Budget bill targets refugees at their most vulnerable

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Media release

For immediate release
28 October 2014

Budget bill targets refugees at their most vulnerable

Canada without Poverty and the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) today expressed their deep dismay at provisions in Bill C-43, the omnibus budget bill that could lead to newly arrived refugees being deprived of social assistance.

“I’m thinking of the pregnant women and the mothers with small children who arrive in Canada knowing no one, having fled persecution in their country of origin,” said Loly Rico, CCR President. “They will soon be accepted as refugees and become contributing members of society, but when they first arrive, they desperately need a helping hand. Denying that helping hand would be contrary to who we are as a country.”

Provisions in Bill C-43 would allow provinces to impose residency requirements for access to social assistance for refugee claimants and other people without permanent status in Canada. Currently, the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act prohibits any minimum period of residency requirement for access to social assistance benefits.

Newly arrived refugee claimants could therefore be left without any means to survive, at precisely the time when they are most vulnerable. It takes several months before refugee claimants have access to a work permit. Shelters for people who are homeless, social service agencies, faith communities and private individuals will be left with the unmanageable challenge of providing for a very vulnerable group which includes children who have recently experienced torture or other forms of persecution.

“Bill C-43 clearly contravenes Canada’s international human right obligations. Governments have a legal responsibility to make sure all people in Canada have access to basic needs. This Bill not only restricts that access, it does so by targeting a particular group of already marginalized people, namely refugee claimants,” said Leilani Farha, Executive Director of Canada Without Poverty. 

As a signatory to the Refugee Convention, Canada has legal human rights obligations towards refugees who seek asylum in our country. Both the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights also require that Canada ensure everyone’s basic needs are met, without discrimination.

The UK House of Lords ruled in 2005 that a similar restriction on access to social assistance amounted to “inhuman and degrading treatment” in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, by denying “even the barest necessities of life” to some refugee claimants (ex parte Adam). In July 2014 the Federal Court of Canada drew on the UK case in finding that the Canadian government’s cuts to refugee health care constituted cruel and unusual treatment in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

Contacts:

Colleen French, Communication Coordinator, Canadian Council for Refugees, 514-277-7223, ext. 1, (514) 602-2098 (cell), cfrench@ccrweb.ca

Graham Milner, Development Coordinator, Canada without Poverty, 613-986-7761, graham@cwp-csp.ca

The Canadian Council for Refugees is a national non-profit umbrella organization committed to the rights and protection of refugees and other vulnerable migrants in Canada and around the world and to the settlement of refugees and immigrants in Canada.

Canada Without Poverty is a federally incorporated, non-partisan, not-for-profit and charitable organization dedicated to the elimination of poverty in Canada.