Canada is committed to ditching a policy that rejects immigrants because they're sick or disabled and could be a drag on the health system, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen says.

Calling it an "important and sensitive" issue, Hussen said the government will look at all options to revamp the 40-year-old policy, which bars entry to applicants when they could be costly to public health or social service systems.

"From a principled perspective, the current excessive demand provision policy simply does not align with our country's values of inclusion of person with disabilities in Canadian society," he said during an appearance at the House of Commons immigration committee Wednesday.

Hussen didn't say how the provision would be changed, but said repealing it entirely is one option on the table.

He said the policy is currently estimated to save about $135 million for a five-year period of medical costs, which represents about 0.1 per cent of all provincial and territorial health spending.

During consultations with provinces, he said most support a policy review, but some are a bit "apprehensive" about potential costs they may have to incur.

Anticipated costs measured

Determinations are based on whether anticipated costs are expected to exceed the average Canadian per-capita health or social services costs over a five-year period, or if they could add to an existing waiting list that might delay care for Canadian citizens or permanent residents.

The immigration committee has been hearing from officials, advocates and affected persons about how the guidelines are currently applied and how they are being reviewed for possible adjustment. 

There have been many high-profile cases reported in the media, including a York University professor whose application for permanent residency was turned down because his son has Down syndrome.

Policy unevenly applied

Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel said a big part of the problem with the current provision is that it is unfairly and unevenly applied by immigration officers. She urged Hussen to ensure increased training and service standards to ensure officials are following the rules consistently.

"Regardless of what the legislative framework changes, it's clear there's also a service delivery issue," she said.

Hussen said there is a plan for a centralized unit to make consistent decisions around admissibility based on medical grounds.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said Canada is breaching human rights and international treaties that protect persons with disabilities with the discriminatory immigration policy.

Hussen said the government is committed to addressing inequity.

Fairness issue

"This is not an exercise in rhetoric on my part," he said. "I'm very cognizant of the fairness issue raised by the policy."

Between 2013 and 2016, there were 224 people who applied for humanitarian consideration after being deemed inadmissible on medical grounds, and 91 per cent of them were successful.

According to the rules around medical inadmissibility, a willingness or ability to pay is not a factor for services that are publicly funded like physician or hospital care, since there is no cost-recovery regime in place.

However, it is a consideration in assessing an applicant who has financial means to defray costs of medication or services that are not publicly funded, such as HIV antiretroviral therapy.