In a surprisingly strongly worded statement Friday, the federal court ruled Ottawa’s cutbacks to health-care coverage for refugee claimants are unconstitutional because they constitute “cruel and unusual” treatment.Of course the Government plans to appeal, but the decision will be difficult to overturn. The Government and its complicit media partners can lie to the public - fabricated stories of refugee claimants who supposedly receive better health care than Canadians, calling refugees whose claims are rejected by the Government "bogus" - but hoodwinking the court is another matter.
The decision was quickly lauded by many, including the Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers and Justice for Children and Youth — groups that, along with two refugee claimants, challenged the law.
My comrade Dr. J at your heart's on the left reminds us that this excellent court decision did not materialize from the rarified air of chambers and black robes. It is the direct result of people organizing on the ground.
More than two years of mobilizing have pushed the Federal Court to reject the Conservatives’ cuts to refugee health. This should encourage further mobilizing to reverse the cuts and challenge the broader agenda.The ruling itself, written by Justice Anne Mactavish, alludes to the effect of public opinion on the court.
In April 2012 then Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced drastic cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program, beginning in June of that year. The government claimed that the cuts would promote fairness, save money and protect public health — but the cuts did the exact opposite.
There was immediate condemnation by health providers—including an open letter, occupation, interruptions of Tory press conferences, and demonstrations across the country. These led the government to quietly reverse some of the cuts, but this only created more confusion.
Health providers warned that these cuts would harm refugees and scapegoat them for other healthcare cuts. As Dr. Mark Tyndall said at an Ottawa press conference in 2012, "the government has used this issue to divide Canadians, pitting those who are dissatisfied with their own health coverage against refugees. Canadians are smarter than this. This is an attack on our entire healthcare system."
A year after the cuts there were already dozens of documented cases of refugees being denied essential medical care. Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers launched a constitutional challenge, and there was a second annual day of action across the country against the cuts.
The mobilizations pushed some provinces to say they would step in and provide care—throwing the new Immigration Minister Chris Alexander into a temper tantrum about making Canada “a magnet for bogus asylum seekers.” But the reality of the cuts has continued to emerge. According to the study “The Cost and Impact of the Interim Federal Health Program Cuts on Child Refugees in Canada”: “After the implementation of funding cuts, the admission rate of refugee children increased from 6.4% to 12.0%...Shifts in the levels of health care access (hospital to primary-based care or vice-versa) due to affordability and administrative hurdles may make the vulnerable refugee population sicker, eventually leading to overall increase in healthcare costs.”
This June was the third annual day of action against cuts to refugee health, and now the Federal Court has reflected public opinion.
The 2012 modifications to the [Interim Federal Health Program] potentially jeopardize the health, the safety and indeed the very lives, of these innocent and vulnerable children in a manner that shocks the conscience and outrages Canadian standards of decency.Advocates for public health care, human rights, and refugees hail this decision as both just and important.
“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,” said Berger, who believes the government’s cuts had been “devastating.”This decision also further extends what is being called "the federal government's court-case losing streak," but which is more properly thought of as a legal bulwark against the worst excesses of the Government's radical agenda.
The Federal Court decision “makes clear that a government cannot deliberately subject human beings to physical and emotional suffering as a means of punishing them for seeking refugee protection,” said Audrey Macklin, professor and chair in human rights law at the University of Toronto, and executive member of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers.
“With today’s decision, the Federal Court has recognized that the government’s cuts to refugee health care violate the fundamental rights enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, without any lawful justification,” said Lorne Waldman, lead counsel on the case and president of the lawyers association.
Earlier coverage of this issue on wmtc: here, here, here, here, here, here.