OTTAWA - Finance Minister Jim Flaherty urged Haiti's international creditors Wednesday to cancel the country's debts following the Jan. 12 earthquake that killed 200,000 people, including 21 Canadians.
Canada cancelled all its Haitian debt last fall, Flaherty noted, and all Canadian contributions to the country's earthquake relief - more than $100 million - is in grants, not loans.
"Haiti's future must be focused on the priorities of its people, not on the liabilities of its past," Flaherty told the government's daily briefing on Canada's earthquake-relief efforts.
Flaherty called on Haiti's remaining bilateral creditors - Taiwan and Venezuela, specifically - to follow Canada's lead and complete their own debt-relief efforts as soon as possible.
International financial institutions such as the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank's International Development Association, cancelled US$973 million in Haitian loans last summer.
Haiti's debts have been substantially reduced by such measures but Flaherty says it's important to ensure Haitian citizens "do not take a back seat to prior debt obligations."
"Our collective goal should be to ensure that Haitians not be required to make substantial debt repayments while reconstructing their nation," he said, adding he'd explore Haitian relief strategies at the G7 finance ministers' meeting in Iqaluit next week.
"G7 ministers can ensure that sufficient grant financing is provided by international financial institutions," Flaherty said.
"Reconstruction assistance provided to Haiti by these institutions and international donors will need to be provided primarily in grant form to avoid mortgaging the country's future."
A second group of 52 Haitian adoptees, along with 71 evacuees, arrived in snowy Ottawa aboard an Air Transat plane Wednesday. Bundled in blankets, the children were welcomed by tearful parents.
The federal government is fast-tracking adoptions for 154 Haitian children, 28 of whom arrived last weekend.
In addition to the 21 Canadians confirmed dead Wednesday, another 147 were missing. Among the dead is Katie Hadley, a native of Prescott, Ont., whose remains were identified late Tuesday.
Also in Ottawa, hundreds of Mounties in red serge packed into a downtown basilica for the funeral of RCMP Chief Supt. Doug Coates, who was serving with the UN when he was killed in the quake.
Meanwhile, federal commitments to Haitian relief and reconstruction efforts keep climbing. Besides its direct contributions, the federal government is matching dollar-for-dollar individual donations to Canadian relief efforts made before Feb. 12.
Ordinary Canadians had given an "astonishing" $82.5 million to 14 Canadian non-governmental agencies by late Tuesday, said International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda.
The Canadian International Development Agency has distributed 1,000 tents in Haiti, along with 1,900 hygiene kits, 2,000 mosquito nets, 2,900 blankets, 3,100 kitchen sets, more than 4,000 buckets, 5,000 shelter kits, 5,800 jerry cans and 11,400 tarpaulins.
About 1,400 Canadian soldiers, sailors and air crew were on the ground or off the coast of the Caribbean island country Wednesday. That figure will reach 2,000 by week's end.
There have been almost 3,000 Canadians evacuated from the quake zone.
Two naval vessels were anchored off the towns of Jacmel and Leogane, at the epicentre of the magnitude-7.0 quake, while relief flights into Jacmel's repaired airport and the capital of Port-au-Prince were staging out of Jamaica.
The military has delivered almost 1,200 tonnes of relief and logistical supplies to Haiti.
Two more water-purification units were to arrive in-country shortly, adding to three already at work producing some 37,000 litres of fresh water a day.
A Canadian military field hospital is up and running in Leogane, while a medical clinic in Jacmel treated 250 people on Tuesday.
Said Flaherty: "Rebuilding Haiti is a long-term project. Canada will stand by Haiti in the aftermath of this tragedy and long afterwards."