Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship to Reverse Healthcare Cuts Refugee Lawyers Have Advocated Against
After the 2015 election, the government of Canada changed hands from the Conservative Party of Canada to the Liberals—and upon assuming the role of Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau appointed a new cabinet. Several new positions were created, while other, pre-existing positions were modified. One of these was that of John McCallum. McCallum is the 11th immigration minister, but the first since the post was created in 1950 (it was discontinued in 1966 until 1994) to hold the new title of Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.
So who is John McCallum? How will his appointment affect Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and the ongoing issues such as cuts to health care that refugee lawyers and advocates have been fighting for several years now?
About the New Minister
After an 18-year career in academia and a brief stint as an economist for the Royal Bank of Canada, John McCallum first achieved a cabinet position in 2002 under then-Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. From 2002 to 2003 he served as the Defense Minister, during which time he laid the groundwork for the current disability benefit to military personnel who are wounded in service. From 2003 until 2004, he served as the Veteran Affairs Minister under Paul Martin, and during the Harper years he worked in the Expenditure Review Committee, where he implemented an 11 billion-dollar reduction over five years.
In November of this year, he succeeded former Minister of Immigration and Citizenship Chris Alexander. Alexander and his predecessor, Jason Kenney, were in charge of the department Citizen and Immigration Canada during a period of extensive and controversial reform, including the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and healthcare cuts for refugees.
What Will Change?
To the joy of refugee lawyers and advocates throughout Canada, the change in job title seems to signal the new government’s commitment to helping refugees in our country. And in an interview with McCallum from before the election, this position can be confirmed—the soon-to-be Minister took a stance on the refugee health care cuts, agreeing with the Federal Court ruling that called the cuts “unconstitutional” and confirming that if elected, the Liberals would change it. “We’ve had all the refugee lawyers and doctors involved in this case for many months,” he told Maclean’s Magazine. “It is well documented that there are no so-called bogus refugees. It is refugee applicants, many of whom will have their cases succeed. It is a wide range of people who need our help. As the court said, it’s cruel and unusual not to provide it.”
A court hearing on the case of the healthcare cuts has been postponed, and may be scrapped entirely if Citizenship and Immigration Canada reverses its position under new leadership—a major victory for refugee rights.