Madam Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this emergency debate today on the situation in Haiti, which is extremely disturbing indeed. By way of background and to give some idea of the problems the country faces, I will quote some statistics concerning the earthquake in Haiti.
The earthquake on January 12 caused damage on an unprecedented scale. Estimates put the number of dead at 222,570 and the number of injured at 300,000. Approximately 1.3 million people are living in temporary shelters in the Port-au-Prince area, and 600,000 have left the earthquake-damaged areas to take refuge elsewhere.
The Haitian government was severely crippled by the earthquake. It is estimated that more than 60% of government, administrative and economic infrastructure was destroyed. Haiti does not have a large government, yet one-third of the 60,000 public servants were killed in the earthquake. Half of Haiti's 8,500 prison inmates escaped. One hundred and one UN employees who were in the country when the earthquake struck lost their lives.
The court house, the justice department, the public security department and the legislature were destroyed. More than 105,000 homes were destroyed and more than 208,000 were damaged. One and a half million people found themselves homeless. Nearly 4,000 Haitian students died, 1,234 schools were destroyed and 2,500 were damaged. The damage is estimated at $7.9 billion, and 70% was suffered by the private sector.
It is estimated that Haiti needs $11.5 billion, including 50% for social services, 17% for infrastructure and housing, and 15% for the environment and risk management. The Red Cross is working to help Haitians: 80,000 households have received temporary accommodation, 95,000 patients have received medical care and 90,000 m3 of water has been distributed to 118 sites.
I wanted to provide this overview to remind members of how serious these events are. In our era, we live with the ever-present media, online, in real time and on the news networks. We are touched and struck by events, and after that, whether we like it or not, they dissipate and we stop thinking about them. That is the risk for any crisis in the world and it is also the case for Haiti. I think it is a good idea to remind ourselves of the seriousness of what has happened there. Then, there is what came after: the recent cholera outbreak, which is another problem for the people of Haiti, as though they needed that. Then there are the issues and considerations pertaining to the legislative and presidential elections, as well as the unrest and climate of violence they have caused.
I will quote Dany Laferrière. You may know of him, Madam Chair. He is a Quebec author of Haitian origin. He is famous in Quebec and throughout la Francophonie. He said that Quebec has everything except for independence and that Haiti has nothing, except for independence. This turn of phrase reminds us that Haitians took charge of themselves long ago. They are an independent people who can decide their own destiny.
This independence is meaningless unless they are truly masters of their own destiny, which requires that they choose their leaders. In my opinion, this need to choose one's leaders is the very essence of democracy and independence for a country.
In light of all of Haiti's current difficulties, I cannot help but send my best regards to the Haitian people, who are the brothers and sisters of the Quebec people. More than 90% of Haitian nationals and the Haitian diaspora in Canada live in Quebec. It is the only nation in the Americas, together with Quebec, that has French as its common public language and official language.
The current problems surrounding the presidential election must not overshadow the fact that democracy and the governance of the Haitian state do not rest solely with the president, or rather, should not rest solely with the president, as is currently the case.
As I mentioned earlier today, in 2006, I had the opportunity to take part in a parliamentary mission to meet with Haitian parliamentarians in the context of legislative elections. At the time, I noted that the difference between the magnificent presidential palace, on a beautiful green lawn, and the legislative building, an old tourism office where parliamentarians were crammed in on top of one another, illustrated the importance given to the presidency in the minds of many Haitians, or at least in the spirit of how that country engages in politics at this time, in other words, the disproportionate importance given to the presidency.
Basically, all we are hearing about is the Haitian presidency, the three candidates who are fighting for it and the problems this is causing for the second round. I hope that current events will not keep us from thinking about the fact that legislative elections are also taking place, and that parliamentarians also need to have some legitimacy. They must represent their constituents, and this must be a fundamental part of the democratic process in Haiti, especially when the country is going through a crisis, as it is right now.
Ever since that mission in 2006 during which I met Haitian parliamentarians, I have been concerned about the need to strengthen the parliamentary system in Haiti. Of course the Haitians themselves must be the ones to reflect and to work on this, and to do something.
Personally, I am trying to do my part. I thought it might be helpful to create a friendship group, an association that might not be entirely official or recognized by the House, but an association nonetheless of Haitian and Canadian parliamentarians who wish to create ties and reflect on how the Canadian Parliament and Canadian MPs and senators can help Haiti, and how to support Haitian parliamentarians to give that institution more prominence.
To that end, three colleagues—from three different political parties—and I founded such an association a few months ago: the Canada-Haiti Parliamentary Group. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the three other co-founders: the hon. members for Bourassa, Outremont and Edmonton East.
I hope that our association, our supporters and our policies will be able to improve the situation in Haiti substantially.
I would like to speak in more detail about immigration, which I followed closely as the Bloc Québécois immigration critic.
In the wake of the 2010 earthquake, the federal government announced special measures to fast-track the processing of family reunification applications. In January 2006, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration announced extraordinary measures for Haitians directly affected by the earthquake, including fast-tracking the processing of applications in the family reunification category.
