January 27, 2014

Politics of Refugee Health in Canada – Heated words between CIC and Ontario

Posted by admin - Bellissimo Law Group PC

An ongoing political debate over the funding of healthcare for refugee claimants in Canada has erupted into a back and forth war of words between Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander and Ontario’s Minister of Health Deb Matthews.

As of January 1, 2014 Ontario followed the lead of five other provinces by reinstating healthcare coverage for refugee claimants who have been denied medical care by the federal government since June 2012.  This is significant because 55% of refugees in the midst of their asylum seeking process are located in Ontario. Combined with the other provinces that have stop-gap health programs in place, this is a major nationwide rejection of the federal policy introduced 18 months ago.

This week Minister Chris Alexander reacted to Ontario’s new program by expressing his disappointment with the now 6 provinces who have gone against Ottawa’s policy and reinstated healthcare programs for refugees. He called the decision “scandalous” and “irresponsible” and said this action will make Canada “a magnet for bogus asylum seekers”.  Minister Alexander held a press conference on the subject this past week and has appeared for comment on several news broadcasts and talk radio shows.

One source of confusion in the media has been surrounding Minister Alexander’s comments that Ontario is providing healthcare services to “bogus asylum seekers” and “failed refugee claimants”.

Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews was quick to respond that these statements are not in fact correct. Ontario will be providing healthcare to those individuals and families who are in the process of making their refugee claim. Refugees in Ontario will be covered for primary and emergency healthcare under this new program until their refugee claims are either granted or denied. Claimants who are denied will no longer receive healthcare coverage once their deportation date has passed.

To hear Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews’ response in full please click here.

The Ontario Health Minister also pointed to the federal government’s abdication of responsibility for all refugee claimants affected by the 2012 policy change. She, along with other provincial Ministers will be sending the government of Canada an annual invoice for the downloaded healthcare costs.  In the meantime, Minister Matthews notes that the more humane and fiscally responsible approach to refugee health is to provide primary and preventative healthcare services. Waiting until a condition becomes dangerous creates chaos in the provinces emergency rooms and is actually more costly to the tax payer.

A legal challenge is already before the Federal Court arguing that removing previously available access to healthcare for refugees is in violation of the Canadian Charter.  The next hearing is scheduled for January 30, 2014.

To read more about the details of this legal challenge and about Ontario’s new program please see our previous post.