An appeal hearing on the outgoing Conservative government’s cuts to refugee health-care coverage has been postponed.
The Federal Court of Appeal was scheduled to hear the case between refugee-advocacy groups and the Conservative government, which made drastic cuts to the Interim Federal Health program in 2012 in a bid to save taxpayers money.
But the judge presiding over the case granted an adjournment last week, after the appellants requested that the appeal be adjourned for two months. The court case was originally due back in court beginning Monday.
The IFH program provided basic health-care coverage for refugees or refugee claimants until they could apply for provincial coverage.
When the cuts were made in 2012, they were almost universally criticized by health care advocacy groups. A group of doctors and refugees claimants sued the government and won, and the government was ordered to reinstate health benefits.
As a result, the Conservatives restored some of the health-care benefits, while they waited to appeal the ruling in court.
The adjournment may signal a return by the newly elected Liberal government to the refugee health program of old.
During the campaign, the Liberals announced that if elected, they would reverse the IFH cuts.
And doctors have called on Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau to restore health-care coverage to refugees, as Canada prepares for a potential 25,000 Syrian refugees to arrive in the country.
Trudeau campaigned to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees before the end of the year, and re-iterated that pledge last week after the Liberals won a majority in the federal election.
Doctors who have been treating asylum-seekers say the federal cuts imposed by the Conservatives have caused untold harm for people who became more ill and ended up needing more expensive health care.
Dr. Paul Caulford volunteers to care for refugees who have been denied health care by Ottawa at the Canadian Centre for Refugee and Immigrant Health Care, located in Toronto's east end. The centre is run with donations and staff who volunteer their time.
Since the cuts, the number of refugees seeking medical help at the clinic has surged -- at point it was up by 300 per cent.
At the centre, Caulford cares for people like Krisna, a gunshot victim from Guatemala. Krisna hasn't been entitled to medical care for six years, while her case in Canada was adjudicated and appealed. Krisna is now getting prenatal care and medications for her disorder at Caulford’s immigrant and refugee clinic.
"I need a doctor, because my epilepsy is not very well," Krisna told CTV News.
Caulford said the centre tries to give patients care before their illnesses get worse.
"When the government stops giving frontline primary care and secondary consultant care, you see illness progress, you see disease progress, you see costs go up," he said.
Caulford’s clinic also provided care for refugee claimant Funmi Odusola. What started as a small wart on her skin a few years ago eventually grew into a 12-pound tumour.
The clinic, which is supported in part by the Rotary Club, paid thousands of dollars for her to have the tumour removed.
"I'm just happy right now that it's gone. Then, the next step follows: getting my life back," she said.
Dr. Meb Rashid, medical director of Crossroads, another clinic for refugee claimants, says doctors are worried that the next wave of refugees will be too much for the free clinics to handle. He said the government should restore the cuts that were made in 2012.
"We would fully hope that any new government will restore the coverage they had in the past, and the coverage that I think many of us would argue is not only the most humane, but the most cost-efficient," he said.
Crossroads is funded by Women’s College Hospital.
With a report from CTV News’ Medical Correspondent Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip