Refugee health care: This is deadline day for Ottawa's new policy

The federal government has until the end of day today to introduce more inclusive health-care coverage for refugees, after a Federal Court gave the Conservatives four months to draft new policy after overturning changes they made in 2012.

Alexander says health care for 'failed' refugee claimants not among 'Canadian values'

Immigration Minister Chris Alexander has until the end of Tuesday to introduce a more inclusive health-care policy for refugee claimants. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The federal government has until the end of day today to introduce more inclusive health-care coverage for refugees, after a Federal Court gave the Conservatives four months to draft new policy after overturning changes they made in 2012.

Immigration Minister Chris Alexander told the Commons on Monday that he would have some "details" to announce in short order but that providing health care to "failed" refugee claimants was not part of the Conservative government's repertoire of "basic Canadian values."

A decision by the Federal Court last July found that changes made by the federal government to refugee health-care funding in 2012 were unconstitutional. The effect of the cuts were deemed "cruel and unusual" and the court gave the government until Nov. 4 to review its policy.

The government asked for a stay until an appeal is heard. But that request was rejected on Friday.

The debate over how much health care should be provided, which has often been acrimonious, came up during question period on Monday as Opposition New Democrats and Liberals pressed Alexander for details about today's deadline.

NDP MP Andrew Cash said "the minister ignored the protests of doctors, refugee advocates, provinces and parliamentarians, and took health care away from children and pregnant women."

"Will the minister finally give up his lengthy assault on basic Canadian values?," Cash said.

Alexander replied "On our side of the House it is not among basic Canadian values to offer health care – often health care that went beyond that provided to Canadians – to those whose immigration and refugee claims have failed, or to those who were deliberately fraudulent in their representations to the Immigration and Refugee Board.

"And we will continue to stand up for the interests of taxpayers in that respect," Alexander said.

'Bogus' vs. 'genuine' refugees

Canadian doctors have taken issue with the government's distinction between "bogus" and "genuine" refugees, arguing that the changes brought in 2012 also applied to those claimants whose applications are being processed and who are in the queue waiting for a hearing.

The debate became increasingly partisan when Liberal immigration critic John McCallum poked Alexander over the government's losing streak before the courts.

"When I heard the courts had rejected the government's request to delay restoration of a fair refugee health policy, my reaction was: thank goodness for the judges and the Charter of Rights. They are one of the few constraints on the mean-spirited actions of this majority government," McCallum said.

"Will the minister respect the law and reinstate a decent refugee health plan... which is what the court has demanded or will he stand in contempt of the court?"

Alexander said, "All I can say in response to that is, thank God for this Conservative government. We are the only ones in this House that can be relied upon to protect both refugees and the interest of Canadian taxpayers.

"We remain disappointed in this decision. We are appealing it. We will have more details to offer on our response to the latest decision very shortly," Alexander said. 

The latest decision came from the Federal Court of Appeal last Friday when it rejected the government's bid for more time before implementing a new policy.

Lorne Waldman, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, says that, in theory, the only way the government could try to get around the Federal Court's rejection of a stay would be to seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. 

"On an issue like this, the chances of getting the court to intervene on the dismissal of a stay is very slight," he wrote in an email. "If there is no appeal to the Supreme Court on the order denying the stay, the government must comply."

If the government doesn't comply it could be found in contempt of court.


  • An earlier version of this story said that the federal government is asking for a stay of July's Federal Court decision until an appeal is heard. In fact, the government's request for a stay was rejected on Friday.
    Nov 04, 2014 7:47 AM ET

With files from Louise Elliott


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