By RON FANFAIR
The Canadian government has promised to expedite immigration applications from Haitians with family in Canada and give priority to those adversely affected by last month’s devastating earthquake.
Haiti’s honorary consul general in Toronto Dr. Eric Pierre feels that this is inadequate and is calling on the federal government to pursue the path taken by Quebec.
Earlier this month, Quebec’s immigration minister, Yolande James – she’s the province’s first Black cabinet minister – unveiled a new program that will allow Quebec residents to sponsor their children over 21 years of age, brothers, sisters and their siblings’ spouses and dependent children.
Although Quebec will not exceed its plan to welcome between 52,000 and 55,000 new immigrants, the province will accept up to 3,000 new immigrants from Haiti under the initiative.
The Quebec government is also allowing the main sponsor to have a co-sponsor should additional funds be required to support an application. Immigrants will be selected based on their distress level and their ability to integrate into Quebec.
The government has also said it will assist Haitian students currently studying in the province by exempting them from paying tuition fees for the winter.
“The federal government has to allow us to sponsor family members,” Pierre said at a Council of Caribbean Associations Canada (CCAC) fundraising dinner last Friday night in Don Mills. “There are also quite a few people in the Diaspora who are friends of Haiti and they have accommodation and the financial ability to support Haitians wishing to come to Canada until they can secure a job.
“I can assure you that those people in Haiti will not be a burden on Canadian society. They can start working right away because they are educated and well prepared in their respected professional fields. Some of them are French teachers and computer technicians that Canada needs. Right now, they are currently homeless and destitute.”
While acknowledging the immediate contributions made by Canadians in the past month, Pierre said the rebuilding of Haiti is a long-term challenge.
“Canadians have done a lot and I am very happy for that, but we cannot feel that it’s good enough to attend dinners and other fundraisers like this and believe we have done our part,” he added. “We have to move beyond just feeling good about what we have done or what we are doing and make a concerted effort to help Haiti rise from the rubble. Sustained attention to the plight of the Haitian survivors is what is needed.”
Pierre lost several cousins who were buried in mass graves, but his mother – 83-year-old Emilia St. Fleur – who was vacationing in Cap-Haitien when the earthquake struck, was not hurt.
“Two years ago, my mom said God inspired her to visit Haiti in December 2009,” Pierre, a dentist by profession, said. “She had not gone back there for quite a while prior to two months ago. My respect level for her has increased so much because she has decided to stay in Haiti for a few months and provide assistance to those in need. She is showing a lot of courage, determination and generosity.”
Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor David Onley, who attended the event, said a member of his church died in the earthquake.
“I attended her funeral two weeks ago and it served to remind me and the congregation that we have experienced a loss too,” he said.
Launched last summer in Toronto, the CCAC comprises associations representing 12 Caribbean countries including Haiti.
Proceeds from the fundraiser went to Pierspective Entraide Humanitaire, a charitable organization which Pierre and members of the Haitian community founded eight years ago.
“What better sense of pride and accomplishment can there be than knowing that you are a part of a generation that defied the odds that said Haiti would forever be destitute?” asked CCAC president Frances Del Sol. “What greater pride can one feel than knowing that years from now when Haiti rises from the ashes, your efforts will not be in vain? What greater pride is there in knowing that we live in one of the most privileged nations in the world and we have raised the bar for our fellow human beings and we made them smile again?
“Haiti needs us, not just today, but for the long run because the truth is, as we help Haiti, we help ourselves.”
Ontario’s transportation minister Kathleen Wynne, Don Valley West Liberal Member of Parliament Rob Oliphant, Don Valley West councilor John Parker, Organization of Eastern Caribbean States’ High Commissioner Brendon Browne and several Caribbean Consul corps representatives including Trinidad & Tobago’s Michael Lashley, who is the Dean of the CARICOM Consul corps, attended the fundraiser which was supported by the Macedonian church community which donated the banquet centre and meal.
Lashley, who visited Haiti twice, said the Haitian people must be allowed to lead the way in their country’s rebuilding process.
“All countries must help to row the Haitian boat forward, but the coxswain determining the direction of the boat must be the Haitians themselves,” he said. “The generally accepted need for the sustainable reconstruction and expansion of the Haitian society, its governmental institutions, its civil society, its political culture as well as its productive capacity must be met with the consent and direct involvement of the Haitian government and its people.”
Filmmaker Martine Duviella, born in Montreal to Haitian parents who were forced to flee the dictatorial Duvalier regime, and Canadian music promoter Farley Flex co-hosted the event.