The Rush To Redefine Family

The rush to redefine family

Globe editorial
From Friday's Globe and Mail
Published on Friday, Jan. 22, 2010 12:00AM EST
Last updated on Monday, Jan. 25, 2010 3:51AM EST

A police officer comforts a woman in Montreal on Monday, Jan.18, 2010, as hundreds of Haitian-Canadians crowd around a law office hoping to fast track their loved ones into Canada after the earthquake. The Canadian Press

Bureaucratic irritants must be addressed, but Ottawa is right to steer clear of fundamental changes to immigration policy that would only create further havoc in a Haiti that is trying to rebuild

The tragedy in Haiti raises great moral questions about our obligations to others. How should Canada react to the pleas of Canadians of Haitian origin, who see the desperate circumstances in their homeland and want to resettle their family members to the north? In its immigration policy, the federal government has acted well, expediting current claims and orphan sponsorships while recognizing that opening the doors too widely would be a bad precedent for Canada and set back Haiti's reconstruction.

Spouses and partners, parents, dependent children and grandchildren, and orphans under 18 count as eligible family members. Quebec announced yesterday that, for Haitians only, adult brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, and aunts and uncles would now be covered, acting under a power gained in a 1991 immigration accord with the federal government.

Jason Kenney, the federal Citizenship and Immigration Minister, resisted entreaties to do the same. Ninety per cent of Haitian immigrants come to Quebec, meaning its government's policy will, effectively, carry the day. But Mr. Kenney was the one who made the right move.

Quebec is not increasing its overall immigration targets, meaning that prospective immigrants from other countries will be newly disadvantaged. Others, victims of the 2004 tsunami, the 2003 earthquake in Bam, Iran, or the continuing emergencies in Congo and Sudan, are being relegated to second-class status, or shut out entirely.

A more permissive immigration policy for Haitian adults will create problems in Haiti, too. Large numbers, recognizing that the promise of Canada is better than Haiti's immediate present, may polish dubious family ties, transforming themselves from second cousins or close friends into nieces and uncles. Dealing with immigration claims that recognize such extended family connections will be a nightmare for all involved, especially in a country that did not have records on all of its residents (and that was before the earthquake). A policy that is too flexible could be manipulated by those who are intent on human trafficking or other malign activities.

Some bureaucratic irritants need to be addressed. More work can be done to get clear information out to those concerned more quickly. A rule requiring the sponsorship process to be initiated in Canada ought to be relaxed for those Haitian-Canadians who are now in Haiti to help their families.

It is a natural instinct to want to reunite families ravaged by disaster. Canada is helping them, with a comprehensive aid and recovery mission. But it is not the time to create a fundamental change in Canadian immigration policy, or to create further havoc in a Haiti that is trying to rebuild.