The180·The 180

Canada's immigration laws discriminate against people with disabilities

Mercedes Benitez came to Canada to work, and now wants to make it her home. But she's been told she can't stay, because her disabled son would cost Canada too much money. Her lawyer, Toni Schweitzer, tells us why Canada needs to changes its immigration laws to stop such discrimination.
A person holds a flag during a Canadian citizenship ceremony. Lawyer Toni Schweitzer argues the current laws around immigration in Canada are discriminatory. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

Toni Schweitzer, a lawyer with Parkdale Community Legal Services, says that aspects of Canada's immigration laws are flawed and discriminatory.

Her client, Mercedes Benitez and her family have been denied permanent residency status in Canada due to her 17-year-old son's intellectual disability.

Lawyer Toni Schweitzer says Canadian immigration laws around medical inadmissibility are excessive and need to be re-evaluated. (Parkdale Community Legal Services)

Schweitzer says the family is affected by a section in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

"We have a section in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that says that people are inadmissible to Canada if they have a health condition that might reasonably be expected to cause excessive demand on health or social services.

"People with disabilities have had a historic experience of being marginalized and being discriminated against and this section is perpetuating that."

Excessive demand on health and social services

As part of the review process, immigration officers determine whether an individual is likely to place excessive demand on health and social services.

Section 1 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (IRPR) defines "excessive demand" as

  • a demand on health services or social services for which the anticipated costs would likely exceed average Canadian per capita health services and social services costs over a period of five consecutive years immediately following the most recent medical examination required under paragraph 16(2)(b) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), unless there is evidence that significant costs are likely to be incurred beyond that period, in which case the period is no more than 10 consecutive years; or
  • a demand on health services or social services that would add to existing waiting lists and would increase the rate of mortality and morbidity in Canada as a result of an inability to provide timely services to Canadian citizens or permanent residents.

Schweitzer says the section should be applied to all people that could potentially cause an excessive demand on our health care system, but instead unfairly catches those with disabilities.

If you look at other factors that could affect a person's future, either health care needs or social service needs, there's a lot of things we don't screen for. We don't screen high performance athletes, we don't screen for smoking or drinking or high-stress workaholics.- Toni Schweitzer

Schweitzer says another significant thing in the context of Mercedes' case is that families with gifted children are not screened.

Mercedes Benitez, far right, with her family. (provided)

"She's got a son who has an intellectual disability and they say you're going to use up too many social service dollars for special programs. Well in Canada we also have gifted programs. Those are also publicly funded and they cost money. Nobody would ever screen a family out for having a gifted child, but they will screen a family out for having a disabled child."

Schweitzer and the legal team at Parkdale Community Legal Services have made a submission to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Ahmed D. Hussen, asking that the excessive demand be scrapped from the  Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

You can't discriminate and you can't create laws  that have a differential impact on somebody based on a disability.- Toni Schweitzer



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