Plane with Haitian orphans arrives in Canada
The first planeload of Haitian orphans arrived in Canada early Sunday morning after days of worry by their adoptive parents.
Adoptive parents had wondered if the devastating earthquake that has reduced parts of Haiti to rubble would halt plans to expand their families, just as the needs of children became more urgent.
But the government was able to fast-track some adoptions that were already in progress.
Twenty-four children touched down in Ottawa on board an Air Canada Airbus A-330 around 6:55 a.m., where some met their new parents.
"They're giving new hope, a new beginning and a new life to these Haitian kids who have been without much hope," Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told CTV's Question Period.
The children emerged from the plane wrapped in blue blankets to protect them from the chilly winter air.
Two of the children were taken to hospital with fever and gastrointestinal problems, said Dr. Guy Riendau, who accompanied the children on the flight.
However, they will likely be released on Sunday after being treated for dehydration.
"Most of them were all right," Riendau said. "Some of them had thrown up and had a couple episodes of diarrhea."
The children began their journey at the Canadian Embassy in Port-au-Prince before being transported by bus to the capital's airport on Saturday night.
Some children waved to members of the media who had gathered to see them off, while others slept as they were carried by their caregivers.
Kenney said the sudden change of scenery must have come as a shock to the children..
"We were worried about all the logistics, getting these kids back as quickly as possible," Kenney told CTV. "Then I suddenly realized, this must be like arriving at a different planet."
As for the children newly orphaned in the wake of last week's disaster, Kenney is hopeful that potential adoptive parents will be patient.
"The worst thing we can do in a disaster is to start fast-tracking the adoption of people who we think are orphans," Kenney said.
"They may find their families later on and we want to give them the first opportunity when the dust settles to be reunited"
In addition to the possibility that the children may still have family that has not yet been found, child trafficking is a growing concern.
Kenney said that it is common in these types of situations for locals to claim false relations to children, with the intention of illegally removing the children from the country.
Facing heat from the opposition parties, Kenney called the idea of altering Canada's immigration policies in response to the severity of the situation currently facing Haiti "irresponsible and unfair".
Canada has not changed its policies in the face of severe humanitarian crises before, Kenney noted and added that -- were the policies to be altered -- the country would leave itself vulnerable to accepting more immigrants than can actually be accommodated.
"We don't have the capacity to welcome hundreds of thousands of people," he told CTV's Question Period.
He also warned that a lack of medical and criminal records in Haiti would complicate the government's ability to properly approve potential immigrants.
He added that Canada's focus should be more on fixing the problems on the ground instead of evacuating those left in need.
"That's not the approach," he said. "The approach is reconstruction, not resettlement"
According to Kenney, 90 children have been cleared to come to Canada, while another 90 are being fast-tracked through the adoption process.
"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."
On Saturday, Kenney announced a new email address for Canadian parents who are already in the process of adopting a child from Haiti. The address, which is monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is firstname.lastname@example.org.