Federal Court ruling on refugee health cuts affirms Canadian values of fairness and humanity

Media release

For immediate release
7 July 2014

Federal Court ruling on refugee health cuts affirms Canadian values of fairness and humanity

The Canadian Council for Refugees welcomes the recent decision of the Federal Court on refugee health care. The ruling recognizes refugees and other non-citizens as our fellow human beings, and concludes that the government’s 2012 cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program jeopardizes their health and even their lives in a manner that shocks the conscience of Canadians.

The CCR calls on the government to reinstate the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) as it existed before the cuts.

The CCR and its member organizations are acutely aware of the wide-ranging and devastating impacts of the cuts on refugees and others seeking Canada’s protection, who are, as Justice Mactavish underlines, poor, vulnerable and disadvantaged.

The cuts have also placed great stress on those struggling to serve them, notably health care providers and organizations serving refugees and migrants, who must improvise solutions for sick individuals. As the decision notes, this is damaging to the human dignity of these individuals: “It is simply demeaning to require desperately ill people to go begging for essential medical treatment.”

Justice Mactavish’s ruling that the cuts constitute “cruel and unusual treatment”, as defined by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, rests on the fact that the government intentionally targeted refugees. Cuts to social programs would not normally be considered “treatment”, but in this case the government made the changes “for the express purpose of inflicting predictable and preventable physical and psychological suffering on many of those seeking the protection of Canada.” She highlights the particular cruelty of the changes as they affect children.

The decision also underlines the important principle of non-discrimination, a fundamental Canadian value: people should be treated fairly and equally.

As the Court underlines, the government has not demonstrated that the health cuts to refugees will result in “any real savings to Canadian taxpayers”. Costs are being downloaded to the provinces and to the private sponsors of refugees. Lack of access to basic health care means that illnesses and injuries go untreated until they need to be addressed, at much higher cost, in the emergency room.

The CCR regrets the government’s intention to appeal the decision. If it pursues an appeal, it should at least reinstate the full Interim Federal Health Program in the meantime, given that lives are at stake. As the Federal Court notes, sooner or later someone will die as a result of inadequate access to health care as a result of these changes.

For further information:

CCR letter to Deb Matthews, Ontario Minister of Health, concerning IFH cuts, January 2014 http://ccrweb.ca/en/letter-matthews-ifh-cuts

CCR report, Refugee Health Care: Impacts of recent cuts, February 2013, http://ccrweb.ca/en/refugee-health-care-impacts-recent-cuts

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Colleen French, CCR Communication Coordinator, 514-277-7223, ext. 1, 514-476-3971 (cell), cfrench@ccrweb.ca