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Ottawa will fast-track Haitian adoptions, but balks at expanding immigration

Orphaned children lay on mattresses inside a delivery truck at the Maison des Enfants De Dieu orphanage on Jan. 20, 2010, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Canada will speed adoptions and family reunifications from Haiti, but will not expand the rules to allow whole new classes of Haitians to come here.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced Wednesday that the Canadian government will fast-track 100 cases in which Canadians are in the process of adopting Haitian children to help them get out of their devastated country, and into Canada, quickly.

But at the same time, the government insisted it does not intend to throw open the doors to Haitian immigration with major changes to the rules, or resettle Haitians here, despite calls from the Liberal Opposition to allow Haitian Canadians to bring in more of their extended family.

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"Massive resettlement is not a solution to natural disaster. The solution is reconstruction, and we're focused and dedicated to that," Mr. Kenney said.

The government's efforts to speed adoptions still face several hurdles that will take days, if not weeks, to overcome, in part because they require the approval of a Haitian government struggling to function in the aftermath of the disaster. It's not yet clear how many have already been approved, Mr. Kenney said.

"This is obviously difficult to ascertain because they lost all of their records, and my understanding is that the principal judge responsible for approving the applications is deceased," he said. "And that is why the Haitian government is establishing a new fast-track process to approve foreign adoptions."

Once Haitian approval comes, Canadian officials will issue special temporary resident permits to allow the children into the country quickly, he said. He noted it's important to wait for Haitian approval before moving orphans out of the country.

Indeed, children's advocates warned that the compassionate urge Canadians feel to adopt children from devastated Haiti must be tempered with caution. Children believed orphaned may actually have a parent, grandparent, aunt or some other relative that wants to care for them, said David Morley, president of Save the Children Canada.

"We appreciate the emotion, but we don't think you should move too quickly. We have to try family reunification," Mr. Morley said.

At the same time, however, the Opposition Liberals pressed the government to expand the group of relatives that Haitian Canadians can sponsor under the family class of immigration.

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Mr. Kenney has already said Immigration Canada is speeding up the processing of family-class immigrants, but Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said the government must do more.

"We think we must widen, for the Haiti crisis, the definition of family. So that Haitian families can bring in brothers, sisters, nephews. We must soften the rules for humanitarian reasons," Mr. Ignatieff told reporters after a caucus meeting Wednesday.

"In this context, I think Mr. Kenney - with all respect, we don't want to play a partisan game - but I think he has misunderstood Canadians' sentiments. They are ready to take an exceptional humanitarian action in this case."

Canadians can already sponsor parents, dependent children and grandchildren to come to Canada. They can only bring in siblings, nephews, nieces and grandchildren if they are orphans under 18.

Family applications normally take months or years, however. The promised fast-tracking could bring an estimated 5,000 Haitians in quickly, just as a similar move to expedite family immigration during Sri Lanka's civil war last year brought 1,600 people to Canada.

"We are doing more in relative terms, in terms of emergency response, than any other country in the world," Mr. Kenney said. "So I think we have nothing to be ashamed of as a country in terms of our response."

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