The Harper government was wrong in 2012 when it cut health care for refugees. It will be wrong again if it appeals last week's Federal Court decision that correctly ruled the cuts are "cruel and unusual treatment" and a violation of the human rights of refugee claimants.
Justice Anne Mactavish wrote: "With the 2012 changes to the Interim Federal Health Program, the executive branch of the Canadian government has intentionally set out to make the lives of these disadvantaged individuals even more difficult than they already are in an effort to force those who have sought the protection of this country to leave Canada more quickly, and to deter others from coming here."
Further, Mactavish ruled, the current policy carves refugees into two categories, those from countries the government agrees are dangerous and those from countries the government deems safe. So, one mother needing prenatal care would get it, while another from a "safe" country would not.
Lawyers for refugee claimants documented 40 cases in which they showed claimants' health had been put at risk. A Colombian man was denied an operation after his retina detached. A claimant from Afghanistan, who could not be deported due to a moratorium on deportations, was denied insulin for his diabetes.
Dr. Phillip Berger, a member of Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care, called the cuts "devastating." He said: "For more than two years now, doctors across Canada have seen these cuts place the pregnancies of refugee women at serious risk, cause denial of treatment for sick children, and deprive refugees with cancer of coverage for chemotherapy." Is this the kind of Canada most of us want?
As a justification for the cuts, the Harper government said it would save $100 million over five years. Even that doesn't stand up under scrutiny. At Toronto's Sick Kids, which gets more than its share of refugee patients, the cost of treating them over 12 months has been pegged at $130,000.
Fortunately, Ontario and five other provinces stepped in where Ottawa would not and are providing essential and urgent coverage for claimants through a temporary program. Had they not done so, it is almost certain someone alive today would not be. The Harper government's cuts amount to downloading costs and responsibilities from one level of government to the one below it. Good on the provinces for stepping in. Shame on Ottawa.
The cuts are not just inhumane. They are penny-wise and pound-foolish. The man denied insulin will get more seriously ill, and could require hospitalization and acute care, which will end up costing more than if he had received the drug to start with.
The Harper government should not appeal this court decision. It should scrap the cuts.
-- The Hamilton Spectator