Canada has already evacuated 100 people from earthquake-ravaged Haiti, and was preparing to remove hundreds more, starting with those in need of medical attention, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Thursday.
With four Canadians confirmed dead and others reported missing, Cannon warned that more casualties will be reported.
But he said the Canadian Embassy — one of the few offices still functioning in the Haitian capital — has turned itself into a “base camp” for Canadians in need, and those seeking to leave the country.
The first 100 Canadian evacuees, already in the neighbouring Dominican Republic, were to arrive in Montreal late Thursday. Evacuations will continue as long as needed.
“Those people who are injured, those people who are needing medical assistance, will be the first to leave,” Cannon told a news conference.
The embassy is also lending its office services to other foreign missions in Haiti, since so many embassies were destroyed.
And the embassy is giving medical attention, tents and food to Canadians needing shelter.
“The idea here is to make sure that within the compound, there is safe haven for people,” Cannon said.
“We are deeply saddened by reports of Canadian casualties as a result of the earthquake in Haiti. Unfortunately, the reality in the aftermath of the catastrophic events is that we expect more casualties to be reported as search-and-rescue operations unfold.”
About 100 Canadians are seeking refuge at the Canadian embassy compound in Port-au-Prince, while 48 more are being assisted by Canadian officials in the earthquake zone.
And Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is in discussions with the Quebec government about how immigration rules could be eased to allow more Haitians into Canada quickly, Cannon said.
More than 100,000 people of Haitian descent, including Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean, live in Canada. Most are in Quebec. Many have spent the last 36 hours worried about whether their loved ones are safe.
The lack of communications has frustrated efforts to determine the fate of up to 6,000 Canadians living in the Caribbean country. Two RCMP officers and former Liberal MP Serge Marcil are among the missing.
Many Haitian-Canadians have spent days trying fruitlessly to reach relatives.
While the exact number of quake casualties was unknown, the International Red Cross estimated that as many as three million Haitians — a third of the country’s population — may need emergency aid. Thousands of buildings have been flattened, including the parliament, hospitals, a prison and the UN headquarters.
Hedi Annabi, the UN secretary general’s special envoy, was among the more than 100 missing UN workers.
Cannon said 24 staff at the Canadian mission in the Haitian capital were accounted for, as were five military personnel.
Canada’s embassy building was evacuated as a precaution.
There are 707 Canadians registered with the embassy of the 6,000 Canadians believed to be living in the country.
The country is the largest recipient of Canadian long-term development assistance in the Americas and the second largest in the world.
Foreign Affairs is urging Canadians worried about friends and family in Haiti to call its emergency operations centre in Ottawa at 1-800-387-3124 for assistance.
For updates, they can also check the Foreign Affairs website by clicking here.
Canadians in Haiti are urged to make their way to the Canadian embassy in Port-au-Prince.