OTTAWA – The question of whether the federal government is obliged to pay all health care costs for anyone who seeks asylum in Canada is unlikely to be answered before this fall’s federal election.
The Conservative government is currently appealing a Federal Court ruling that found the changes they had made to the health care system for refugee claimants were unconstitutional.
Lawyers for refugee claimants say that case is not scheduled to be heard until after the Oct. 19 vote, though in the meantime the government has been forced to reinstate some of the benefits in order to comply with the court ruling.
But doctors and refugee advocates taking part in a cross-Canada protest Monday say the current system still doesn’t meet the requirements laid out by the Federal Court last year.
The changes weren’t reversed for all refugee claimants, only children and pregnant women, they argue. Even they struggle with a system that’s so confusing, not even providers are certain what is and isn’t covered.
“The zeal in which this government is attacking refugees is not only shameful, but it is illogical,” said Dr. Doug Gruner, a spokesperson for Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care.
“It is a policy and position borne out of ignorance and arrogance.”
Prior to 2012, anyone awaiting a refugee status decision had their health care costs — including dental, eye care and medications — paid for by the federal government until their application was decided and provincial health coverage kicked in.
But in June that year, the Conservative government drastically scaled back the available coverage.
At the time, the government said costs from the program were spiralling out of control because people were coming to Canada to make false refugee claims specifically to get free health care.
A group of doctors and refugee claimants took the government to court, arguing the move violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Federal Court Justice Anne Mctavish agreed, calling the changes “cruel and unusual.”
Both the New Democrats and Liberals say if they form government in October, they would drop the appeal and reinstate the program to its pre-2012 structure.