Helping Haiti: A Canadian Immigration Perspective
A little over two weeks ago Haiti was rocked by an earthquake, which has since claimed over 150,000 lives, and has left hundreds of thousands homeless and wounded. This past Monday, top world officials gathered in Montreal for emergency talks on how to rebuild Haiti in its time of need. Perhaps the most pressing issue in the Canadian immigration community right now is the possibility of loosening immigration rules for Haitians affected by this disaster.
Currently, federal immigration regulations allow Canadians to sponsor immediate family members, including spouses, parents, grandparents and dependent children. Over 90 percent of Canada’s Haitian community, which includes over 100,000 people, currently live in Quebec. Members of Canadian and Quebec immigration law communities, as well as the Haitian community of Quebec have called upon the Canadian government to loosen the regulations in order to allow for the sponsorship of extended family members as well, including brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles. The Quebec government is ready to loosen its immigration regulations; however, Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney recently declared that the notion of expanding the categories of sponsorship to include extended families is “irresponsible” and that to do so would be unprecedented and unrealistic.
The federal government has instead talked of fast-tracking applications for thousands of Haitian immigrants being sponsored by immediate family and expediting the process for the adoption of Haitian orphans. However, we have seen instances in the past where the federal government’s commitments were largely ignored in practice. The federal government made promises to expedite immigration applications from those Afghans who risked their lives in support of the Canadian missions in Afghanistan. Unfortunately for those Afghan applicants, Canadian soldiers will likely be returning home long before they are ever allowed into Canada.
In addition to all of this, there is one important issue, which has not been properly addressed with regard to the immigration of Haitians affected by the disaster. That issue is documentation. Most of the documents required for Canadian immigration, such as passports, birth certificates and other civil status papers were lost in the destruction of the earthquake. These documents will likely never be retrieved, and the possibility of obtaining replacement documentation is highly unlikely at least for the foreseeable future. Canadians, who are sponsoring family members, must currently provide these documents in order to satisfy the requirements for immigration to Canada, and many of them will not be able to do so. In circumstances where Haitian immigrants are unable to provide the requisite primary evidence, alternative methods of substantiating familial relationships should be permitted. This has been done in the past for Somali refugees following the collapse of their government. And Haitians today are no less deserving.
What will the Canadian government do in this current situation, where Haitian immigrants might have no identity documents whatsoever? To put it quite simply, the Canadian government should rely upon secondary evidence in the form of solemn affirmations and DNA testing in order to prove familial ties in these circumstances. The Canadian government should also absorb some of the cost of the DNA testing, as the impoverished Haitian immigrants surely do not have the requisite resources. These alternative forms of evidence will allow Haitian immigrants to circumvent formal document requirements when they are unable to provide documentation required to satisfy their familial ties.
The Quebec government would likely encourage such changes to the documentary requirements; however, such a change in policy would require joint action between the federal and provincial governments. The federal government’s opposition to the loosening of the immigration rules for the Haitian immigrants affected by the disaster is at the forefront of the discussion amongst the immigration community in Canada. The issue of relaxing the documentary requirements should be receiving equal attention…and sooner rather than later.