May 26th, 2024

Haitian says Canada used property for helicopter airlift, but wouldn’t lift sanctions

By Darryl Greer, The Canadian Press on May 7, 2024.

The Canadian government used a Haitian executive's property for helicopter evacuations of its citizens as violence escalated there even while Canada refused to remove the man from its sanctioned list, a Federal Court application says. Canadian soldiers stand guard on the rooftop of their embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Wednesday, April 10, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Odelyn Joseph

The Canadian government used a Haitian executive’s property for helicopter evacuations of its citizens as violence escalated there last month, even while refusing to remove him from a sanctions list, a Federal Court application says.

The Canadian government sanctioned Reynold Deeb in December 2022, along with two other “high-profile members of the economic elite in Haiti,” Global Affairs Canada said at the time.

In his latest Federal Court application as he seeks removal from the sanctions list, Deeb denies any connections to the gang violence that plagues the country, and says he’s “deeply involved in community philanthropy.”

Deeb says in the document that his “reputable nature” was on display when the RCMP and Canada’s ambassador asked him to allow them to use his property for police training exercises and helicopter evacuations of Canadian citizens early last month.

He claims he was “happy to agree” to provide assistance. But even though the Canadian government had turned to him “in a time of crisis,” it refused to lift the sanctions against him, he says.

“Why the Government of Canada was simultaneously asking Mr. Deeb for use of his property and maintaining sanctions against him is not clear,” his judicial review application says.

Deeb claims his inclusion on Canada’s sanctions list is “erroneous,” and those who find themselves sanctioned suffer “severe reputational damage,” while being denied financial services and employment opportunities, and being given travel restrictions.

Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said the sanctions were imposed in 2022 “in response to the egregious conduct of Haitian elites who provide illicit financial and operational support to armed gangs.”

The Canadian government accused Deeb, Gilbert Bigio and Sherif Abdallah of protecting and enabling “armed criminal gangs, including through money laundering and other acts of corruption.”

Deeb filed an application in the Federal Court of Canada in November to compel the minister to make a decision on his bid to be removed from the sanctions list.

Now, Deeb claims in a second Federal Court application filed last month that the minster denied his removal request in March without disclosing her reasons “in a meaningful manner.”

The document says he’s a “reputable businessman,” working as a purchasing manager for the Deka Group, a collective of companies that are the “leading importers of consumer goods in Haiti.”

Canada’s ambassador asked for his help on the same day the minister of foreign affairs declined to remove him from the sanctions list, his application says.

The document says the minister’s decision was based on “open-source” information about his alleged bribery, tax evasion and gang financing activities.

He’s also alleged to have close ties to former president Michel Martelly, and sanctioned politician Gary Bodeau.

Deeb claims the minister wrongfully relied on the information to make the sanctions decision, denying him “procedural fairness.”

In an interview, Deeb’s lawyers John Boscariol and Geoff Hall said Deeb has email communications with Canadian embassy officials thanking him for use of his property to stage helicopter evacuations and RCMP training exercises for Haitian police officers.

Hall said the emails are “quite remarkable,” showing Canadian embassy officials and the RCMP were thankful and “complimentary” toward Deeb for allowing the use of his property, “which is actually contrary to sanctions law for Canadians to be using property of those who are sanctioned,” Hall said.

Boscariol and Hall said their client feels unfairly maligned by his inclusion on Canada’s sanctions list, claiming Deeb has been an “ally to Canada.”

“It appears that what the government seems to have done is to sort of trawl the Internet to find whatever innuendo is out there, and that is problematic,” Hall said.

Deeb has not been sanctioned by the U.S., the European Union or the United Kingdom, but being sanctioned by Canada carries “significant reputational impact,” Boscariol said.

“These decisions don’t seem to be thoroughly thought through by the Canadian government,” he said. “The government hasn’t undertaken the proper due diligence or provided supporting evidence for some of the allegations that they’re making.”

Global Affairs Canada did provide a requested response to Deeb’s claims by deadline.

A United Nations Security Council report by a panel of Haiti experts released in September 2023 said it had evidence Deeb was involved in gang financing activities while working as the Deka Group’s chief operating officer.

The report said Deeb in 2017 “paid a leader of a gang to facilitate his business” and “had been using gang members to put pressure on some customs officers at the port so that they don’t inspect or intercept his containers.”

The report said in late 2019, Haiti was paralyzed by economic upheaval as political pressure mounted against then-president Jovenel Moïse, which Deeb allegedly capitalized on “by bribing parliamentarians who would then pay gang leaders to unblock the streets by dispersing demonstrators and allow for the transport of his merchandise into the country.”

Deeb’s lawyers said he denies the report’s allegations of gang financing “wholeheartedly.”

“Mr. Deeb is very much a victim of a lot of this,” Boscariol said. “He’s a significant importer of products and distributor of products at the retail level throughout Haiti but he, too, suffers from the activities of the gang.”

Deeb is one of 11 Haitians sanctioned by Canada for a “grave breach of international peace and security” under its Special Economic Measures (Haiti) Regulations.

Thirteen others are listed for “acts of significant corruption,” and four are on the sanctions list for “gross human rights violations.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 7, 2024.

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