Canada is working to expedite adoptions of children from Haiti in the wake of the devastating earthquake, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Wednesday.
"We are making progress in establishing with the Haitian authorities a new fast-track process for them to approve foreign adoptions," Kenney told reporters.
The adoption cases, which total around 100, are those that were underway when the earthquake struck, Kenney said.
How to help
To help those affected by the earthquake, here is a list of organizations accepting donations.
Once Haitian authorities have approved the adoptions, Canadian officials have been directed to issue temporary permits, Kenney said, adding officials are trying to contact all the prospective adoptive parents by midday.
"[It] is an extraordinary measure to allow these children to enter Canada as quickly as possible," he said.
Regular processing fees will be waived and the federal government will cover health costs until the children can be covered under provincial programs, Kenney said.
Robin Churchill and his wife Beth are in the final stages of adopting two children — a brother and sister — from Haiti to their home in Nova Scotia. Churchill found out Wednesday that the youngsters will be among the 100 fast-track cases. He called it "incredible" news, and hopes to see the kids, named Peterson and Gaelle, within days.
"Obviously, with the earthquake again today and the circumstances that are going on, we want these children home as soon as possible," he said.
Kenney said that there had been inaccurate reports that the Haitian president had made a declaration approving foreign adoptions.
"Haitian authorities tell us they continue to assert their legal obligation to approve foreign adoptions, and that is what we’re working with them on fast-tracking."
Families with adoptions in process before the quake were anxiously waiting to learn if they would be included in the fast-track announcement.
"It just gives us so much hope and so much stress at the same time because we are waiting desperately to find out whether we are included or not," Lisa Poirier told CBC News in Regina on Wednesday morning. Poirier is hoping to adopt twin boys from an orphanage in Haiti.
But Kenney cautioned that it is international policy to try and find homes for orphaned children in their own country before placing them in a foreign country.
He said following the south Asian tsunami, there was a disturbingly high incidence of kidnapping and trafficking of children.
"No government will facilitate that in the followup to this disaster," he said.
He also added that Canada is not opening its doors to a flood of new adoption cases or other immigrants from the earthquake zone.
"Massive resettlement is not a solution to natural disaster. The solution is reconstruction, and we're focused and dedicated to that."
Kenney said the UN Convention on Refugees is clear that refugees are "people who flee their country or have fled their country for reasons of persecution — religious, political or otherwise — and cannot go back."
"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 called on the government to relax immigration requirements by broadening the definition of family to include brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins in cases involving Haiti.
"We're saying let's step up and do something exceptional in this case," he said.