Thank you, Marie-Jocelyne.
I would like to thank the members of the committee for giving us the opportunity to speak to an issue that is important for the development of Canada's Haitian community, especially in the Montreal region of Quebec, where 90% of nationals and of that community are concentrated.
I arrived in Canada, in Quebec, when I was young, two years old. That was in 1974. In 1972, my father travelled around the world and accidentally found an interesting place, a place to live that was good for the development of his family. Today, I am happy to be a Canadian who contributes to the growth of his country, but also to the promotion of his country abroad.
We are very moved by the comments of members of our community who, we think, are the most vulnerable. In our community, the most vulnerable are those individuals who are the least equipped to successfully integrate into Canadian, Quebec society. Mr. Cima's story, a scenario that illustrates all the difficulties and challenges these people face, ensures that we have the duty to suggest solutions and try to influence the decision-makers. That is why we are before you today.
The challenge of obtaining a work permit is a priority for us. In fact, for integration to be successful here, in Canada, the economic issue comes first. I'm talking about employment, the possibility for foreign nationals to develop some economic stability in order to develop socially within our various communities, and so on.
There are many challenges. Given everything involved in obtaining and renewing a work permit, keeping a job is a challenge in itself. The permit costs $255, is valid for six months to one year and needs to be renewed. Many people in the community will mention some difficult aspects of the renewal process. For example, since they need to take action every six months or year to meet this requirement, they must ask their employer to be released. In addition, the application processing time is long. It takes four to five months to get a response, and when you do get one, the period of coverage is from the date the application was made until the end of the six-month or one-year period. Under these conditions, if someone waited for five months, there are only seven left out of 12. It's absurd. The situation for work permits means that you are constantly in an active process.
Problems also exist for access to education. The children of an individual without a work permit cannot get equal access to education. When they arrive, they have access to primary and secondary schools. However, when they go to CEGEP or university, the children of these nationals are treated as foreigners and must therefore pay the full tuition, which is $6,000 for CEGEP in Quebec, and about $10,000 for university. These are costs that we cannot take on.
Integrating these young people is also an issue. When they arrive, they can't necessarily study at high school, which means that they can't go to CEGEP either. A kind of unhealthy inactivity is created and causes frustration in these young people. So they sometimes turn to marginal behaviour. They look to the sub-culture to try to survive and find a way to meet their needs, those of their parents and their family. We certainly see these problems in our youth intervention programs, and we are trying to prevent them.
Access to health care also presents a particular situation. Foreign nationals benefit from the interim federal health program, or the IFHP, which supports them when it comes to their health care. However, even when they have a permit, not every hospital or health care institution will accept it. In the Montreal region, only one health care facility, the Santa Cabrini Hospital, accepts the permit from individuals who go there to receive treatment.
There is something inconsistent about that, and more should be done so that all health care facilities can accept these individuals, who do not live in a single area in Montreal. The Santa Cabrini Hospital is in the eastern part of the city. So people who live in the Montreal region have to travel to get there to receive treatment.
We think children and the elderly are the most vulnerable, the elderly in particular. These people left Haiti and left their community in a situation that is no longer the same now. With everything that has happened, from the earthquake to periods of political, social and economic instability, the country is changing very quickly. If these people, who are already vulnerable because of their age, are sent back, they will no longer identify with the environment they left. Their friends are dead, or they no longer own what they left behind or they believe they still own it. The environment has really changed. We would be putting them in an even more vulnerable situation. We think it is very important to pay attention to that.
Stability of the family unit is extremely important in the process of integrating into society in Quebec and Canada. Grandparents have a big role to play in integrating into society. They often try to provide direct support to the parents in their role of supporting and coaching their children. That is why sending those people back would create a vulnerable situation for both the elderly and the children growing up here.
There is something else we consider very important. Since 2004, these people have been working to integrate into Canadian society. They are trying to find work and are making constant efforts to do so. They are trying to make sure that their children attend school and receive services. If their children 18 years of age or older can't attend school, they take steps to try to get them a work permit so they can work. These people are constantly taking steps and experiencing a kind of instability.
We think the first step would be to eliminate the red tape so that these people can function in society. It will help them to work and keep their job as long as possible, and will help their children to continue to develop—