The opposition parties called on the Conservative government to reverse its decision to trim back refugee health care benefits after it was revealed that a Saskatchewan man diagnosed with cancer was denied chemotherapy treatment.

Ottawa announced changes to the Interim Federal Health Program, which provides temporary health care for protected persons, refugee claimants and other groups not eligible for provincial health insurance, this past spring.

Under those changes, some refugee claimants saw cuts to their drug, dental and vision coverage. Additionally, those whose refugee claims are rejected will only receive medical care if their condition is deemed a risk to public health or safety.

The federal government said it hoped the changes would deter phoney refugee claims and ensure that failed asylum seekers don't take advantage of free health care in Canada.

On Monday, the opposition parties described the decision to deny cancer treatment as anti-refugee.

“The Saskatchewan government has been told by Ottawa that there are 11 pigeon holes into which these most vulnerable refugees need to fit themselves before they’ll be treated by this Conservative government,” said Liberal MP Ralph Goodale in the House of Commons. “If they die waiting, well apparently that’s OK with these Conservatives.”

However, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said the opposition was “blurring” the definition of refugees.

“Asylum claimants are not refugees unless they are deemed to be so by our fair and generous legal system,” said Kenney, adding that 64 per cent of Canada’s asylum claimants are denied and ultimately removed from the country.

“In most of most of the cases to which the member refers to we are talking about not refugees, I repeat not refugees, but people whose claim for asylum has been rejected,” said Kenney. “People who are by definition not refugees people who are pending deportation and avoiding their removal.”

The minister added that the Conservatives have increased the number of resettled refugees by 20 per cent and increased the integration assistance offered by 20 per cent.

The man at the centre of the refugee health care debate says he fled Pakistan, where he was persecuted for his Christian faith, to Saskatoon.

Shortly after arriving he was diagnosed with cancer.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall called the federal decision to deny chemotherapy “un-Canadian” and the provincial government has since said it will pay for the treatment.

With files from The Canadian Press