OTTAWA-Twenty-four Haitian orphans stepped off an Air Canada A330 on Sunday into frigid cold to begin new lives in Canada.
The children, ages 9 months to 11 years, were wrapped in blankets and whisked into the Canada Reception Centre.
They are the first wave of some 180 expected to be approved for adoption by Canadian families. As the children, some walking and others carried, disembarked expectant parents peered out the window to get a glimpse of their newest family members.
The children were given stuffed toys and Red Cross blankets.
“This is just to make them feel a little bit better when they get off the plane. Many of them left Haiti with nothing,” said Alison Frehlich, a Canadian Red Cross spokeswoman.
There were 86 people on board the special flight. Besides the orphans, the passengers were Haitian-Canadians evacuated from the earthquake ravaged country.
The new and repatriated Canadians were given the chance to pick out winter jackets provided by the Salvation Army.
Jean Robert Vaval of Montreal added to his already large family by adopting 14-year-old Jordan Noel.
“With my wife and the kids we are going to be nine,” he said.
Vaval runs a creole restaurant in Montreal and invited the media for a meal.
“It’s a happy day,” he said, beaming.
The good news in Canada came amid more bad news in Haiti. The confirmed death toll from the quake has topped 150,000 in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area alone, the country’s communications minister said Sunday.
Communications minister Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue told said that the figure is based on a body count in the capital and outlying areas by CNE, a state company that has been collecting corpses and burying them in a mass grave north of Port-au-Prince. It does not include other affected cities such as Jacmel, where thousands are believed dead, nor does it account for bodies burned by relatives.
At a news conference in Ottawa, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said that since the Haitian government has officially declared that the search and rescue phase over, the focus has turned to repatriation of the remains of Canadian victims.
“We are working as quickly as possible through a number of complex logistical issues … related to identification and proper documentation of individuals,” Cannon said.
He said the number of Canadian fatalities had risen by one to 19 and added that 213 Canadians are still missing. Some 2,327 individuals have been evacuated and another 60 are waiting for flights home, he said.
Cannon and Prime Minister Stephen Harper were due to meet with Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive in Ottawa on Sunday afternoon.
Their meeting comes in advance of a meeting of international diplomats Monday in Montreal to sketch out the early plan for the rebuilding of Haiti.
“We need to arrive at a common understanding and commitment on certain basic principles of responsibility, accountability and long term engagement,” Cannon said.
“We need to identify with the Haitian government key priorities in order to define a road map of the tasks ahead,” Cannon said.
Bellerive said the rebuilding will take “lots of money.”
“In time we will put the population to work so that we can be independent (of aid) because the Haitian population is a proud population that is used to working,” he said in Haiti, before boarding a flight to Ottawa.
He said the government was working as fast as possible to reopen the factories and create employment in the aftermath of the quake.
“We have received great help. We have fallen to the ground but we will get up again. We’re not dead. We’re going to get up and rebuild another Haiti,” Bellerive said.
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