Kenney trying to 'demonize' refugees, Liberals say

Liberals want the recent cuts to refugee health benefits studied at a House of Commons committee this fall, accusing Immigration Minister Jason Kenney of choosing to "demonize" refugees.

MP Kevin Lamoureux calls for Commons committee to study recent refugee health benefits cuts

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney was accused by Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux Tuesday of choosing to "demonize" refugees . (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney should support a study of the federal government's refugee health program cuts and put an end to his disparaging talk about refugees, Liberals said today.

Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux, the party's citizenship and immigration critic, blasted Kenney and his government's recent changes to the interim federal health program (IFHP), that cut access to medication and other expenses for certain refugees.

Regular refugee claimants whose applications are pending now only have access to doctors and hospital services if it is an urgent or emergency situation. Medications now are only covered if they are needed to prevent or treat a disease that is a public health risk.

All medications and ongoing medical care, including dental care, were covered before the changes.

Individuals classified as government-assisted refugees will maintain the same coverage as before, including dental and vision care, prosthetics, medications and other medical services.

Lamoureux said his party wants the cuts reversed and they intend to propose a motion at the citizenship and immigration committee when the House of Commons resumes in September calling for an in-depth study of the impact of the cuts. He wants the committee to hear from those affected, including health organizations and refugees, so the committee can come up with recommendations on how to reform the program.

"We are taking this issue very seriously," he said. "It's important that we hear from the stakeholders."

The changes that took effect on June 30 have prompted ongoing protests by leading organizations and members of Canada's medical community and caused a lot of confusion over what medical services and expenses are covered and what have been eliminated.

Liberals want evidence for policy change

Lamoureux said his party wants Kenney to produce evidence to support the policy decision and show that it was based on consultations or studies of some kind.

"There was a great deal of suspicion that this was a decision that was made on the whim, that there was no real consultation, there was no real studies. We haven't seen that and we would like to see the evidence," he said at a news conference in Ottawa.

"Good government policy is made when you have evidence-based policy decisions and we haven't seen any evidence and we're calling for the minister to provide that," the critic said. 

Lamoureux was heavily critical of Kenney's performance as a minister and said that he chooses to "demonize" refugees, often by referring to them as "bogus." His language is insulting and inflammatory, according to the Liberals, and it sends a message that Canada is no longer a welcoming place for refugees.

"It's something that is very destructive, I believe, and the Liberal party is calling upon the minister to behave in a more ministerial manner and look at refugees as people that contribute immensely to our country," he said.

Kenney has previously defended the cuts to the program by saying the government is making it more equitable and ensuring that refugees don't get more generous health-care services than most Canadians get through their provincial health insurance plans.

On Tuesday, his office provided a response to Lamoureux's comments.

"Our Conservative government strongly disagrees with the irresponsible Liberal and NDP policy that illegal immigrants and bogus asylum seekers under deportation orders who refuse to leave Canada should be able to abuse our fair immigration system and receive gold-plated health care benefits that are more generous than Canadian taxpayers, including seniors and Kevin Lamoureux’s constituents, receive," Kenney's spokeswoman Ana Curic said in an email.

"If Kevin Lamoureux consulted with Canadians, he would find that these long overdue changes, which ensure the system is fair, are supported by Canadians from coast to coast to coast," she said. 

Curic added that it's up to the committee to decide whether to pass Lamoureux's motion.

Lamoureux said Kenney is "a great spin doctor" and shouldn't be making comparisons between the average Canadian and a refugee that arrives with bare pockets.

"It's just an unfair comparison, and that's what I mean when I say that the minister of immigration takes something and he attempts to try and make the refugee look as if they're exploiting the system," he said. "What's really happening is the minister is exploiting the refugee and is in fact making a victim out of the refugee."

The changes to the refugee health program are expected to save almost $20 million per year. 


Meagan Fitzpatrick is a multiplatform reporter with CBC News in Toronto. She joined the CBC in 2011 and previously worked in the Parliament Hill and Washington bureaus. She has also reported for the CBC from Hong Kong. Meagan started her career as a print reporter in Ottawa.