Canadian business leaders with ties to Haiti watched with anxiety and sorrow as an earthquake devastated the country's capital city.
"We are doing all we can to reach our workers and people in Port-au-Prince and in the North-East and we have been unsuccessful so far," said Jacqueline Monfourny, president of Montreal-based Somine SA, which has a copper-gold property in north-east Haiti.
"You will undoubtedly understand that we are very worried, and we will do all we can for them. I am, myself, waiting for some information without which I feel powerless."
Ms. Monfourny's company has six employees in Port-au-Prince and 15 altogether in the country, all of whom are Haitian.
Haiti is the highest beneficiary of Canadian development assistance in the Americas. It also has business and social ties: Six thousand Canadians are living in Haiti and Canada is home to more than 150,000 residents of Haitian descent. Canada exported $39-million worth of goods to Haiti last year, and imported $20-million, mostly in textiles.
Canadian businesses with operations in Haiti range from T-shirt maker Gildan Activewear Inc. to the Bank of Nova Scotia and several mining firms.
Montreal-based Gildan, which uses Haitian workers to sew some of its fabrics, said Wednesday it is "concerned" for the well-being of the people in Haiti and wants to help provide humanitarian aid to the country.
The Montreal-based company has no direct manufacturing facilities in Haiti, but uses third-party contractors to sew most of the fabric produced at its Dominican Republic textile facility.
Initial indications suggest that two out of the three contractor facilities used by Gildan are intact, while the third and smallest contractor facility has suffered "substantial" damage, the company said in a release.
Gildan said it's still gathering information "in order to fully evaluate the impact of the Haiti earthquake on the operations and employees of its sub-contractors in the country."
Gildan's management said they are "committed to playing a leadership role in efforts to provide humanitarian aid to the country."
Montreal-based financial firm Desjardins Group runs international development projects such as microfinance and IT support in Haiti. All its staff are safe and Desjardins is now focused on rebuilding its IT network and encouraging its Canadian clients to make donations to the Red Cross through its branches.
"It's been really scary," said spokeswoman Caroline Phémius. "We work a lot there so we are really touched by what's going on right now."
Scotiabank, which has operated in Haiti since 1972, has four branches and 80 employees, all near the capital city. The bank has been in touch with staff, via phone calls and e-mails, and says all its workers there are accounted for and safe.
Initial checks show the bank's buildings weren't severely damaged and it is "now hoping to have access to cash restored as soon as possible," a spokesman said.
Several large financial firms announced donations Wednesday to the Red Cross's earthquake relief fund. Desjardins is giving $300,000, Scotiabank is donating $250,000 and Royal Bank of Canada will give $100,000.
Air Canada operates one flight a week on Tuesday between Montréal and Haiti. The flight had already departed Haiti yesterday when the earthquake occurred.
"We have been in discussions with the Canadian government to determine how to best support relief efforts in the region," said spokeswoman Isabelle Arthur.