Harper government should end its attack on refugees’ health

Posted on November 6, 2014 in Inclusion Policy Context

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials – A welcome court ruling has forced the federal government to end its harmful policy of denying health care funding to certain refugees.
Nov 05 2014.   Editorial

The courts couldn’t be more clear: the federal government’s stubborn refusal to fund health care for refugee claimants is baseless, abusive and must stop.

People have suffered real harm since Ottawa slashed its support of medical care for certain newcomers in 2012. Those facing the severest cuts were rejected refugee claimants, awaiting removal from Canada, and people seeking asylum from government-designated “safe countries.”

Coverage is to be restored as of Wednesday at the latest and it’s vital that Ottawa honour this court-ordered deadline. Renewal of federal funding isn’t just the humanitarian way forward (that, alone, is enough to justify the measure); it’s now a matter of avoiding contempt of court.

After a period of apparent dithering over whether or not it would obey, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander announced on Tuesday that Ottawa would comply. Indeed, it had little choice.

Brazenly defying the courts in order to continue denying basic health care to vulnerable people would have alienated a great many Canadians. If Ottawa were truly intent on doing the right thing it would restore coverage, not just until an appeal is heard, but in full measure and for the foreseeable future. That’s where justice truly lies.

The government’s ill-judged attack on refugee health began unraveling in July. A Federal Court ruling, by Justice Anne Mactavish, struck down this offensive policy on grounds that it amounted to “cruel and unusual” treatment. As such, it violates Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Mactavish quite rightly noted that cuts to refugee health care were putting lives at risk and were having a “devastating impact” on people’s well-being. She gave Ottawa until Nov. 4 to restore the previous funding system or put a new and fair one in its place.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government, to its shame, refused to accept that verdict and filed an appeal. Since the matter won’t be heard until sometime next year, the government also asked that Mactavish’s deadline be set aside.

Federal lawyers argued that it would be difficult to comply on short notice and stressed that Ottawa’s policy might well be reinstated after a successful appeal. In other words, meeting the Nov. 4 deadline wasn’t really worth all the bother.

Fortunately, the Federal Court of Appeal did not agree. On Friday it administered a well-deserved boot to the government’s case, with Justice Wyman W. Webb ruling that any inconvenience posed by the deadline was outweighed “by the harm that would be suffered” by hard-hit refugees. Ottawa’s request for a stay was denied.

These court rulings, and restoration of coverage, don’t mark the end of the government’s mean-spirited attack on newcomers who are least able to defend themselves. On the contrary, Alexander emphasized that his ministry will continue with its appeal. Thanks to the federal government’s willful blindness, it’s up to yet another court to finally put a stake through the heart of this vile policy.

< http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2014/11/05/harper_government_should_end_its_attack_on_refugees_health_editorial.html >

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One Response to “Harper government should end its attack on refugees’ health”

  1. Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has once again decided to refuse to invest in medical care for immigrated refugees. Unfortunately, since 2012, Ottawa has rid their support of free health care for Canadian refugee claimants. Canada should reconcile for those two years where universal health care was only made available to Canadian citizens and not immigrants. This issue very well does contradict what is written in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms pertaining to “Cruel and Unusual Treatment”, as stated by a Justice in the Federal Court of Appeal. I feel proud that we are deemed a “safe country” for these struggling individuals so we should act however we can with the means we have in order to assist them. Immigrating into Canada to escape threatening living conditions is an important change for these individuals. However, once they enter Canada, they become informed that they are denied health care because the government wants to cut costs. This Conservative ideology does not make us sound inclusive within our system.

    For those individuals that wish to make a fresh start or provide for their families, it is essential they have health care. If this is not made attainable to them, they run the risk of having an overall poor wellbeing. Luckily, the Federal Court of Appeal has strongly disagreed with Harper’s continuing stance on refusing to fund health care for refugee claimants. The Federal Court of Appeal is acting as the voice for those who are deprived of equal treatment and I applaud them for it. Furthermore, the result of severest cuts has compromised the overall wellbeing of ethnicity and culture that wish to enter this country. This is something I do not take lightly because they are equally as deserving as we are.


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