MONTREAL - Canada's foreign minister wandered into the heart of this country's Haitian community, where fear was at a fever pitch Thursday.

The growing desperation was evident during Lawrence Cannon's visit to a community centre in Montreal North, with Haitian-Canadians desperately seeking news about loved ones.

Cannon met with about a dozen community representatives to reassure them that the federal government was doing everything it could.

But that did little to calm anxieties.

One sobbing woman told reporters she couldn't get any news about her missing father, husband and the four-year-old sister she has been working to raise.

"I just want my family. . . I hope they're going to do something," Stones Jean-Louis, 25, said through tears. The 25-year-old woman hasn't seen her relatives since they left to visit Haiti a month ago.

One Protestant pastor pleaded for quicker action from the federal government.

He urged Ottawa to forget about the niceties of protocol, and get as many Canadian soldiers down to Haiti as fast as possible.

"We are in an urgent situation," said Sauveur Jean-Baptiste, pastor of the New Jerusalem Baptist Church.

"There's no time to do things step by step. We need to go there. We need a spontaneous response. There is a screaming need. There is a pressing need. We need to put our foot on the gas, right to the metal.

"I get the impression the foot is on the brake."

Cannon brought community members up to date on measures being taken by various federal and international agencies.

Those efforts include the scheduled return home Thursday of the first wave of Canadian evacuees. Priority in the repatriation effort is being given to injured people, women and children, Cannon said.

Cannon met with about a dozen local leaders, then attended a news conference where about 100 community members were placed behind him in the view of news cameras.

Montreal has been hugely affected by the disaster; the city is home to the majority of Canada's 100,000-member Haitian population.

The local hockey team, the Canadiens, announced Thursday that they would donate money raised from their children's charity during their next two home games to Haitian relief efforts through UNICEF.