The Federal Court decision to strike down the Harper government’s health-care cuts to refugee claimants as “cruel and unusual”, has provoked widespread editorial comment across Canada, mostly approving. Immigration Minister Chris Alexander has announced his government’s intention to appeal the decision.
Missing from these commentaries is any mention of what happened to similar coverage for privately sponsored refugees when the axe fell on all refugees in 2012. At the time then immigration Minister Jason Kenney also removed coverage for his government’s own selected and landed refugees, but quickly realized the absurdity of this and restored the Interim Federal Health Plan for government sponsored refugees.
Not so for refugees privately sponsored. IFH coverage for their initial year here was never restored. The private sponsors of Canada were unexpectedly stuck with the bills. Fortunately across Canada a mishmash of provincial government band-aids and the compassion of health care providers have stepped in to provide a clumsy replacement. But it’s not as good or complete as what was lost.
Wise federal governments of the past have realized that the unique health issues often afflicting refugees arriving from horrific backgrounds of deprivation and neglect (and which because of privacy rules can be previously unknown to Canadian sponsors), have justified special health-care provisions in their first year of adjusting and resettling.
In Manitoba most private refugee sponsoring is done by religious institutions. While Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council and Hospitality House Refugee Ministry (the latter sponsoring through Anglican and Roman Catholic dioceses) are the major players, there are several others. More than 1,000 privately sponsored refugees will be landed in Canada this year through the efforts of Manitoba sponsors.
Thus we have the anomalous situation that two refugees coming from the same dire circumstances can both be interviewed by the same Canadian officer overseas and selected for resettlement to Canada, both given a travel loan to cover their airfare, both placed on the same flight, and both be welcomed to Winnipeg as new permanent residents and future citizens. Yet one, government sponsored, would receive IFH coverage, and the other, privately sponsored, would not.
This is the current and illogical disparity permitted to be continued by Minister Alexander, one that did not exist through the first 32 years of the refugee sponsoring program and now has more the look of an accident than a design.
If it is by design, then Minister Alexander should explain the rationale behind removal of a smoothly functioning mechanism for health-care to privately sponsored refugees and its enforced replacement by clumsy provincial alternatives, but all with the same taxpayer.
If it is by accident, then the Minister should fix it.
Tom Denton is Executive Director, Sponsorship, for Hospitality House Refugee Ministry of Winnipeg