Cuts to Interim Federal Health Program ruled 'cruel and unusual'

Photo: flickr/Mark Hillary

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The Federal Court has given the government four months time to change cuts to health care coverage for refugees or that the cuts may be struck down. The cuts were found to be an "equal-rights violation." 

In a 268 page ruling released Friday, the court ruled that the cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program in 2012 violate section 12 of the Charter. Justice Anne Mactavish said in the decision that the changes are "cruel and unusual."

The decision says that changes to the program jeopardize the health, the safety and lives of "these innocent and vulnerable children in a manner that shocks the conscience and outrages our standards of decency."

The government argued that the cuts were implemented in the best interests of Canadians in order to deter those who abuse the health care system.

The cuts in 2012 left most refugees with just basic health care coverage but no access to vision and dental care. However, rejected refugees and refugee claimants from countries that the government designated as "safe" are only eligible for care when they pose a threat to public health. 

"It puts their lives at risk and perpetuates the stereotypical view that they are cheats and queue-jumpers, that their refugee claims are 'bogus,' and that they have come to Canada to abuse the generosity of Canadians," Mactavish wrote. "It serves to perpetuate the historical disadvantage suffered by members of an admittedly vulnerable, poor and disadvantaged group." 

"This decision gives life to Canada's commitment to protect refugee rights," said Lorne Waldman, President of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers in a public statement.

"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," she added.  

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Miriam Katawazi is a fourth-year journalism and human rights student at Carleton University and rabble's news intern. She has a strong passion for human rights and social justice in Canada and across the world. Her writing focuses on health, labour, education and human rights beats.

Photo: flickr/Mark Hillary

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