The House

Liberals to fully restore refugee health-care cuts, says John McCallum

Immigration and refugee resettlement targets will be achieved 'expeditiously', says Canada's new Immigration Minister John McCallum.

New Immigration Minister shares his top priorities in interview on The House

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship John McCallum takes one of the government's most time-sensitive portfolios with a commitment to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees in Canada by the end of the year. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

The new Liberal government will fully restore refugee health care as part of their commitment to refugees, said Canada's new immigration minister John McCallum.

"That's a no-brainer," McCallum told host Chris Hall in an interview on CBC Radio's The House

Back in 2012, the Conservatives under Stephen Harper trimmed medical benefits for newcomers to Canada, leaving most immigrants with basic, essential health care but without supplementals such as vision and dental care. The Federal Court found the government's treatment of refugees was "cruel and unusual" because it jeopardizes their health.

"It was cruel and unusual, and it was economically stupid because it probably cost the Canadian taxpayer more. They saved a few dollars at the federal level, but people who were desperately sick were going to emergency hospitals," said McCallum. 

"So the net cost of the Canadian health-care system probably went up."

Syrian refugee crisis number one focus

Restoring health benefits to refugees and immigrants is just one commitment the Liberal government is making within his immigration portfolio, said McCallum.

But the top priority remains the resettlement of 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of 2015.

"That is our target, that is our objective. We're going to do our very best to hit that target, but we're also going to do it well," he said. 

"I think it's important for Canadians that we do this well, that we take account of security issues and health issues. But our target remains December 31 of this year."

Canadians can expect to see refugees arriving within the month, if not before, he added.

McCallum acknowledged the target is an ambitious one.

"It's a major challenge. There's so many dimensions to it — you have to identify the people, you have to get exit permits for the people, you have to get transport for the people, you have to get places for the people to live.

"It's such an enormous, challenging project, but it's in the spirit of the Canada we know and love."

Liberals will revoke bill stripping terrorists of citizenship

Another file on McCallum's agenda is revoking Bill C-24, he said.

 Bill C-24 is the legislation responsible for the changes to the Citizenship Act, which included the revocation of citizenship for those found guilty of terrorism, treason and foreign spying, a provision that came into effect in May.

"We're totally, utterly opposed to two classes of citizenship," he said. "We believe terrorists should go to jail."

McCallum said he is also committed to reducing processing times for immigrants waiting to be reunited with family. 

But he cautioned Canadians against expecting too much, too soon.

"There's a long list of things which we've committed to in the area of immigration," he said.

"We will not get them done in a day, but we'll get them done expeditiously."