Here is a list of the measures: consular assistance and evacuation of Canadian citizens who were in Haiti when the earthquake struck; priority processing of applications in various categories—including family reunification applications from Quebec—for those directly and seriously affected by the earthquake in Haiti; evacuation of adopted Haitian children coming to Canada, which happened very quickly—it should be said that the process was already quite advanced in these cases; lifting of fees and consideration of other relevant factors related to the difficulties faced by temporary residents in Canada; lifting of visa requirements for aid workers and evacuees coming to Canada; temporary lifting of all removals to Haiti, which seems obvious to me; and information sessions that took place all over.
I would like to talk about Quebec's humanitarian sponsorship program in detail. In Canada, it is the federal government's responsibility to determine who can sponsor, who can be sponsored and for which family members the guarantor is required to prove their financial capacity. Since the 1991 Canada-Quebec agreement, Quebec alone deals with the integration of immigrants within its borders.
Given that family reunification is a key component in integrating immigrants into Quebec society, the Bloc Québécois feels that family reunification should be handed over to Quebec, since it is already responsible for all family-related issues. In addition, this measure would allow for more efficient processing of family reunification applications and would mean that most procedures would be concentrated within Quebec's immigration and cultural communities department, while still giving Ottawa the right to monitor security issues.
The Government of Quebec has the expertise to do this and has demonstrated it by moving ahead with its own selection system to reunite Haitians affected by the disaster, 90% of whom live in Quebec, as I mentioned earlier.
In response to an exceptional situation, the Government of Quebec decided to adopt special immigration measures. On February 3, it announced the creation of the special humanitarian sponsorship program, which was effective from February to the end of July 2010 and which temporarily helped reunite families by allowing Quebec residents to sponsor brothers, sisters and children over the age of 22.
Through this initiative, Quebec welcomed 3,000 Haitians, in addition to the 1,900 sponsorship applications that were already awaiting approval from Ottawa. Furthermore, another Quebec resident, a relative or not, could act as a co-guarantor for the five-year financial commitment, to make it easier to meet the financial requirements.
As of November 4, the Government of Quebec had received 8,354 applications through this measure. In addition, 2,400 Quebec selection certificates were issued. The majority of the applications from Quebec are still awaiting approval from Ottawa, which only deals with issues of health and safety.
On August 30, at the last minute, the Canadian Minister of Citizenship and Immigration quietly issued a reminder that the special measures for Haiti would come to an end on September 1, practically the following day. After the announcement of the end of the so-called special measures, an operational bulletin was published to give instructions regarding the processing of applications for Haitian nationals.
What does all of this mean? The new timeframe to complete the eligibility assessments for sponsorship applications will be 40 days as opposed to 10 days.
Applications that were to be processed as a priority within a 12-week deadline will now be processed as quickly as possible. We do not really know what that means in terms of a deadline. Fees will be charged again. What is more, if I can make an editorial comment, it is particularly questionable to try to resolve our deficit problems with permanent residency applications from Haiti.
Haitian citizens in Canada applying for a work visa will now have to get a valid labour market opinion and pay the applicable fees. I will come back to that because I think it is very important. Eligibility for the interim federal health plan no longer applies to the new applications. CIC's priorities will change.
Although the department says it is very open to Quebec's right to have its own program that, among other things, broadens the definition of family reunification beyond immediate family, and even though it recognizes that possibility, in fact the choices made by Quebec are a second priority. Only people who correspond to the traditional definition of the family class established by the federal government are entitled to be top priority. It should be noted that the expression “second priority” is a euphemism, because it is not in fact a priority.
On October 6, 2010, only 18 Haitians arrived on Quebec soil under that program. Thousands of applications had been filed and 493 applications were received by CIC, which means less than 4% of these people got as far as Quebec soil on October 6. We are quite concerned about the federal government's lack of flexibility and the fact that it often deems documents not to be credible.
I will try to be quick because I see that my time is running out and I have a lot to say about immigration. The Bloc Québécois is very concerned and believes that the temporary work visas should remain open-ended without any need for a labour market opinion. These opinions ensure that foreign nationals are not used as cheap labour to fill jobs that could otherwise be filled by Canadians. It is a process the Bloc Québécois generally agrees with. Nonetheless, we find it appropriate that this requirement be waived for Haitians who are already in Quebec or Canada, especially since there is currently a moratorium on sending them back to Haiti because the situation is difficult and it is almost impossible to do.
We therefore find ourselves in a situation where there are people who were in Canada during the earthquake for one reason or another, who now have the right to remain in Canada for an indefinite period of time and who have been told that they can, for example, continue to work temporarily to meet their needs. These people may be driven to work in the underground economy. By requiring a labour market opinion, a fairly complex procedure that sometimes does not result in employment because the opinion is negative, we are depriving these people of a way of supporting themselves and are therefore pushing them toward working in the underground economy or pushing them into difficulty meeting their needs. It is completely counterproductive.
I hope that the government will quickly remedy this situation and allow the people who cannot be sent back to Haiti as things stand to work to meet their needs.
In conclusion, although a lot of work has been done by citizens and the federal government, there is still much more to be done. It has always been said that the Haitians are a very resilient people.
They have suffered a lot and we must provide them with support. I am convinced that they have the desire to overcome this situation. They are very resilient. There are promising areas everywhere in Haiti. We spoke earlier in the House about Jacmel, a location that I had the opportunity to visit and that represents great potential for us. It is up to us to develop it.