Court: Gov't cuts to refugee health care 'cruel and unusual' treatment
Andrea Janus, CTVNews.ca
Published Friday, July 4, 2014 9:59AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, July 4, 2014 10:46PM EDT
The Federal Court has ruled against the government’s cuts to refugee health care, saying Friday that the changes amount to “cruel and unusual” treatment and “outrage Canadian standards of decency.”
The decision, handed down Friday, made particular note of how the cuts would impact children who have been brought to Canada by their parents.
The 2012 modifications to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) “jeopardize the health, and indeed the very lives, of these innocent and vulnerable children in a manner that shocks the conscience and outrages Canadian standards of decency. The Court finds, therefore, that they violate section 12 of the Charter.”
Two years ago, the governing Conservatives cut back health benefits for new arrivals to Canada. Immigrants had access to basic and emergency care, but not extras such as vision or dental care.
Rejected refugee claimants, as well as claimants from so-called “safe countries,” could only access care if they posed a public health risk.
A collective that called itself Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care took the federal government to court, arguing that it “breached its duty of procedural fairness” by making widespread changes to refugee health care without consulting stakeholders. The government also breached its obligations under international conventions, as well as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the group said.
The Federal Court disagreed with the notion that there was a denial of procedural fairness when the rules were changed, and also ruled that under section 7 of the Charter, “life, liberty and security of the person do not include a positive right to state funding for health care.”
The court agreed, however, that under section 12 of the Charter, “affected individuals are being subjected to ‘treatment,’” and “this treatment is ‘cruel and unusual.’”
The court also found that the changes also violate section 15 of the Charter because they provide “a lesser level of health insurance coverage to refugee claimants” from countries on the government’s safe list compared to countries that are not.
“This distinction is based upon the national origin of the refugee claimants, and does not form part of an ameliorative program,” the court said.
Justice Anne Mactavish suspended the effect of the ruling for four months.
Lorne Waldman, president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, hailed the decision, saying it “gives life to Canada’s commitment to protect refugee rights.
“It sends a clear message to government that it cannot abdicate its responsibility to meet the most basic health care needs of vulnerable refugees and refugee claimants."
Philip Berger of Doctors for Refugee Care agreed.
“It is a good day for pregnant refugee women and sick refugee children who have been picked on and bullied for over two years by the federal conservative government,” he said.
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said Friday the government will appeal the decision.
"We remain committed to putting the interests of Canadians and genuine refugees first," Alexander said in a statement.
"Failed claimants and those from safe countries like the U.S. or Europe should not be entitled to better health care than Canadians receive. We will vigorously defend the interests of Canadian taxpayers and the integrity of our fair and generous refugee determination system."
Government lawyers had argued that refugees could still access care through other programs, such as those administered by the provinces. Ontario reinstated the benefits on Jan. 1, while Manitoba and Saskatchewan introduced some stop-gap measures.
Access and benefits are not uniform across all provinces.