Ottawa to present plan to amend policy that rejects immigrants on medical grounds by April, Hussen says

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen says he will present a plan in April to amend an outdated policy that excludes immigrants based on medical condition, but the NDP wants the government to act with greater urgency to end the discriminatory clause.

Immigration minister says he has to consider impact on provincial budgets

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen is facing pressure to move quickly on changes to the government's policy on medical inadmissibility for immigrants. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said today he will present a plan by April to amend an outdated policy that excludes immigrants based on their medical conditions — but the NDP wants quicker action to end the "discriminatory" clause.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan held a news conference today calling on the government to repeal a section of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that allows applicants to be rejected because they could impose an "excessive demand" on the health care system.

She said the issue has been on the government's radar since 2016, yet the "discriminatory" policy that causes "heartache and hardship" remains.

"Still there's no action," Kwan said.

The House of Commons studied the issue last fall, when Hussen told the immigration committee the government was committed to ditching the 40-year-old policy. He said at the time it "does not align with our country's values of inclusion of person with disabilities in Canadian society."

Today, Hussen said the government is working on a response and will present its plan by April 12.

Provincial budgets affected

"How we do that is equally important, because this affects provincial health care and social service budgets and we have to do it in line with what the provinces are willing to do," he said.

A spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) said the department has been reviewing the policy "with the goal of ensuring that applicants are treated in a fair and equitable manner, and that the policy aligns with Canadian values regarding the inclusion of persons with disabilities in society, while also recognizing the need to protect publicly-paid health and social services."

All elements of the excessive demand provision are being looked at as part of that review. Any policy changes stemming from the review will be publicly announced at an appropriate time.

Hussen made the remarks today during an appearance before the immigration committee, where took a wide range of questions on the government's immigration targets.

Maurice Tomlinson, senior policy analyst at The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, warned that the government must repeal the clause, not rework it.

'Hurtful, stigmatizing and unnecessary'

"Any tinkering with it would only perpetuate discrimination against persons with disabilities," he said. "This hurtful, stigmatizing and unnecessary regime must end."

At committee, Hussen also was asked about the impact of the government's decision to lift the visa requirement for visitors from Romania and Bulgaria. A departmental official said there have been 232 asylum claims since the visa was lifted in December, but could not say if that was a "blip" or the beginning of an upward trend.

Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel said the figure is troubling.

"Considering the number was virtually zero under the visa, for such a short period of time it's a significant spike," she told CBC. "It's particularly concerning because it shows the government doesn't have a mitigation strategy to deal with this."

An IRCC official said representatives met the Romanian ambassador earlier this month, but would not say how large the volume of asylum claims must become before the government reinstates the visa.

IRCC figures show there were zero asylum claims from Romanians in the 11 months prior to the visa lift. Spokeswoman Johanne Nadeau told CBC News that Canada has been closely monitoring migration trends from Romania since the visa requirement was lifted, and noted that claims increased after Dec. 1, 2017.

"We are working closely with Romania and European partners to better understand the trends in order to look at ways to address the situation," she said.

Canada anticipated a significant increase in asylum claims from Mexicans after lifting the visa requirement for that country in 2016.

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