Federal Court Rules on Health Care for Refugees

The Federal Court recently released its judgment on changes made in 2012 to the Federal Health Program that resulted in removal of health coverage for certain refugee claimants. This was part of a wider set of changes led by Citizenship and Immigration Canada with the goal of reducing abuse of the Canadian refugee system. The Federal Court is Canada’s national trial court where claims can be brought against the government ministries or to challenge tribunal decisions.

In the ruling, Justice Mactavish found that changes made to the Federal Health Program were “cruel and unusual treatment” that violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This removal of medical service particularly for children who have been brought to Canada country by their parents seeking refugee protection, was found by the court to comprises “the safety of these innocent and vulnerable children in a manner that shocks the conscience and outrages our standards of decency”.

This case was advanced by a group including Canadian Assoication of Refugee Lawyers (CARL). “With today’s decision, the Federal Court has recognized that the government’s cuts to refugee health care violate the fundamental rights enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, without any lawful justification”, said Lorne Waldman, president of CARL and lead counsel on the case.  “This decision gives life to Canada’s commitment to protect refugee rights.  It sends a clear message to government that it cannot abdicate its responsibility to meet the most basic health care needs of vulnerable refugees and refugee claimants”.

“This decision is a victory for human rights, for human dignity, and for compassion”, said Audrey Macklin, Professor and Chair in Human Rights Law at the University of Toronto who commented on the case.  “Asking for refugee protection is not a crime. Today’s judgment is consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canada’s international legal commitments, and the values that make us proud to be Canadian.”