15 Nov 2010

Mission Sex: Canadian priest charged with sexual exploitation in Haiti just tip of iceberg of abuse by aid workers

Canada.com - Canwest News Service - December 12, 2009

Priest facing sexual exploitation charges showed tragedy, inspiration of Haiti

By Don Lajoie | Canwest News Service

LABADIE, Haiti -- There was something messianic in the man, arms raised, straddling the bow of a boat in the Caribbean Sea off Haiti's north coast.

The weathered water taxi, loaded to the gunwales with medical supplies, building tools, aid volunteers from Canada and locals bound for Labadie, a tiny fishing village, was rocking back and forth.

Night had fallen and bonfires illuminated the shoreline as the craft drew near.

Perching himself on the bow and raising his arms, the young Canadian priest launched into a Haitian gospel song, loud enough for those on shore to hear.

"Balansay, balansay pou Jesi."

"Dance for Jesus."

The Canadians were both delighted and frightened.

"Oh my God, he'll fall," said one. "Father . . . get down."

A woman sitting near the stern said: "They say God looks after fools and saints. If that's true, Father John is covered on both counts."

Stamping his sandled feet into the blistered wooden deck, the boat rocking violently, his silhouette backlit by the bonfires, the priest cried out twice:

"Aba Satan! Aba Satan!"

"Down with Satan!"

It was spring 2001, and Rev. John Duarte was becoming a humanitarian superstar.


Eight years later, whether God, or anyone, can stop Duarte's fall, a Canadian court must decide.

The Windsor, Ont., priest awaits trial on nine counts of sexual exploitation of teenage boys in Port-au-Prince and at the missions he founded in Labadie between 1995 and 2006. In October he was returned to Canada by police escort, to face charges under a seldom used sex-tourism provision of the Criminal Code.

Allegations Duarte used funds raised for his charity to bait underage sex partners sent shock waves through the Canadian humanitarian community, which for decades has made Haiti a favourite target for aid.

"It was pretty devastating to see those (arrest) stories after having been there," said Dr. Andrea Steen, a Windsor physician who sponsored a Haitian boy and girl through the Hearts Together For Haiti mission Duarte founded. "I haven't stopped thinking about it. . . . He was so charismatic. . . . One of those people you meet once and know you'll remember the rest of your life."

Once touted for the Order of Canada, Duarte, 43, was a courageous advocate who stood up to rebel armies as the government of former Haitian president Jean Bertrand Aristide collapsed in 2004.

Duarte was a tireless worker for the western world's poorest populace, up before the sun most days and multi-tasking long after night had fallen.

He once performed emergency surgery on a wounded woman in the most dangerous slums of Haiti.

In Labadie, he was priest, cop, doctor, educator, undertaker, social worker and political leader.

With his booming laugh and gregarious personality, spiced by a voodoo tattoo and close-cropped hair dyed a brassy blond, the non-conformist priest came to personify the Windsor-based charity.

His dream would grow to include two primary schools, daily food programs for hundreds of students, a health clinic, an arts-and-trades co-operative and family sponsorships for children and the elderly. His initiatives were lifting Labadie, and the nearby village of Bas-de-Mer-Limbe, out of misery.

At its peak, Hearts Together For Haiti pumped more than $200,000 a year into its programs here, backed by supporters from across North America.

"It was happy time when John was in Labadie," said Itien Desir, a Labadie elder. "He did a lot. He was most powerful in the village."

Calling Duarte "gifted like I have never seen in any other human being," Windsor teacher Jeanelle Spratt was so inspired she founded a home in Labadie for girls sold by their families into domestic slavery. Duarte helped her rescue the girls, known as restaveks, in the slums of nearby Cap-Haitien.

Ordained by the Roman Catholic church in 1996, it was as a seminarian in his 20s that Duarte began missioning here.

In Haiti's most notorious slum, Port-au-Prince's Cite Soleil, established by former dictator Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier to rid the teeming capital of beggars, he heeded his calling in a setting of absolute misery.

Cite Soleil, where it's estimated more than 400,000 people are packed into cinder-block hovels, rusty tin sheds and old shipping crates, was built on a waterfront flood plain. With each heavy rain, homes flooded with water, mixed with excrement from swollen, open sewage canals and rotting garbage from trash heaps. Like everyone else when it flooded, Duarte slept standing up, leaning on the wall, knee high in filthy water.

