Beneath the rubble of the homes and government buildings destroyed by the earthquake which struck Haiti lie valuable documents which will likely never be recovered.

Replacing these documents will undoubtedly be a difficult and time-consuming process as Haitian government officials rebuild and restore government records.

Without these documents, the process of escaping the ruins of Haiti and immigrating to Canada will be a frustrating, if not an impossible, one.

For example, a foreign national seeking to become a permanent resident of Canada is generally required to hold a passport or travel document issued by the country of which he is a citizen or national. This applies not only to the principal applicant, but also to his or her spouse and children. If any of them are not able to produce such a document, none of their applications can be finalized. In order to apply for a passport or travel document, citizens of Haiti will undoubtedly have to present to their government officials documentation such as a birth certificate in order to establish their identity and nationality. If they are unable to, their application to Canada is doomed.

Canadians who are sponsoring their spouses and children may also have to deal with missing marriage, death, divorce, and birth certificates. Again, the finalization of such applications is impossible without such documents.

An applicant who has a dependent missing and who may have been killed in the earthquake will face a very awkward and cruel dilemma. Without a death certificate, the missing dependent will be presumed to be alive by Canadian immigration authorities and will have to comply with medical and criminal screenings. If the application proceeds without them being examined, the dependent will forever be excluded from the family class and will not be sponsorable in the future if they are later to be discovered alive.

There is only one real exception to our strict requirements for documents. This was conceived out of necessity following the total collapse of the government in Somalia. Somali refugees were reaching our shores and were often being approved as such by our Immigration and Refugee Board. When they applied for landing, they found it impossible to complete the immigration process since there was no government in Somalia that could issue them a valid passport required by our immigration department to grant them permanent residence.

In response, our government passed regulations and implemented formal policies which apply only to refugees and protected persons and which allow for alternatives to our strict passport requirements. These individuals can now, when in similar circumstances, rely on any identity document issued to them outside of Canada before the person’s entry here. In certain cases, they can use a statutory declaration of a person who knew the applicant or one of their relatives before they arrived in Canada or a declaration of an official of an organization representing nationals of the applicant’s country of nationality. In all circumstances, an officer must consider the information to be credible.

This approach is common sense one and should be extended to all kinds of documents, not just passports and travel documents. Similar provisions should be developed to deal with the wholesale and credible loss of documentation resulting from natural disasters such as the one which recently struck Haiti.

 

Guidy Mamann practices law in Toronto at Mamann, Sandaluk and is certified by the Law Society of Upper Canada as an immigration specialist. For more information, visit migrationlaw.com or email metro@migrationlaw.com.