Canada’s Haiti airlift expands to include relatives, residents and charter flight

By Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

Canada is expanding its evacuation of people from Haiti to include relatives and Canadian permanent residents starting Wednesday, if conditions allow.

The government has also arranged for a charter flight for Canadians who pay a market rate to fly to Montreal from Port-au-Prince via an undisclosed location.

“We don’t want to divide families,” Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said in an interview Monday.

“Now we will be accepting Canadians or spouses, their children, but also permanent residents, their spouses and their kids.”

Joly had announced a week prior that Canada was airlifting people with valid Canadian passports from Haiti to the Dominican Republic. Since then, 153 citizens have left.

At the time, Joly said Ottawa was pressing the Dominican Republic to allow permanent residents of Canada aboard those helicopter flights, as well as the foreign family members of Canadians.

Now, Canada will send its helicopters elsewhere from the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. Permanent residents can be airlifted as well as their spouses, common-law partners and dependent children.

Those evacuees will be eligible to take a chartered flight to Montreal if they pay the same cost of a typical flight along that route.

Ottawa is deliberately not saying where this flight to Montreal will come from, such as another country or a location within Haiti that isn’t Port-au-Prince. “We don’t want gangs to go and basically try to create problems for our evacuation,” Joly said.

The first charter flight should include 80 Canadians or relatives, she said.

“We will answer the needs of people there. So if we need to do more flights during the week, we will do so, and that will all start on Wednesday.”

As of Monday, 3,110 people with a connection to Canada had voluntarily registered their presence in Haiti with Ottawa.

Global Affairs Canada has registered an uptick in Canadians seeking help getting out of Haiti, as hopes for a lull in widespread violence have given way to gang-fuelled chaos.

A week ago, 300 people had sought help, but another 200 have since asked to be part of the evacuations.

“The security situation has deteriorated massively,” Joly said. “We want to make sure that we can offer options to Canadians.”

The Caribbean country has faced a political and humanitarian crisis since mid-2021 and gangs have perpetrated brazen violence across the country while limiting access to food and essentials.

The situation got even worse last month when progress toward a foreign military intervention prompted gangs to release prisoners and shut down Haiti’s main airport.

The NDP had been calling on the Liberals to launch a family-reunification program for relatives of Canadians who live in Haiti and are at extreme risk of violence.

Asked about that proposal last week, Immigration Minister Marc Miller noted Ottawa committed a year ago to welcome 15,000 migrants on a humanitarian basis from the Western Hemisphere. That change was announced alongside the closure of an increasingly popular route for people crossing from the U.S. to claim asylum in Canada.

“We are also focused on getting the people out that we undertook as part of our commitment,” he said, noting “several thousand” are sponsored by Haitian Canadians.

“This is a situation that we are monitoring very closely, and always I think Canadians can expect their governments to show a very humanitarian face to this conflict.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April, 1, 2024.

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said the charter flight will leave for Montreal from the Dominican Republic.

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