Of all this Government's policies, the changes to Canada's laws regarding refugees are perhaps the least recognized and least contested. The people whose lives will be shattered - or ended - by these changes are powerless and marginalized. Their advocates - refugee lawyers, human rights activists, some new Canadians from the same areas - have little clout compared to tarsands oil producers, multinational mining corporations, and the banking industry.
That's why Bill C-31 (formerly Bill C-11) just might be Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney at their worst: the true face of this government when votes and public image are not an issue.
Bill C-31 guts Canada's refugee system and turns the Immigration and Refugee Board into a cruel joke. It was marketed to the public through lies and fear-mongering, rammed through Parliament through dirty deals with the previous Liberal opposition, then finally, unfurled through the majority government. [For more information on C-31, see my earlier posts on then-C-11: here, here, here, here, and especially here.]
The noose around refugee claimants tightens daily. Those on Kenney's so-called "safe country" list and those whose claims have been denied will find it much more difficult and expensive to renew work permits, so they will not be able to work legally. Soon they will no longer be eligible for health insurance.
Until now, health insurance for refugee claimants has been covered by the Interim Federal Health Program, in lieu of the provincial coverage the rest of us receive. As of June 30, this will end. Failed refugee claimants and those from supposedly (according to Kenney) safe countries will have no insurance. And guess what? The government is lying about what these programs cost and what they provide.
From the Canadian Council for Refugees:
The Canadian government’s recent announcement on changes to the Interim Federal Health Program is based on misleading information. This is all the more deplorable because the stakes are a matter of life and death to many refugee claimants, resettled refugees (with government assistance or privately sponsored), and other protected persons in Canada.The best source for information on these changes is the CCR blog. If only these facts could reach as many Canadian ears and eyes as Jason Kenney's lies.
“Thousands of people now receiving medication for everything from epilepsy and childhood respiratory illnesses to cancer and AIDS will no longer have access as of 30 June 2012,” according to CCR President Wanda Yamamoto. “Will it take some deaths for the government to change its mind?”
In its public information, the government presents the changes as aimed at reducing “extra” healthcare coverage supposedly provided to refugee claimants, compared with what Canadians receive.
In fact the government’s own figures show that the per capita cost for refugee claimants under the IFHP is only about 10% of the average per capita cost for Canadians. According to information provided with the 25 April announcement, the IFHP program costs a total of $84.6 million in 2011-12. The Explanatory Note accompanying the Order in Council mentions that 128,000 persons were covered by IFHP during that fiscal year. This amounts to a cost of $660 per refugee claimant per year.
Similarly, in response to a 2010 access to information request by the CCR, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) provided a figure of $46 per month ($552 per year) for IFHP costs per refugee claimant. By comparison, according to CIC’s own figures, the current overall per capita cost for health and social services for Canadians is $6,141. “Cuts to life-sustaining medication and treatment can never be justified, and are all the more perplexing in the context of such modest costs per person,” Ms. Yamamoto added.
Further, the statement that the IFHP provides better services than provincial medical plans in some areas, such as prescription drug coverage, is misleading. While it is true that prescription drug coverage is not part of basic provincial and territorial health insurance plans, the reality is that most very low income Canadians do benefit from free prescription medication through provincial drug care plans. This is notably the case in Ontario, Québec and B.C., the three provinces with the largest numbers of refugee claimants arriving annually. However, refugee claimants do not have access to these provincial plans as they require acceptance as a refugee or as a permanent resident to be eligible.
This will leave refugee claimants with no medication coverage whatsoever under the IFHP and no access to provincial plans. There has been no prior consultation with non-governmental stakeholders on these drastic changes and, it appears, no prior consultation with provincial governments either.
The minister’s announcement will, as well, take away these benefits from those refugees selected overseas by the government and resettled in Canada - some of whom are referred to Canada for protection because of their medical needs. If Canada is going to select refugees with high medical needs and bring them to Canada, as the government has been doing for a number of years, then the government also bears a responsibility to make sure those medical needs are cared for once the refugees are here.
The CCR is also seriously concerned about the implications these changes hold for the private sponsorship program. Private sponsors will now be responsible not only for income support but also for medical costs for one year after arrival. CIC recently announced that they would be shifting 1,000 refugees annually from the Government-Assisted Refugee (GAR) program to the Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) program by decreasing the GAR target and increasing the PSR target (1,000 Visa Office Referred refugees) in a blended program to be phased in over the next couple of years. The IFHP changes are going to be a serious deterrent to those sponsors who they hope will pick these cases up.
The CCR further deplores the unprecedented launching of a petition by Minister Kenney himself in support of the changes he announced. The petition repeats that the IFHP “has been providing better health care services to refugee claimants than Canadians, including Canadian seniors and new Canadians”.
The CCR considers this not only misleading, for the reasons explained above, but also deplorable in that it attempts to pit one group of vulnerable persons for whom the Minister is responsible (refugee claimants) against other vulnerable social groups. Further, given that changes to the IFHP are of an administrative nature and entirely within the Minister’s powers to implement, the recourse to a “petition” appears aimed only at misinforming the public and drawing attention to the changes.
The Canadian government previously sought to counter misinformation about refugees receiving better treatment than Canadians. The government now seeks to promote such misinformation.
The CCR calls upon the Canadian government to immediately suspend these changes, scheduled to enter into effect on 30 June 2012, and to hold consultations with all concerned stakeholders on any future changes.