Canada eases restrictions, waives fees to speed some adoptions of Haitian kids

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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OTTAWA - Canada will speed some adoptions of Haitian children following last week's disastrous earthquake, but it won't loosen immigration restrictions to accommodate others escaping the chaos.
Officials will expedite adoptions that were already underway and had received preliminary approvals before the magnitude-7.3 quake struck Jan. 12, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Wednesday.
The federal government has tapped provincial authorities for lists of Haitian adoptions and it is consulting Haitian authorities on "fast-tracking" their foreign-adoption approval process, Kenney said.
About 100 adoption cases had been identified and all prospective parents were to be contacted by noon ET on Wednesday.
Once the Haitian government confirms the status of individual cases, Kenney said he's directed his officials to issue temporary resident permits - "an extraordinary measure" - to allow qualified Haitian children to enter Canada as quickly as possible.
"Regular processing fees will be waived and the federal government will cover health costs until they can be covered under provincial programs," Kenney told the government's daily briefing on Haiti.
Ottawa is sending additional staff to the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince to help with adoption cases and other immigration files, and it has set up an office in the neighbouring Dominican Republic.
"We are working urgently with the provinces to identify all of the relevant adoption cases that we can act on," Kenney said.
He encouraged prospective parents who have launched Haitian adoptions and have not yet been contacted to call or email federal officials.
Kenney cautioned, however, that Canada is not opening its doors to a flood of new adoption cases nor other immigrants from the earthquake zone, in spite of calls from the 135,000-strong Haitian-Canadian community, opposition MPs and others to do just that.
"This is not the first time we've faced a major natural catastrophe," Kenney said. Waiving the rules or dropping restrictions "has never been done before by Canada or any other country."
"Massive resettlement is not a solution to natural disaster. The solution is reconstruction, and we're focused and dedicated to that."
The UN Convention on Refugees, he noted, defines refugees as "people who flee their country . . . for reasons of persecution - religious, political or otherwise - and cannot go back."
Consistency and fairness are fundamental principles of immigration, he said.
"It is a very big mistake to start ad-hoc'ing immigration policy and changing the law when faced with different events," Kenney said.
"We have a moral obligation to be consistent. We also have an obligation as Canadians to be compassionate. And that's exactly how we're responding to this situation."
Diplomacy must also influence policy- and decision-making.
"I don't think the Haitian government would appreciate Western countries saying that we are going to depopulate Haiti through resettlement. I would think they would prefer . . . reconstruction."
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said his party supports government relief efforts so far. But both he and NDP Leader Jack Layton urged the Tories to broaden Immigration's definition of "family" to include siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins to ease Haitian immigration.
"This is an exceptional humanitarian situation; families are in extreme distress," Ignatieff said. "It's not just a natural disaster. It's a complete collapse of social, medical, political order in the country."
"We can't understand why the government doesn't seize the opportunity to show Canadian generosity and compassion."
Kenney said Canada accepts more UN refugees than anyone, and he said its definition of family is already the most generous among developed countries.
Added the minister: "We have nothing to be ashamed of. We're doing more than our part."
Meanwhile, officials said 13 Canadians had been confirmed dead in Haiti by Wednesday; another 479 were missing.
Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon reported minor damage to the roof and second floor of the Canadian Embassy in Port-au-Prince after a magnitude-6.1 aftershock rocked the island. No one was injured at the embassy, where 56 Canadians had sought refuge.
Two Canadian warships were anchored off the hard-hit towns of Jacmel and Leogane, at the quake's epicentre.
An "airfield activation team" was getting Jacmel's airstrip back in order and two C-130 Hercules aircraft carrying relief supplies had already landed early Wednesday, said Defence Minister Peter MacKay.
Canada's gargantuan C-17 Globemasters - long-haul, heavy-lift planes - had secured landing rights at Jamaica's Norman Manley Airport, where they will offload cargo. The Hercules will then make short-haul flights into Jacmel and Port-au-Prince. Evacuation flights were continuing.
MacKay said more than 1,000 Canadian troops were on the ground. Upwards of 2,000 were expected by next week.
"This is a tragedy of unspeakable proportions," MacKay said. "Canada and the Canadian Forces want to be there, want to assist in whatever ways possible as part of this international response.
"Our hearts are with the Haitian people. Their perseverance, their resilience and strength have been tested but are an inspiration to our country. We will do everything we can - in fact, we view this as our duty - to assist them in their time of need."
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Adoptive parents can call the federal government helpline at 1-888-242-2100 or write online to question-haiti@cic.gc.ca to discuss their cases

Organizations: UN, Dominican Republic, Canadian Embassy Norman Manley Airport Canadian Forces

Geographic location: Canada, OTTAWA, Haiti Port-au-Prince Jacmel Jamaica

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