October 28, 2014
Limiting the Rights of Refugee Claimants in Canada
In 2012, Parliament passed two Orders in Council which introduced changes to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) that limited access to healthcare by refugee claimants in Canada. A group called the ‘Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care’ successfully challenged these Orders to the Federal Court of Canada on several grounds, including being contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Despite this finding and the strong position taken by the Federal Court on IFHP, the new Budget Bill introduced on October 23rd takes another stab at the rights of refugee claimants, this time to social assistance. Under the current legislation Provinces – who seek to receive funding from the Federal Government – are prohibited from requiring a specified period of residence for social assistance eligibility. The proposed amendment limits this requirement to specified groups: Canadian citizens and permanent residents, individuals who were trafficked to Canada, individuals with temporary resident permits, and those who have already been found to be protected persons. If the proposed changes are passed, Provinces may deny access to social assistance to all individuals not in one of these specified groups who do not meet residency requirements. The prospective changes to social assistance, should Provinces alter their residency requirements, are likely to raise the same concerns as the limitations on healthcare: denying funding for necessaries such as food, shelter, and clothing.
The Federal Court’s decision on IFHP funding is being appealed by the Government to the Federal Court of Appeal. As for the funding of social assistance, we will have to wait and see how the Provinces respond, as it is the Provinces which will have the authority to set limitations on residency.