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Harper government appeals reinstatement of refugee health program

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When a government is strongly committed to a policy it is usually very open and up front about it.

The Harper government has said, for quite a while, that most of those who come to Canada seeking refugee status do not deserve health care.

Current Immigration Minister Chris Alexander and his predecessor Jason Kenney have both characterized a large number of the often-desperate people who seek Canada’s protection under the 1951 Geneva Convention as 'bogus refugees.'

The Ministers make that claim despite the fact that a good many of those 'bogus' folks have ultimately been granted refugee status by the Immigration and Refugee Board.  

Kenney radically cut back the federal refugee health program in 2012.

He argued that refugee claimants were receiving "gold plated" health care unavailable to other Canadians. And he added that many of those claimants were, in any case, "queue jumpers" who should apply to be immigrants if they wanted the many advantages of living in Canada.

A group of refugee lawyers challenged the Conservative government on this decision in federal court. They took on the case pro bono, and were supported by the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers; by a doctors' group, Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care; and by an NGO, Justice for Children.

This past July they won their case.

Federal Court Justice Anne Mactavish ruled that Kenney’s cuts to the federal refugee health program "potentially jeopardize the health, the safety and indeed the very lives of  . . . innocent and vulnerable children in a manner that shocks the conscience and outrages our standards of decency."

Minister Alexander immediately announced that the government would appeal Justice Mactavish's decision to the Federal Court of Appeal.

Then, more than two months passed and nothing happened.

The deadline for a notice of appeal was September 30, and by the 29th the lawyers who had launched the court case had heard nothing. The government had not re-instated the refugee health program. But neither had it, apparently, taken legal action to overturn Justice Mactavish’s ruling.

It was only on October 1st that the lawyers' group heard that the Harper government had stealthily filed an appeal on September 22, without informing them.

The rules of the Federal Appeal Division allow that odd, non-transparent procedure, but the fact that the Conservatives chose to act that way begs the question: Why the secrecy? Why is the Harper government acting as though it has something to hide?

To make matters worse, the government asked the Court of Appeal to stay the Mactavish decision, which countermanded the 2102 cuts to refugee health, until its appeal is decided.  

If the Court were to grant that stay it would mean thousands of people in the refugee process would continue to be denied necessary, basic health care. That health care includes treatment for life threatening conditions such as cancer, diabetes and kidney disease.

The refugee lawyers promise to vigorously fight any suggestion that refugees be denied health care while the Conservatives pursue their shadowy legal strategy.

We’ll see what the Court of Appeal decides.

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