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Health-care activists snubbed by Joe Oliver's constituency office staff

On Tuesday morning Health for All, along with representatives from other signatory organizations, tried to deliver a letter to Finance Minister Joe Oliver's constituency office in Toronto.

"We let the staff know we would be coming to drop off an open letter signed by 160 community organizations," said Ritika Goel, a member of Health for All, in an email interview. 

"Unfortunately, in response, they decided to lock the door which speaks to the complete disregard for public opinion."

Health for All joined 160 organizations in signing an open letter to Joe Oliver in opposition to provisions in Budget Bill C-43 that would allow provinces to restrict access to social assistance for refugee claimants and others who lack permanent residency status.

"Fleeing persecution places tremendous stress and burden on families seeking refugee status in Canada," said the letter. 

"Some of these families suffer from post traumatic stress disorder that can make finding and holding a job difficult without appropriate health care. Work permits take time to be approved and issued, which leaves people with no source of income for months on end. 

"In the interim, access to social assistance is vital to sustain and rebuild lives. Without that source of support, many will be unable to feed, house, or clothe themselves and their families, putting further pressure on already overburdened charities and shelters."

Signatories to the open letter included health professional organizations, community health centres, community legal clinics, refugee shelters, student groups, activist organizations and more.

"Through these amendments, the federal government is promoting the imposition of residency requirements on refugee claimants," said Mary Marrone, Director of Advocacy & Legal Services, Income Security Advocacy Centre, in their Tuesday release. 

"The amendments are an abdication of federal responsibility to refugee claimants and to the last remaining national standard in social program provision."

The proposal to restrict access to social assistance was originally announced two months ago as Private Member’s Bill C-585, and was later rolled into the Budget Bill C-43 which goes to committee hearings this week. 

"Refugee claimants are among the most vulnerable members of our society," said Goel. 

"To deny them access to what is often their only source of income would be cruel and in direct violation of Canada’s stated commitments to international human rights law." 

Several organizations, including Canada Without Poverty, Canadian Council for Refugees and Colour of Poverty, opposed to Bill C-43 deputed on the issue this week in Ottawa. 

"This piece of legislation poses an immediate threat to the health and social security of refugee claimants," said Marcella Jones, another member of Health for All. 

"The community at large has spoken -- we oppose such cruel and unusual policies."

Following Tuesday's brush off, Health for All vowed to continue the fight to remove Sections 172 and 173 from the Budget Bill.

"These sections amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act and are essentially Private Members Bill C-585, which was introduced earlier this year," said the letter to Joe Oliver.

"The change that would be made to the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act as a result of these provisions would allow provinces to restrict access to social assistance for refugee claimants and others who have not yet been granted permanent residence."

Many of the signatory organizations work directly with refugee claimants and others with precarious immigration status.

"If they (Sections 172 and 173) go through, our allies may consider a charter challenge," said Goel. 

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