1,415 Canadians missing
Ottawa scrambles as families fear worst
Richard J. Brennan
Allan Woods Ottawa Bureau
Published On Sat Jan 16 2010
OTTAWA—As estimates of the Haitian death toll topped 100,000 Friday, government officials here scrambled to reach more than 1,400 Canadians who are still unaccounted for amidst the rubble and bedlam in that country.
Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said the government is trying to piece together information from 17,000 calls from anguished family and friends who have contacted an emergency centre in a bid to reach the missing.
“There are no words to describe the situation in Haiti … this is a very difficult period and some of the images we see are unbearable for everyone,” Cannon said.
“A total of 1,415 Canadians (of 6,000 in Haiti) are missing in the affected area and about 50 Canadians continue to take refuge at our embassy in Haiti and another 50 are being assisted elsewhere,” he said.
With chaos reigning, the total death toll is unknown. The Red Cross estimated Friday that 45,000 to 50,000 people have died. The Pan American Health Organization puts the number between 50,000 and 100,000.
So far, 7,000 bodies have been placed in a mass grave and another 9,000 bodies have been collected since Tuesday's powerful earthquake.
The official Canadian death toll from the quake remained at four, with 13 others injured. Efforts continued to find missing RCMP Supt. Doug Coates of Ottawa.
Ottawa is moving on several fronts, making it easier for Haitians to seek refuge in Canada, and putting peacekeepers on standby in case they are needed quickly in that country.
The Toronto Star has learned that Ottawa is about to roll out the welcome mat to thousands of would-be immigrants from Haiti.
Several thousand Haitians are to be brought quickly to Canada as immigrants as the government throws open its doors to survivors. An announcement of special provisions to assist Haitians is expected from Prime Minister Stephen Harper as early as Saturday.
These will include temporarily fast-tracking applications from Haitians under the family reunification provisions of the Immigration Act, which allows citizens of Canada or permanent residents to sponsor close relatives as immigrants. By putting the applications at the head of the processing queue, would-be immigrants can avoid a two- to four-year backlog.
“If you've got orphans, if you've got people who are injured, there's not going to be any way of caring for them and if we have family here (in Canada) who could do that, it's certainly within our values and within the mandate of our family unification programs to do that,” immigration expert Nicole LaViolette said on hearing the news.
With 100,000 Haitians living in Canada, the special provisions are expected to help at least several thousand would-be immigrants.
Meanwhile, the Canadian army has begun assembling hundreds of soldiers and military equipment at CFB Trenton in the event that additional soldiers are required to keep the peace and assist rescue efforts in Port-au-Prince, sources say.
While the orders have not come down from the government to deploy, a “battle-group-plus” of up to 800 soldiers from CFB Valcartier in Quebec are on standby in Trenton.
The Valcartier-based force comes from the francophone Royal 22nd Regiment, known as the Van Doos, and would be a logical choice to send to the devastated French-speaking Caribbean nation.
A government spokesperson said every effort is being made to track down the missing Canadians.
“While Canadian consular officials seek the whereabouts and well-being of these individuals, operations personnel are also re-contacting the families for updates on their attempts to reach those listed as missing,” the spokesperson said.
Canadians in need of assistance are encouraged to make their way to the Canadian embassy in Port-au-Prince on Delmas Rd., between Delmas 75 and 71 or, if possible, call collect the Canadian government's Emergency Operations Centre at 613-996-8885.
Family and friends seeking information on Canadian citizens are urged to contact Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada at 1-800-387-3124.
The Ontario government is giving $1 million to the Canadian Red Cross to help victims, but, unlike the federal government, will not match contributions made by individual citizens “at this point,” Premier Dalton McGuinty said Friday.
Ontario officials also waited to hear back from the federal government on McGuinty's offer earlier this week to provide medical, search and rescue, forensic identification and any other expertise that is needed.
For now, “the single most important thing we can do is to send money,” McGuinty said, urging Ontarians to make donations online.
Some 270 Canadians have been airlifted from Haiti on return trips by three separate Canadian Forces flights ferrying supplies to the stricken country.
Cannon said the daily multiple flights to Haiti “will be joined by HMCS Athabaskan and HMCS Halifax, which set sail (Thursday) and will provide additional personnel, equipment and helicopters.”
Besides special water purification units, the ships carry chainsaws, cement cutters, wire cutters and other equipment to help free people from the rubble.
Cannon said the Canadian International Development Agency is coordinating shipment of supplies, which include blankets, buckets, jerry cans, hygienic supplies, kitchen utensils, tarpaulins and mosquito nets.
With files from Rob Ferguson
Joanna Smith tweets from Haiti
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