Court denies federal appeal to delay reversing refugee health cuts

Posted on October 31, 2014 in Inclusion Policy Context – News/Canada – The Federal Court of Appeal has denied Ottawa’s attempt to delay implementing a more inclusive refugee health-care program.
Oct 31 2014.   By: Sadiya Ansari, Staff Reporter

Ottawa’s attempt to delay implementing a more inclusive refugee health-care program has been denied by the Federal Court of Appeal.

“It’s a good day for refugees, it’s a good day for people who believe in the most basic of human rights,” said Dr. Meb Rashid, co-founder of Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care, one of the groups that challenged the cutbacks to health-care coverage for refugee claimants.

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Alexander was critical of the decision.

“Our government disagrees with the court’s flawed decision and will continue to do what’s necessary to protect the interests of Canadian taxpayers and genuine refugees,” Kevin Menard said in an email on Friday.

In July, a Federal Court decision by Justice Anne Mactavish ruled the changes to the refugee health program in 2012 were unconstitutional on the basis that cutbacks had the effect of being “cruel and unusual.” She gave the government until Nov. 4 to revise the policy.

The government asked for a stay while an appeal to that decision is heard.

In the document outlining the reasons for the dismissal of the stay, Justice Wyman W. Webb writes that the harm from reverting to the pre-2012 program is outweighed “by the harm that would be suffered by those who would have reduced health coverage.”

The changes to the Interim Federal Health Program introduced by the federal government in 2012 created tiers of health-care access. Those most affected by this were rejected refugee claimants and claimants from what the government saw as “safe” countries, who were covered only in cases where they posed a threat to public health.

“Dozens of lawyers, doctors and health professionals banded together because we were opposed to these cruel cuts,” said Lorne Waldman, who was lead counsel for the refugee groups that brought the case against the cutbacks.

The government had argued that the previous refugee health-care program provided opportunity for abuse of the system.

In her 268-page decision, Mactavish rejected the government’s claims of abuse: “It puts their lives at risk and perpetuates the stereotypical view that they are cheats and queue-jumpers.”

Her decision to strike down the changes means failed refugee claimants and those from designated countries of origin will be covered again, said Waldman.

With files from Debra Black and The Canadian Press

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