Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said at a news conference Monday that Canada is “beginning to progressively see the withdrawal of Canadian Forces assets” as commercial air service is now available on the Caribbean island and the government of Haiti, the United Nations and aid agencies have a handle on emergency relief efforts.
HMCS Halifax, the navy vessel that was stationed off Jacmel for the last few weeks, and its 220-member crew, departed late last week and is due home March 1, navy Capt. Chris Dickinson, director of current operations, strategic joint staff, said in an interview. He said 1,681 soldiers, sailors and air force are still in Haiti and officials will be careful to ensure their services are replaced by other agencies as they return to Canada.
Cannon said a six-member RCMP team is continuing extensive work identifying bodies still being pulled from the ruins of the Jan. 12 earthquake that reduced much of the capital, Port-au-Prince, to rubble and devastated other communities.
Consular officials are likewise still working to locate 50 Canadians unaccounted for since the quake.
Cannon said Canadian Forces personnel are coming home as the emergency phase of international earthquake relief efforts move to longer term assistance programs.
Dickinson said the military personnel were never intended to stay longer than 30, 40 or 60 days, depending on their assignments.
HMCS Halifax was due home for a refit to extend its lifespan and other personnel and equipment are needed as Canadian Forces prepare for a new rotation into Afghanistan, among other assignments.
The Armed Forces have flown home Canadian and U.S. citizens and provided medical aid and security for distribution of food aid as part of the Canadian aid effort.
Haitian President René Préval now says the final toll from the catastrophic Jan. 12 quake, one of the most lethal natural disasters in modern history, could reach 300,000.
More than one million people are living on the streets, and Préval said the onset of the rainy season has “begun to make dignified human life impossible” for those who lost their homes.