This was where Duarte said he "first met hope," living with a woman and her five grandchildren in a rusted one-room, corrugated sheet-metal shed. The young seminarian considered remaining in Haiti to minister. But the woman convinced him to return to Canada to tell their story.

"I was confused and didn't know whether I should stay and work there or come back to Canada," Duarte told The Windsor Star in an interview in 2000. "This grandmother said 'Go back. You can do better work there. God wants you to share what you see.' That's my mission."

It was back home in Essex County near Windsor where the idea for the mission he would found, Hearts Together For Haiti, would germinate. By then Duarte had been ordained and his assignments from the Roman Catholic diocese of London, Ont., would post him to parishes around Windsor.

Over that seven-year period, Duarte moulded Hearts Together For Haiti into a mission unlike any other.

It would involve more than a few talks or slide shows in sparsely attended church basements followed by a collection.

First, Duarte chose the site: the fishing village of Labadie. Its candy-coloured huts nestled beneath towering, forested mountains along the northern seashore made for a false paradise. There was little work beyond subsistence fishing and HIV/AIDS was common. The naked children showed telltale signs of malnutrition: orange hair and distended bellies. What schooling existed was conducted outdoors.

He reasoned that rural communities must become self-sustaining to keep the poor from migrating to Haiti's overcrowded, polluted and disease ridden cities where, for the vast majority in a country with an unemployment rate over 60 per cent, only abject poverty awaited.

The next move was to encourage involvement from Canada.

Duarte formulated the idea of "exposure tours." He would bring dozens of volunteers at a time to experience Haiti, in all its panoramic beauty and despair. The experience would change their lives. Many became disciples, spreading the word, showing their photos, encouraging others to get involved.

It was on these tours the priest's legend began to grow.

"I looked at him like a hero," said Keith Spratt, who went on the 2001 tour and who would later take a position on the charity's board of directors. "He did so many amazing things."

Days after arriving in Port-au-Prince, Spratt and a team of 18 volunteers accompanied Duarte to Cite Soleil. They encountered a woman, blood streaming from a jagged wound on her head from a domestic assault. Duarte rushed her to the nearby Brothers of Charity Hospital. But there was no doctor on duty.

The priest mobilized the volunteers and set up his own treatment centre. He stood under the blistering sun cleaning and stitching the wound, prompting others seeking medical attention to line up.

"He went into that Brothers hospital in Cite Soleil and before we left he had the sick and dying people singing," recalled Spratt.

Later that week, in Labadie, after the Canadians spent a gruelling day hauling cinder blocks by hand, digging a foundation and clearing rocks with makeshift tools at the site where the first HTFH school would be built, Duarte showed his inspirational power again. It was late afternoon and the Canadians weredead tired. They dragged themselves to the beach, where a town-hall meeting was underway.

It was apparent the school was on the agenda. Duarte took to the floor, like a cheerleader at a pep rally. "Who believes the school is important?" he asked, as he whipped the crowd into a frenzy. "Who believes in an education for their children? Who will help build?"

A roar of approval went up and Duarte seized the moment.

"Let's start tonight," he shouted, pointing to the blocks stacked at the dock. "Everyone, take a block, bring it to the school."

Instantly, the entire town was mobilized. Men, women and children, some too young to attend school, rushed the bricks and carted them to the work site half a kilometre away. Along the paths that snaked through the village, the builders sang and drummed as daylight faded. The Canadians joined in.

So it continued on every "exposure trip," each group witnessing the tragedy and the inspiration.

On one occasion, Duarte was called late at night, like the police, to break up a violent domestic dispute, then stayed to counsel the couple. He cared for those suffering from full-blown AIDS, careful to protect their privacy in the village. During the February 2004 coup, Duarte sheltered officials of the besieged government of former president Jean Bertrand Aristide until they could be airlifted to safety.

The same spring, well after dark and still arranging sponsorships, the priest's work was interrupted when villagers came to report that a child had been hurt in a fire. He helped take the badly burned infant across the mountain to hospital in Cap-Haitien. The child died overnight and Duarte brought the baby home, prepared the body and presided over her funeral.

"He cleaned up that little girl," recalled Spratt, shaking his head. "Got her ready for burial. He was the mortician, the priest and the doctor."

The Canadians began to use words like "miracle" to describe Duarte's deeds. But, amid all that lightness and good, shadows had already begun to gather.

