Federal Court Ruling A Win For Refugees


A recent Federal Court ruling on the right of health care for refugees is an important win for new Canadians, reversing the Conservative government’s health cuts.

On Friday, July 4, 2014, Canada’s Federal Court addressed a policy change enacted in 2012 by the Conservative government that affected health care provision for refugee claimants upon their arrival to Canada.  One of the effects of the policy change was newcomers to Canada only being granted basic essential health care coverage, without additional care such as vision and dental coverage.  

More controversially, the policy changes also resulted in individuals who were denied refugee status or refugees who came from countries designated as “safe” by the federal government being ineligible for any health care funding.  The change meant that these individuals could only be covered for health care if their condition was a threat to public safety.  As a result, these refugees can be treated for communicable diseases but cannot receive coverage for the treatment of non-communicable conditions including heart problems and diabetes, and pre-natal care is also unavailable for expectant mothers.

The Federal Court ruled that the denial of health care to refugee claimants constituted “cruel and unusual punishment,” particularly because this policy shift resulted in the denial of health care to refugee children who were brought to Canada by their parents.  The court “found as a fact that lives are being put at risk” as a result of the policy and gave the government four months to correct the changes through legislation.

On World Refugee Day, prior to the Federal Court’s ruling, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander touted his government’s commitment to refugees, stating that the “government stands with people across Canada and around the globe in defense of the world’s most vulnerable and those truly in need of Canada’s protection.”  Many of Alexander’s critics saw the irony in his words, as his government continued to be heavily criticized for the cuts to refugee health care, which is inconsistent with the claim that Canada is defending those who are most vulnerable.

While Alexander portrays the cuts to health care for refugees as a victory for the tax-paying Canadian, refugee advocacy groups, and now Canada’s federal court, maintain that the cuts should be seen as a violation of rights.  Alexander repeated the savings-focused rhetoric at a press conference after the Federal Court ruled against the government on the health cuts, stating that the government “vigorously defends the interests of Canadian taxpayers.”

The case was moved by a coalition of advocacy groups and individuals, including the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care, and Justice for Children and Youth. The federal government has announced their intention to appeal the federal court’s ruling, which will take the case to the Federal Court of Appeals.

FWCanada is a Montreal-based immigration law firm that provides professional legal services on Canadian immigration. For more tips and updates on Canadian immigration follow FWCanada on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin.

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