Mobilizing Resistance: The “Action Patriotique” Movement within Montreal’s Haitian Diaspora, 1971-1986

Source: Centre International de Documentation et d’Information Haïtienne, Caribéenne et Afro-canadienne (the International Center for Haitian, Caribbean, and Afro-Canadian Documentation and Information), also known as the CIDIHCA Collections.

Virginie Belony

As the situation in Haiti becomes increasingly complex and challenging for many observers to comprehend, delving into Haiti’s past and the experiences of its diaspora here in Canada can offer valuable insights and examples of resilience, resistance, and community mobilization.

The election of François Duvalier as President of Haiti in September 1957 marked the onset of a period ostensibly characterized by political stability yet marred by significant human rights violations. This pattern persisted throughout the tenure of his successor, his 19-year-old son, Jean-Claude Duvalier, who held power from 1971 to 1986.

While in exile in Quebec, Canada in the 1970s, many Haitians participated in a resistance movement commonly referred to as the “Action Patriotique.” The exiled Haitians engaged in organizations, debates, and critiques, particularly through printed materials, targeting the actions of the Duvalier regime. Additionally, they adopted a critical stance towards both the Quebec and Canadian governments for their support of the Haitian dictatorship.

Though numbers vary, many scholars estimate that some 30,000 to as many as 50,000 individuals were forcibly disappeared or died during the twenty-nine-year Duvalier dictatorship.[1] While these figures are telling when reflecting on a country with a total population of under 7 million in 1986, they provide limited insight into the full extent of the violence. From the suppression of the press and dissidents to the “duvaliérisation” of various sectors of the state and society—including the military, the Church, and schools—the Duvalier regime employed diverse mechanisms to maintain its grip on power and enforce compliance.

As conditions worsened in Haiti, many middle-class Haitians opted to emigrate, seeking what many believed to be only temporary refuge abroad. While some chose the United States, many, drawn by historic and linguistic ties, chose Quebec in Canada following the introduction of new federal immigration regulations in 1962 and 1967 and the introduction of a Ministère de l’Immigration in Quebec in 1968 to actively encourage the migration of skilled francophone migrants. It was within this context that a significant number of politically motivated Haitians, eager to see an end to the Duvalier dictatorship, arrived in Quebec.

Through estimates vary, the number of Haitians in Canada during the early decades of the 20th century was relatively small. By the late 1960s, their population numbered only in the hundreds, increasing to approximately 20,000 in 1973.[2] By this time, particularly following the death of François Duvalier. in April 1971 and the transfer of power to his son, many Haitians in Canada had become increasingly vocal in their opposition to the regime.

While it never denoted a specific political group, over the course of the 1970s, the term “Action Patriotique” (Patriotic Action) increasingly came to be used to describe any anti-Duvalier organization within Haitian exiled circles. Though they were generally ideologically aligned with “the left” and drew inspiration from the perceived success of the Cuban Revolution, the individuals involved were not associated with a particular political party. Rather, it the organization was essentially a collective of exiled Haitians collaborating on publications and anti-Duvalier mobilization activities.

Following a long tradition in Haitian history of favouring the “revue” as a medium to air political grievances, Haitian exiles in Quebec were quick to set up such publications. Scholars in the past have paid some attention to more established titles such Nouvelle Optique: Recherches haïtiennes et caribéennes (1971-1973) and Collectif Paroles: Revue culturelle et politique haïtienne (1979-1987). Less attention has been given to more radical publications such as KAKO, which primarily circulated in the early 1970s.

Launched in 1972, little is known about the genealogy of KAKO or its creators. Somewhere between a bulletin and a classical “revue”, in its inaugural issue on February 19, 1972, KAKO declared its intention to “bridge the gap between patriots” across Haiti and its exiled communities which,[3] at the time, were largely divided between various left-wing factions. Taking an anti-colonial stance, the publication expressed how, “the struggle for liberation can only have a chance to succeed if it is part of the broader framework of the struggle of oppressed peoples, particularly in the Caribbean, Latin America, and North America.”[4] The writers at KAKO particularly stressed the importance of denouncing “American imperialism, primarily, but also Canadian.”[5]  On this note, one comic strip from the May and June 1972 edition of the publication is telling.

KAKO, « Serez-vous complice? », KAKO, Maison d’Haïti Archives D016, 1 (May-June 1972): 14.

In the comic strip “Will You Be Complicit?” showcased in the fifth issue of the publication, KAKO raises the question to tourists enticed by travel agents keen to extol the beauty of Haiti, all the while conveniently (albeit rather awkwardly) sidestepping the country’s grim political reality. The final panel is especially enlightening. It portrays a conversation between a presumed Quebecois tourist and a figure representing a Haitian authority. Caught between guilt and indifference, the traveler asserts that he is “just a neutral tourist … right?”—a statement/question to which his Haitian interlocutor responds with a chuckle, “Yes, my friend! Ha! Ha! Ha!” The dialogue clearly expresses KAKO’s belief in the impossibility of embodying the figure of the “neutral tourist” as imagined by many. It also suggests that those who ventured to Haiti to visit its casinos, beaches, and other attractions did so knowingly, as indicated by the discomfort evident in the Quebecois tourist’s speech bubble. Thus, in this dictatorial context, any detachment, according to KAKO, is impossible and signifies tacit support for the government. These lessons from a 1972 cartoon ring true beyond Haiti as the tourist industries in the Global South often promote idyllic images of destinations while disregarding or downplaying the political, social, economic, and environmental challenges faced by local populations, often exacerbating these issues.

