Canadians give in response to Haiti telethons

Canadians dug deep into their wallets Friday night, raising more than $16 million for victims of the Haitian earthquake at the Canada for Haiti telethon and the French-language fundraiser, Ensemble Pour Haiti.

Canadians dug deep into their wallets Friday night, raising more than $16 million — not counting federal matching funds — for victims of the Haitian earthquake at the Canada for Haiti telethon and its French counterpart, Ensemble Pour Haiti.

Callers flooded phone lines moments after the start of the Canada For Haiti telethon, designed to raise money for a group of Canadian charities working in Haiti, and created jointly by CBC, CTV and Global. That benefit raised about $9.4 million.

The Canada For Haiti benefit will be re-broadcast at 7 p.m. ET Saturday night on CBC News Network, the A Channel and Global.

In Montreal, Ensemble Pour Haiti, also aired on Friday night on several French-language networks including TVA Network, Societé Radio-Canada and MusiquePlus. That telethon raised an estimated $6.65 million and was graced for a brief time by the appearance of Canada's Governor General, Michaëlle Jean, who was born in Haiti.

Artists appearing at the event inlcuded Bruno Pelletier, Daniel Boucher, Diane Dufresne, Groupe H'sao, Gregory Charles, Marie-Jo Theriault, Nomadic Massive, Pierre Lapointe, Roberto Lopez, Sylvain Cossette and la Troupe Mapou Ginen.

Canadians have already been giving generously, but "now is the time for Canada to take the next step," co-host George Stroumboulopoulos said opening the Canada For Haiti evening.

Musician Emily Haines of Metric performs Help, I'm Alive. (CBC)
As images of the earthquake that struck the island nation Jan. 12 flashed on the screen, Canadian celebrities lined up to ask people to give.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave the first plea for donations, promising federal cash to match contributions from individuals up to a maximum of $50 million. 

"Our humanitarian workers are already on the ground and Canadians, renowned for their generosity, have already given, " Harper said. "Together we can make a difference so the hope can return to Haiti."

About 200,000 people are estimated to have died in the 7.0-magnitude quake and about two million Haitians were left homeless.

It is also believed that 250,000 are in need of urgent aid, including food, water and shelter. In the longer term, help will be needed to rebuild the shattered country.

Canada plans to erect a military hospital to help some of the hundreds of people injured and getting care in makeshift outdoor hospitals.

Reports from CTV's Paul Workman and CBC's Susan Ormiston focused on the children being tended in these hospitals, including those suffering with infection or who had lost limbs.

Jean gave an emotional appeal, speaking from a vigil in Montreal.

"It's very important to take this time to put our hearts together and put our heads together and see what we can do to support Haiti in this ordeal," she said.

Jean said she had received messages from as far away as the Arctic from Canadians wondering what they could do to help.

"We are in an era where civil society is big and international and what Haiti has experienced has touched everyone on this planet," she said. "Breaking down solitudes is my motto and that is what I hope to do here."

Several Canadian celebrities made cameos appealing for aid, among them Avatar director James Cameron and fellow director Jason Reitman, TV star Alex Trebek and actors Rachel Lefevre, Joshua Jackson, Sandra Oh, Eugene Levy and William Shatner.

Céline Dion and Michael J. Fox made longer appeals by video feed, speaking of Canadians' reputation for generosity in the face of tragedy.

Actor Rachel McAdams, singer Geddy Lee and artists such as Measha Brueggergosman made personal appearances at the Toronto-based benefit.

Live musical highlights included:

  • Nelly Furtado performing Try.
  • K'naan performing Wavin' Flag.
  • Metric performing Help, I'm Alive.
  • Tragically Hip performing Fiddler's Green.

Toronto Argonaut linebacker Ray Fontaine, whose family also comes from Haiti, said several members of his family are still missing after the quake, including his grandmother and uncle on his mother's side and his father's brother.

Singer Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip performs Fiddler's Green. (CBC)
"It's very tough but immediately I heard about it, I wanted to go home," he said, adding he has been comforted by Canada's quick response to the disaster.

"Doctors who are certified, please go," he said.

In the longer term, Haiti will need rebuilding, and Mike Holmes, the building and TV personality, believes he's just the man to do it.

"I'm looking for the chance to get to Haiti," Holmes said, saying Canadians don't need to be concerned about whether the money will go to the right place.

"They need water, they need food, they need a place to stay, that money is going to go in the right direction."

Holmes, who helped build in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, said he can provide the engineering to keep things standing in the quake-prone country.

The money raised during the telethon will be distributed equally among a coalition of nine large Canadian non-governmental organizations — including World Vision Canada, Canadian Red Cross Society, UNICEF Canada, Oxfam Canada and Save the Children Canada — with the funds exclusively earmarked for Haiti.

To get the matching donation, and a Canadian tax receipt, people had to give through the Canadian telethon, rather than the U.S. benefit Hope for Haiti Now, which followed it.

The Canadian telethon number is 1-877-51HAITI (42484) or you can give online at canadaforhaiti.com.

With files from The Canadian Press