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Canwest News Service - Windsor Star - December 14, 2009

'Mission sex': Haitians turning blind eye to abuse by humanitarian aid workers

By Don Lajoie | Windsor Star

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — He was 16, and like most Haitian teens, surviving on street smarts. One day, he accepted a job helping a humanitarian aid worker carry supplies to his home.

“After I finished he asked me to come back for a talk,” recalled the man, now 23, speaking Creole through an interpreter.

The aid worker offered him money for sex, the man alleges, and a relationship began.

“It was to pay for school for me. That was the main reason. If you do it for me I pay for school.”

When his family found out, they were furious at their son and his sex-for-pay partner. But they were reluctant to walk away from a precious income stream. Unemployment exceeds 75 per cent in his tiny village.

“They wanted me to stop. But they felt, if I stop, the money would be cut off.”

Hanging his head and kneading his brow, the slightly built young man, now a father himself, and a second alleged victim, now 19, recalled their relationships with the Canadian aid worker in interviews arranged by their town elders. Caribbean cultures, heavily influenced by the Roman Catholic Church, frown upon homosexuality, and one of the men said he was shunned.

“A lot of people knew,” said the 23-year-old. “People were really mad, but they were afraid money would be cut off. . . . I’m not alone because other people were abused that way,” he said.

Mission sex — it’s Haiti’s dirty little secret.

The western world’s poorest country is, according to one aid worker, a “perfect storm” of socio-economic conditions for abuse by visiting humanitarians. It’s tropical temperatures and breathtaking natural beauty are easily, and cheaply, accessible from North America. Heavily dependent on foreign aid and with virtually no regulation of its schools and orphanages, Haiti’s justice system is ill-equipped to deal with a rising tide of sex tourism.

Peacekeeping troops, aid workers, non-governmental organization employees, priests and missionaries engage in sexual exploitation with arrogant impunity, according to Save the Children, the world’s largest children’s rights organization.

And, sadly, they say, when dollars are dangled as bait, many Haitians will turn a blind eye.

“All those who come here know this is a very poor country, that there are few opportunities for youth,” said Margarett Lubin, Save the Children’s local child protection manager. “When financial opportunities are offered, the children enter relationships. . . . Do their communities see it as exploitation or do they see it as opportunity?”

Haiti has neither adequate sex-offender laws nor the police to enforce them.

Andrew Thomson, Haiti campaign manager for Amnesty International Canada, said the problem is probably much larger than official data suggest because Haiti creates a “perfect storm” for such crimes to flourish.

“There’s a level of impunity in Haiti because of its largely dysfunctional justice system,” he said. “The victims do not have access to the courts and the police are woefully under-resourced. . . . Though many of them are committed you’re also dealing with rogue lawyers, judges and police. The international community is trying to strengthen the justice system but corruption is widespread.”

An estimated three million Haitian children live in vulnerable and impoverished conditions, and the UN says 47 per cent of sexual assaults reported in Haiti involve minors. Yet the Haitian National Police’s child-protection brigade is understaffed. Its $20,000 US annual budget is enough to conduct four to six investigations, said Commissioner Renel Costume.

The unit requires 10 times the 75 officers it now deploys across the country, Costume said.

While Save the Children is quick to point out that humanitarian workers engaging in sexual exploitation are in the minority, a May 2008 study commissioned by the organization showed such abuse is vastly under-reported.

The authors interviewed children in shelters across the country, and their stories were harrowing.

A young street girl was paid $1 and then violently raped by a man working for an NG0. “He gave her one American dollar and the little girl was happy to see the money,” a witness said. “It was two in the morning. The man took her and raped her. In the morning the little girl could not walk.”

Asked by researchers why abuse is not reported to authorities representing the aid organizations, orphanages or missions, one Haitian girl said: “The people who are raping us and the people in the office are the same people.”

In interviews arranged by Save the Children, five Port-au-Prince prostitutes nodded in agreement, while a sixth told of abuse at the hands of United Nations peacekeepers.

Jean-Marie Roger, project co-ordinator for Save the Children in Port-au-Prince, said prostitutes tell him that much of the abuse from customers comes from UN troops, “because they have the means to force them.” He acknowledged the woman was a prostitute, an orphan who had been on the streets for more than 10 years, and unlikely to garner the same sympathy as an abused child.

“The very poor will accept,” said Albert Meme, a village elder in the fishing community of Labadie. “They need money to survive. . . . But when I was 15 things like that did not happen in the village. It did not happen 10 years before. Now it has changed.”
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