Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews has written to Jason Kenney and Leona Aglukkaq—pdf here—to protest the government’s changes to health care for refugees claimants. The Canadian Press, CBC and Sun cover the back-and-forth. The Montreal Gazette explains the situation.
Under the changes to the Interim Federal Health Program, refugees from countries the minister deems safe, called Designated Countries of Origin, will only be covered for hospital services, services of a doctor or registered nurse, laboratory, diagnostic, and medications and vaccines if these are required to prevent or treat a disease posing a risk to public health or a condition that poses a risk to public safety.
Settled refugees or claimants from countries not deemed safe would be covered for all of the above, except medications and vaccines, which again would only be covered when public health or safety is at risk.
The Star editorializes.
Below, a partial transcript of Mr. Kenney’s comments yesterday.
We made this decision because Canadians expect us to ensure that we’re not providing better quality health care to effectively illegal migrants for example than Canadian citizens get. We’re saying here that, for example, if a bogus asylum claimant has had their claim considered and rejected by a fair legal system, they shouldn’t continue to receive the public health care. They should leave Canada. That’s the message we’re sending and I would just say to the provinces with respect, I don’t understand why they seem to be more concerned about providing supplementary health benefits like dental care and eye care to, for example, rejected asylum claimants than they are to their own citizens, including seniors on fixed incomes who don’t get these supplemental benefits.
So why should they be forced to pay for them through their taxes for, for example, rejected asylum claimants. So I think perhaps some of the provinces who are raising this have put their priority in the wrong place … in many cases, we’re talking here about effectively illegal immigrants, that is to say rejected asylum claimants who are under removal orders from Canada. The real question is why were we providing them tax-funded health insurance in the past? That’s what Canadians have been asking us and that’s why we’ve acted in this way.
I would also point out to the province that our asylum reforms, we estimate, will save provincial governments around $1.6 billion over five years by accelerating the removal of false asylum claimants because, right now, those claimants typically spend several years in Canada, avoiding and delaying deportation while typically they’re claiming social benefits like welfare and we’re basically going to put an end to that with Bill C-31. So in fact, this is not downloading. If all this is taken into account, the provinces will be saving an enormous amount of money as a result of our refugee reforms…
The difficulty of the issue is that there are different categories of people that we’re talking about. Now, the people that the activists seem to be most focused on will be rejected asylum claimants who will be losing health insurance except for catastrophic or emergency care. So I keep hearing about cases where people say that these individuals won’t be able to get regular medical treatment. Well, my response would be we don’t provide health insurance, either federally or provincially, to visitors to Canada. We don’t provide it to illegal immigrants. We don’t provide it to most people here on work permits or study permits. So why is it that we have an obligation to provide it to rejected asylum claimants?
What we’re looking for is a consistency in the provision of publicly insured health benefits in Canada. We’re simply saying that as part of our overall reforms of the asylum system, if you had your crack at the system and it’s rejected and you’re found not to be a bonafide refugee, you have no entitlement to receive social benefits in Canada. In fact, you have an obligation to leave the country … many of the activists who are making these arguments, what they’re actually saying, what I hear from them, is that there is an absolute unqualified universal right to publicly funded healthcare including supplemental benefits for everyone in Canada. If that’s really their position, then they should not just be protesting this change, but they should be demanding that taxpayers fund comprehensive and supplemental health insurance for illegal migrants, visitors, foreign students and people here on work permits, but that doesn’t seem to be their position. So I think there’s an inconsistency there.
According to Mr. Kenney’s office, asylum claimants from “non-safe” countries will have access to the same level of health care as that which Canadian taxpayers receive from their provincial health care coverage, including early health care interventions, but not supplementary drug costs.