Montreal Haitians seek loosened immigration rules

  • January 29, 2010
{mosimage}With Montreal being home to the largest population of Haitians in Canada, the archdiocese of Montreal’s response to the Haiti earthquake has been four-fold.

First was Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte’s immediate call to prayer and action on the very day of the Jan. 12 humanitarian catastrophe. Next was the support and active promotion of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace’s fundraising campaign, which in two weeks had raised almost $2 million.

More recently the archdiocese has begun to tackle the challenges of reconstruction in Haiti and to lobby the government to loosen rules and regulations surrounding immigration and refugee claims.

Brian McDonough, director of the social action office of the archdiocese, said he hoped  people would be mindful of the kind of reconstruction needed — effective reconstruction that involves the Haitians themselves.

“If we are engaged in a development process that really provides some hope of sustainability, then the people can get back to their villages (or to Port-au-Prince) and rebuild their lives,” said McDonough.

McDonough cited Development and Peace as an important player for Haiti’s reconstruction because of its long-standing relationship with Haitian partners. And he points to the response to the tsunami of 2004 as an example.

“The important thing is how partners of Development and Peace, in a relatively short time, were able to build 3,000-4,000 homes as well as roads and other infrastructure for 23 villages that had been levelled by the tsunami. The interesting thing is that we were able to support local groups, local partners that build on the creativity and the energies of the people instead of having a development that comes from the top down,” he said. “It’s really a community building approach.”

Community building is also a priority for Turcotte.

“Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte on the very day of the disaster called on people to donate to Development and Peace to support not only immediate humanitarian aid but the different emergency programs D&P has put in place.”

On Jan. 23 the cardinal celebrated a Mass at St. Joseph’s Oratory attended by approximately 2,000, including Quebec Premier Jean Charest. At this Mass $27,000 was raised for disaster relief.

“It was really a moment of bringing together, of convergence of the various networks and communities within the Haitian diaspora of Montreal,” McDonough said. “The cardinal said a few words in Creole that spoke very deeply to the people who are in mourning.”

However, the biggest challenge faced by the Canadian Haitian community — which numbers more than 100,000 in Montreal — are the roadblocks to bringing family members to safety, he said.

“We continue to be concerned about this and indeed are joining different actors in civil society here in Montreal and inviting (Immigration Minister) Jason Kenney to open some of the categories of persons who are admissible for sponsorship,” said McDonough.

One of the greatest concerns, he said, are the rules governing family reunification, which should be immediately amended to give greater flexibility, he said.

“In order to re-unite family, the problem is in finding documents that will establish one’s family ties, and the need for a DNA test which is nearly impossible, not to mention the huge financial burden that requires.”

In the archdiocese of Toronto, Martin Mark, director of the Office for Refugees, said he is still waiting for the government to deliver refugees.

“We’ve already got requests from parishes in the archdiocese that said ‘if you have refugees or people from Haiti we would be happy to assist.’

“We went to the government of Canada and we asked Immigration Canada, if you have refugees let us know.”

Like McDonough, Mark has also lobbied the government to modify the definition of a refugee to include those whose lives are in danger following natural disaster and to open up the sponsorship of refugees to extended family members.

Although the presence of Haitians in Toronto parishes is not as pronounced, archdiocese of Toronto communications manager Bill Steinburg said the archdiocesan offices are doing their best to liaise between religious communities, volunteers, organizations and groups scrambling to do their part for Haiti, including the parishes which are constantly offering their prayers and collecting funds.

For information on making refugee or immigration claims, call 1-888-242-2100 or e-mail .

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