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Council calls on Harper to reinstate health care coverage for refugees

The Council of Canadians rallies for health care for refugees, June 2013 in Halifax.

The Council of Canadians rallies for health care for refugees, June 2013 in Halifax.

Today is the deadline for the Harper government to comply with a Federal Court order to end its exclusion of health care coverage for refugees.

In June 2012, the Harper government cut access to vision care, dental care, prescription drugs and mobility devices for all refugees. For many refugees the cut also included restrictions on primary and basic health care, such as medical assistance during emergencies like heart attacks and even during childbirth.

On July 4, 2014, the Council of Canadians welcomed the Federal Court judgement that Harper’s cuts to health care for refugees were ‘cruel and unusual’. The Harper government’s changes to health care for refugees were found to have violated Section 12 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which states, “Everyone has the right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.” The ruling gave the federal government until November to reinstate coverage for refugee claimants or have their rules struck down by the court.

This past Friday, the Federal Court of Appeal rejected the Harper government’s request to stay the decision of the Federal Court pending disposition of its appeal. Toronto-based Council of Canadians health care campaigner Michael Butler has commented, “People from all walks of society have been protesting these cuts to the most basic of human rights in Canada. Upholding this decision is a major victory against the xenophobia, racism and outright callousness displayed by the federal government.”

This morning, the Canadian Press reports, “Immigration Minister Chris Alexander says the government will act ‘soon’, but has not indicated whether Ottawa will implement a new health care policy for refugee claimants.” This is a shameful position for the minister to take.

We’ll see what the government does today, but we already know it has launched another attack against refugees. As Butler notes, “Predicting that the Federal Court of Appeal would not be ruling in the Conservative government’s favour (due to the predatory nature of their bill), a private member bill – Bill C-585 -had been snaking its way through parliament to amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act. This bill would allow provinces to individually impose residency requirements for eligibility for social assistance benefits and restrict access to those benefits by refugees.” He adds that Bill C-585 (sections 172 and 173) can also be found in the most recent omnibus budget bill put forward by the Harper government.

For more on the Council of Canadians campaign to defend and expand public health care, please click here.

Further reading
Harper’s Canada: using omnibus budget bills to deny health & social assistance to refugees (November 3 blog by Michael Butler)
Federal Court rules against Harper’s cuts to health care for refugees (July 2014 blog)
Council takes part in rallies for refugee health care (June 2013 blog)
Kamloops chapter joins national protest against cutting of refugee health-care coverage (June 2012 blog)