KAKO seemed to fade away in the 1970s, and other publications such as Nouvelle Optique and Collectif Paroles gained greater prominence. These publications, especially the latter, focused more on community building as Haitians began to think less of themselves as a group of “exiles” but more as a diasporic “community” within Quebec and Canadian societies. In the 1970s, Haitians in Quebec encountered a fresh set of challenges, ranging from the 1974 deportation crisis to the hurdles encountered by first- and second-generation Haitians integrating into the Quebecois school system  against the backdrop of an important economic recession. During this time, publications like Collectif Paroles, initially focused on political issues concerning Haiti, expanded their coverage to include articles addressing the living conditions of Haitians within the province. By the mid 1970s and early 1980s, there was a notable convergence between anti-Duvalier activism and efforts aimed at community organizing and development.

KAKO and other publications produced by Haitian exiles and migrants in Quebec in as part of this “Action Patriotique” in the 1970s provide an important window into understanding how this community grappled with the difficulty of migration, forged collective identities, and mobilized for social change in and out of Haiti. As Haiti’s future is as uncertain as ever, the Action Patriotique movement of the 1970s serves as a reminder of the activism that has long characterized Haitian communities. Perhaps a new Action Patriotique movement, still concerned with social justice and international solidarity, is needed to help address the challenges of the twenty-first century.

Virginie Belony is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Toronto, specializing in 20th-century Haitian history. She holds a PhD and master’s in history from the Université de Montréal. Her current research focuses on Haitian intellectual thought before 1957, issues of collective memory following periods of state-sponsored violence, and collective memory in diasporic spaces. She also serves as an editorial assistant for the annual publication Revue d’Histoire Haïtienne.


[1] While Jeb Sprague (2013) estimates that the total number of individuals forcibly disappeared or deceased during the twenty-nine years of authoritarian rule falls within the range of 30,000 to 50,000, other scholars offer differing perspectives. André Corten (2011) specifically mentions 50,000 deaths within the confines of the political prison of Fort-Dimanche. Additionally, Jean-Philippe Belleau (2021) contends that the frequently cited figure of 30,000 may more accurately reflect the number of individuals forcibly disappeared or deceased solely during the fourteen-year tenure of the elder Duvalier, thereby excluding the years of Jean-Claude Duvalier’s regime beginning in 1971. See Jeb Sprague, Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2012), 13; André Corten, L’État faible: Haïti et République dominicaine, Édition révisée et augmentée, Collection Essai (Montréal: Mémoire d’encrier, 2011), 184, note 28 and Jean-Philippe Belleau, « For an anthropological approach to denial: Social bonds, pathophobia, and the Duvalier regime in Haiti », dans Denial: The Final Stage of Genocide(London: Routledge, 2021), 45.

[2] Herard Jadotte, « Haitian Immigration to Quebec », Journal of Black Studies 7, no 4 (1977): 494.

[3] Kako, « Éditorial », Kako, Maison d’Haïti Archives, D016, 1, no 1 (19 février 1972): 2.

[4] Ibid. Translation from French by the author of this blog post.

[5] Ibid.

Further Reading

Corten, André. L’État faible: Haïti et République dominicaine, Édition révisée et augmentée, Collection Essai (Montréal: Mémoire d’encrier, 2011).

Icart, Lyonel. “Haïti-en-Québec?: notes pour une histoire,” Ethnologies 28, no. 1 (November 2006): 45-79.

Laguerre, Michel S. The Military and Society in Haiti (New York: Springer Publishing Company, 1993).

Mills, Sean. A Place in the Sun: Haiti, Haitians, and the Remaking of Quebec (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2016).

  • “Quebec, Haiti, and the Deportation Crisis of 1974,” The Canadian Historical Review 94, no. 3 (2013): 405–35.

Moïse, Claude and Émile Ollivier. Repenser Haïti: grandeur et misères d’un mouvement démocratique (Montreal: Les Éditions du CIDIHCA, 1992),

Nicholls, David. From Dessalines to Duvalier?: Race, Colour, and National Independence in Haiti, 2nd ed. (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, [1979] 1996).

Rochat, Désirée. “La Maison d’Haïti: Haitian Stories of Resistance and Black Diasporic Activism in Montréal, 1972–1986,” Histoire Sociale / Social History 55, no. 114 (2022): 325–44.

Rolph-Trouillot, Michel. Haiti, State Against Nation: The Origins and Legacy of Duvalierism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1990).

Smith, Matthew J. Red and Black in Haiti: Radicalism, Conflict, and Political Change, 1934-1957 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2009).

Stieber, Chelsea. “‘Camelots Du Roi Ou Rouges’: Radicalization in Early Twentieth-Century Haitian Periodicals,”Contemporary French Civilization 45 (April 1, 2020): 47–69.


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