Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/6/2012 (1801 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Anglican diocese and a refugee sponsorship group in Winnipeg are taking the federal government to court over its plan to strip new refugees of medical benefits such as prescription medicine and prosthetics.
"Churches don't often take governments, or anyone else for that matter, to court," said Bishop Donald Phillips, with the diocese of Rupert's Land.
What prompted the legal action was Citizenship and Immigration Canada's decision to no longer provide supplemental health care to refugees during their first year in Canada, starting June 30.
That's a breach of contract, said Tom Denton, executive director of Hospitality House Refugee Ministry.
The diocese and church-funded Hospitality House have a contractual relationship with the federal government, as do other refugee sponsorship-agreement holders, Denton said. "One of the assumptions underlying the sponsorships is the interim federal health plan would be in place," he said.
The plan has been providing supplemental health benefits to former refugees during their first year in Canada, when their needs can often be great, he said.
"Their health and their lives are literally on the line."
Human rights lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize nominee David Matas is representing the diocese in the court battle, which is funded by donations from private citizens, Denton said.
"You don't undertake a decision like this lightly, but the issue is very, very important to people," he said.
In the past 18 months, the Anglican Church of Canada's diocese of Rupert's Land has had more than 450 refugees arrive under its sponsorship. The diocese is one of the largest sponsors of refugees in Canada.
Hospitality House has sponsored thousands of refugees under the authority of sponsorship agreements the Anglican diocese and the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Winnipeg have with Ottawa. Hospitality House is joining the lawsuit to protect its clients sponsored under the Catholic archdiocese, Denton said. It has around 6,000 outstanding sponsorships awaiting processing overseas, he said.
Ottawa is cutting the interim federal health plan for refugees not long after announcing plans to shift 1,000 refugees annually from the government-assisted refugee program to private sponsorships over the next couple of years.
The Canadian Council for Refugees says the cut to the interim federal health plan will be a serious deterrent to sponsors such as churches that the government hopes will pick up the 1,000 cases it's planning to drop.
For a number of years, Canada has selected many refugees with high medical needs and brought them here, the council said in a press release. Canada bears a responsibility to make sure those needs are met once the refugees are here, the council says.
Immigration spokeswoman Alexis Pavlich didn't comment on the court action but emailed a statement supporting her department's actions.
"Contrary to some claims, genuine refugees whose claims have been accepted and the vast majority of asylum claimants will see little change in their primary coverage. They will continue to have access to the doctor and hospital services that all Canadians receive through their provincial health-care system, including treatment for chronic disease," she said.
The cost of things such as medication, and dental and vision care will have to be covered by the refugees or their sponsors, said Denton.
"It's much worse for government-sponsored refugees," he said. "The government is their sponsor and they've abandoned them."
The government says it's only treating refugees the same as Canadians who can't afford supplemental health benefits. "What we will no longer do is ask hard-working Canadian taxpayers to foot the bill for health-care services for asylum-seekers, including failed asylum claimants who refuse to leave the country, that are more generous than what they are entitled to themselves," Pavlich said.
Denton said the Harper government is trying to pit Canadians against refugees it approved and selected. "It's beneath contempt."