAH),” in Archives and Record Management Section.

United Nations. “United Nations Mission in Haiti (UNMIH) – Background (Full Text).”

United Nations. “United Nations Support Mission in Haiti (UNSMIH) – Facts and Figures.”

United Nations. “United Nations Transition Mission in Haiti.”

United Nations Peacekeeping. “MINUSTAH Fact Sheet.”