OTTAWA - Twenty-four orphaned Haitian children, weary from their long journey, arrived in Canada early Sunday into the open arms of their new adoptive parents.
The Air Canada Airbus A-330 touched down in Ottawa around 6:55 a.m. Most of the passengers had deplaned by 7:30 a.m.
The children were escorted off the plane wrapped in blue blankets to protect against the cold. Several of the older children flashed bright white smiles as they peered above their blankets and walked swiftly.
The arrival marks the start of a new life for the children who have not only survived the deaths of their parents but the destruction of their country.
"Orphan kids are, we find, very, very resilient and it just impresses me so much how much they can take and withstand," said Peter Deklerk, who accompanied four children from the Canadian Embassy. "The resiliency of these kids is just amazing."
The federal government took steps last week to fast track adoptions already in the works before this month's earthquake in Haiti.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said officials were expecting upwards of 50 kids on the flight, but there were logistical and orphanage staff problems on the ground in Haiti.
There are 90 children already cleared to come to Canada, and another 90 being fast-tracked through the immigration system.
He says the government hopes to have the vast majority of children in Canada within a few days.
"There are issues around human trafficking," he said.
"We are only going to facilitate the adoption of children where the relevant provincial child welfare agency has clearly indicated to us that the parents are qualified," Kenney said.
"We're not going to rush if there is not such approval because we need to be 100 per cent sure that kids are coming to qualified adoptive families."
The children arrived Saturday night at Port-au-Prince airport in a convoy of buses from the Canadian Embassy. Some smiled and waved at the cameras while others looked at them warily, but most were asleep on the shoulders of their caregivers.
The children, many just infants, were examined by doctors before arriving in Canada to greet their new families. Several appeared to have gastrointestinal issues, but were nonetheless sleeping soundly on the flight as Air Canada volunteers gently stroked their little stomachs.
The younger ones simply curled up on volunteers' laps and slept through their first airplane flight. But the older ones went right for the earphones and began excitedly flipping through options on the in-flight entertainment screens in front of them.
Jessica, 9, took out her earphones long enough to give her feelings on Canada ("It's cool") and that she and her sister - Sarah, 4 - are prepared for the comparatively chilly temperatures in B.C., where they will live.
Dakemsia, 10, also focused on his movie, said he was looking forward to being in Ca-NAH-da.
"I'm not scared," he said, matter-of-factly. "I'm excited."
Two of the children had to be taken to hospital with fevers and gastroenteritis symptoms, said Dr. Guy Riendau, who treated them on the flight.
They would likely be released from hospital later Sunday, as they may even just need some hydration, said Riendau.
"Most of them were all right," he said.
"Some of them had thrown up and had a couple episodes of diarrhea."