As they rolled down the rough, dusty road lined with makeshift housing, CSC employee Bruno Jean began to realize that their driver had made a very wrong turn. He and his two CSC colleagues, Christine Perreault and Richard Marier, now found themselves in the midst of the “Red Zone,” a vibrant but volatile sector of downtown Port-au-Prince, Haiti that foreign guests and workers are warned to avoid.
Having just stepped off a plane into the sweltering heat of September in Haiti a few days before, all three of them were understandably a bit anxious. After all, the vehicle they were in (an SUV) was a far cry from the big armoured vehicle that had initially transported them from the airport to their accommodations in the Haitian capital. Keeping their cool as the vehicle threaded past throngs of people buying and selling everything from live goats to bootlegged movies, Bruno and his colleagues quickly noted amongst themselves that this was going to be a memorable deployment.
During my candid interview with him, Bruno remembers the difficult and sometimes hazardous environment he witnessed up close in Haiti: “Obviously you have to be on guard all the time. There’s a lot of poverty and there’s a lot of guns and things like that, so the security situation is always in a fragile state . . . you realize that even if you’re not in the red zone, violent situations can still occur very quickly.”
Having only been with CSC since the spring of 2013, Bruno’s surprise at being asked to deploy to Haiti was matched only by the pride he felt about being selected to represent CSC on the international stage. Leaning back, and with a broad smile, Bruno recounts the sudden opportunity during an otherwise typical day at the office:
“My boss popped his head into my office one day and said ‘Hey, Bruno, I just had a meeting with the Commissioner and he would like to send you on a mission to Haiti.’ I said ‘Whoa!’ So that was followed by a bottle of wine and discussion with my wife asking ourselves ‘What does this mean, exactly?’, and ‘Do I accept it or not?’ Certainly I felt incredibly privileged being asked by the Commissioner to undertake something like this.”
Bruno’s expertise in strategic planning and his years of experience in the federal public service were uniquely suited to the Haiti mission, where he was to provide instruction and assistance to Haitian correctional authorities.
“My job was to help with their management of the institution, especially as it related to the development of their upcoming five year strategic plan.”
Although he was sent to Haiti specifically to work with correctional officials, Bruno saw his mandate expanded when he was also asked to assist the Police Nationale d'Haïti in developing their own strategic plan for the future. Bruno embraced this new responsibility, seeing it as an opportunity to not only offer his considerable expertise in strategic planning, but also to lay vital groundwork for future collaboration between Haiti’s correctional authorities and their national police force.
When I asked about the most memorable moment from his deployment, Bruno turns and draws attention to the immaculate khaki uniform shirt on a hanger behind his office door.
“I was really happy when we went to the official opening ceremony of the new prison for women in Cabaret, Haiti. It was led by the Americans and us – the three Canadians. We showed up out of respect and cooperation, and were all wearing our official international uniforms for the first time. That seemed to have a big impact on the local crowd. So many people came to us and were really happy that we paid them respect by coming in uniform. That was a good moment for us.”
Challenges and opportunity
Bruno points to Haiti’s rapidly increasing inmate population, needed improvements in infrastructure, and gaps in the legislative framework as some of the most prevalent correctional issues that Haiti grapples with. The ongoing inability to cope with the infrastructure damage from the massive 2010 earthquake also presents challenges for the country’s correctional system.
“The infrastructure they have left now consists of their former army prisons and that infrastructure is aging. It’s not adapted to the rehabilitation of offenders. And because the overall justice system is not functioning to the productivity level it should be, the result is that they have more than 70 per cent of inmates in a pre-sentencing situation in remand.
“Where I was located, they currently have capacity to house 2,700 inmates at the standard of 2.5 square meters (international standard is 4.5). But the reality is that they are at 11,600 capacity. It’s really difficult to witness the situation in which their organization operates – it’s a huge challenge.”
Despite these obstacles, Bruno feels a sense of optimism for the future of Haiti’s correctional system, in large part because of what Canada and CSC have accomplished there.
“The good thing is that Canada has been involved with them for quite some time and we have an incredibly positive reputation with them. There is a very strong connection between Canada and Haiti, so when we go there, they don’t need convincing on the Canadian correctional model. They see the Canadian model as something to aspire to. That was encouraging.”
As I sat listening to Bruno describe his experiences in Haiti and looking at some of the pictures he took while there, I was struck by his contagious enthusiasm; not just for initiatives like the Haiti mission, but for his overall work at CSC. He’s proud and motivated, which became even more evident when I asked him what keeps an experienced public service executive like him at CSC.
“I like this organization for many reasons such as its mandate and what it does for society. It’s a big and complex organization that involves all regions of the country, and deals with all kinds of different people. I really like that,” Bruno says with a smile. “I’ve worked in many departments, and for me this has been the best experience. CSC is a mature organization; it’s a complex organization that occupies a niche in Canadian society that not many people will have the chance to see. There’s also a certain clarity of mandate that I think makes this job pleasant for me. So from my own past experiences, I know that CSC is a really good organization and I’m happy to be here.”
Over the course of our interview, it was clear to me how enriching the experience in Haiti was for Bruno. For him, the Haiti mission went beyond the six months he spent there. He and his colleagues have created valuable, lasting relationships with each other and with some Haitian officials. In fact, Bruno is still assisting and collaborating with colleagues at L’administration pénitentiaire, and says he would go back to Haiti if he could.
“Yes I would go back and tomorrow I’m going to Skype them. This is why I have the laptop here today. I took it upon myself to continue to advise them because you can’t help but develop an attachment to good people who ask for assistance. I’m able to do this for them, so why not? I’ve been there for six months, I know their situation, I know their challenges, and I can continue to help – so I will.”
It strikes me at this moment that this is exactly how to leave a lasting legacy in another place. It’s not by swooping in for a fixed amount of time, being rigid about your mission parameters, and simply leaving when your time is up. In fact, it’s just the opposite. A big thank you to Bruno, Christine, and Richard for their great work in Haiti!