Manitobans who fought cuts to refugee health benefits are calling on Ottawa to heed the Federal Court -- if not out of conscience or decency, then to save face and money.
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said Friday the government will appeal Justice Anne Mactavish's decision, which denounced Interim Federal Health Program cuts as "cruel and unusual" treatment -- particularly to the children of claimants who have sought refuge in Canada.
'Rather than take up the time of the court and further embarrass us as a nation globally, take it as a loss'
"Rather than take up the time of the court and further embarrass us as a nation globally, take it as a loss," advised Dorota Blumczynska, spokeswoman for the Immigration Matters in Canada coalition in Winnipeg. The federal government may lose face but it will save taxpayers money -- not just on court costs but from avoiding health-care expenses that soar when people can't afford their medications and prosthetics, she said.
"The majority of refugee claims heard are approved and accepted," she said Sunday. "We're not talking about denying people we will deport in a month. We're denying health care to people who will become Canadians... We'll have to pay for the health care we've neglected for a year."
Mactavish said the federal government's 2012 cuts to health benefits for some refugees violates a section of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"It puts their lives at risk and perpetuates the stereotypical view that they are cheats and queue-jumpers, that their refugee claims are 'bogus,' and that they have come to Canada to abuse the generosity of Canadians," Mactavish wrote.
"It serves to perpetuate the historical disadvantage suffered by members of an admittedly vulnerable, poor and disadvantaged group."
Alexander said Friday the government is protecting taxpayers by making sure "bogus" refugee claimants don't get health benefits most Canadians don't receive. Alexander and the minister before him, Jason Kenney, often made reference to "bogus" refugee claimants, raising the hackles of people who work with refugees. Most Canadians don't know the difference between a refugee claimant -- someone who arrives in Canada and claims to be a refugee -- and a refugee who's arrived in Canada sponsored privately or assisted by the federal government, advocates say.
"They're not bogus -- they're being checked up the yin-yang," said an exasperated Karin Gordon, executive director of settlement for the Hospitality House Refugee Ministry in Winnipeg. The vast majority of refugees who come here have already been screened and verified by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Canadian visa officers, she said Sunday. "They really rake them over the coals," she said.
She and Blumczynska both said they are sick of hearing federal immigration ministers using the term "bogus" and painting refugees in a negative light.
"For the federal minister to continue to use 'bogus' and 'queue jumper' creates a lot of resentment and divisions among people who should be supporting one another," said Blumczynska. "It allows us to remove ourselves from the humanity of the situation."
Blumczynska is hoping Alexander has a change of heart about appealing Mactavish's decision.
"If Minister Alexander was faced with a pregnant mother of five children and she was in need of prenatal care and she was be vulnerable, would he say no?"