Haitian dismayed by detention, allegations

Posted by admin on Jan 15th, 2007

Haitian dismayed by detention, allegations. Don Lajoie Windsor Star Monday, January 15, 2007

A former Haitian parliamentarian, arrested and detained for 15 days at the Windsor jail upon arriving at the border to seek political asylum, says he was “first surprised” then “dismayed” to learn that the political lies in his homeland had followed him to Canada. In his first interview since being released Dec. 28, Jean Candio, elected as deputy in the parliament of ousted Haitian president Jean Bertrand Aristide in 2000, said he had reason to believe he would be welcomed in Canada, at least as a refugee, when he arrived Dec. 13. Instead, Candio was arrested by Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA) officers and hauled to Windsor’s jail, where he languished for two weeks on allegations of terrorist affiliations in Haiti.

He was not freed until local activists and MP Joe Comartin (NDP–Windsor-Tecumseh) intervened on his behalf. “I was surprised the Government of Canada would take such action,” said Candio, a large, barrel-chested man with a voice as soft as it is deep.

“Before coming to Canada I made inquiries with government officials and it was set that I would come Dec. 13, and make my application… I had a meeting with border officials to present my case.”

But Candio could not convince the CBSA officers on duty and was detained.

Asked about his treatment during the detention, Candio would say only “the experience wasn’t good.”

Candio, who fled Haiti after Aristide and his Famille Lavalas party government were toppled in 2004, was told he was being held because of allegations he was involved in human rights violations and had connections to violent political gangs or terrorist groups in his homeland.

The CBSA has since dropped the allegation Candio was the member of a terrorist group, his lawyer Paul Copeland said last week.

Candio remains in Windsor as he pursues his refugee application.

The accusations of involvement in human rights violations and other political violence are false, he said. One incident he was accused of taking part in, an armed attack on a church, happened when he was outside the country.

“I am against violence, in all of its forms, and I have been since childhood until today,” he said. “I would never be a member of such organizations…. How can I be part of violence? I am a teacher, called to educate…. Lavalas has never used gangs for politics. We are a democratic party.”

When Candio was freed, an official with the Canadian Embassy in Port-au-Prince stated the embassy “is not under instruction to characterize the Lavalas Party as terrorist.”

While the Lavalas party was supported by “grassroots” elements during the violence before Aristide was forced out, Candio denied the government had any association with criminal elements taking advantage of the chaos for their own gain.

Candio’s family also suffered during the uprising. His house was burned to the ground. His sister and her seven-month-old baby were killed. A cousin was murdered at a roadblock set up by the former military.

Candio fled and eventually made it to neighbouring Dominican Republic. From there he and his family made their way to the United States. He lived there until he was detained by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. Upon negotiating a voluntary departure he left for Canada, leaving his wife and newborn child behind. He also has a teenage daughter living “in hiding” in Haiti. Candio’s goal is to reunite his family in Windsor, where he hopes to make his home, find work and, eventually, apply for Canadian citizenship. Candio said only death awaits him if he were to return to Haiti, though he would not rule out going back if “democracy comes.”

Asked if there is still hope for the western world’s most troubled country, he replied: “There’s always hope in Haiti. People will fight to the end. This is not the first occupation,” he added, referring to the presence of UN troops.

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