Avoid partisanship on Haiti quake immigration

Says gov’t should ‘do the right thing,’ without setting precedents
Published January 26, 2010
By Martin C. Barry • PXN

‘The government needs to be reminded that this is a very particular
catastrophe, and in situations like this you’re not setting precedents
— you’re doing the right thing’

Despite calls from within Canada’s Haitian community for Ottawa to loosen up its immigration rules in order to accommodate the tens of thousands of persons displaced by the Caribbean nation’s devastating earthquake, Papineau Liberal MP Justin Trudeau says he is not dissatisfied with measures being taken by the Conservative government and political partisanship should be avoided. “This is a human tragedy,” he told NPEN.

‘Human’ approach
“The thing we need to avoid is attacking each other and looking for some political advantage in here, because that’s just not going to be done. This is not a time to play political games. And when we do have concerns that the Conservative government may not be moving quite fast enough on clarifying what we’re going to be able to do to bring people to Canada quicker.
“It’s not about criticizing. “It’s about offering solutions to take tough decisions.” Trudeau said he had a long conversation last week with Vivian Barbot, the former Bloc Québécois MP for Papineau who is of Haitian origin. “We talked about her family members who were missing.”

‘Exceptional,’ says Ignatieff
Commenting on the Haitian immigration issue last week, Liberal opposition leader Michael Ignatieff issued a statement saying that the unprecedented crisis in Haiti calls for exceptional immigration measures. “While we welcome the initial steps taken by Minister Kenney, the scale of this natural disaster and the complete failure of Haiti’s political system require us to go further,” said Ignatieff.
The Liberals claim that contrary to the Tory immigration minister’s claims, he has the power to create a new category for extended family reunification on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. “In light of this unprecedented tragedy, the Canadian way is to show compassion to the families of Canadian citizens and permanent residents trapped in Haiti,” said Bourassa Liberal MP Denis Coderre.

‘Flexibility,’ says Coderre
The Liberals claim that Section 25 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act allows for extended family reunifications on humanitarian compassionate grounds, and was used for specific stateless Vietnamese people in the Philippines with relatives in Canada in 2005.  The Grits say Kenney’s predecessor as immigration minister, Diane Finley, further relaxed requirements for the Vietnamese in that special category in 2007. “We need to act rapidly and with flexibility,” said Coderre.
“This means allowing Temporary Resident (visitor) Visas so individuals can be brought to Canada by family temporarily while their applications are processed — and allowing Canadians to start sponsorship paperwork in Haiti while they are there helping to provide relief. We also need to ensure proper resources and agreements are in place to handle the influx of Haitians fleeing the disaster. Alongside the additional federal resources being provided for processing, we need greater federal support for settlement services handled by the Government of Quebec.”

‘Avoid precedents’
Trudeau said that one of the things the government ought to be concerned with in relaxing immigration rules is precedents. “If we start to bend the rules in one situation, then everyone is going to expect us to bend the rules in every situation. I think the government needs to be reminded that this is a very particular catastrophe and in situations like this you’re not setting precedents — you’re doing the right thing.”
He pointed out that prior to the earthquake, the Papineau riding office was already dealing with a backlog of existing requests from people of many nationalities seeking assistance in order to have family members come to Canada for visits or residency. “There are requests already in the system,” he said, maintaining that perhaps they should be accelerated.
“One of the problems is that there is very little in the way of infrastructure on the ground right now in Haiti,” he added. “The embassy is totally focused on getting all the Canadian citizens out of Haiti, as is normal, but very soon needs to shift into the mode of getting close family members of Canadians who are in Haiti, who will therefore be able to shelter these people on extended visits, whether it be a few months or half a year while things stabilize over there. These are the kinds of things that we need to act decisively on.”

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