The innocence of refugees unlawfully entering the country of refuge is an important article embedded in the 1951 Refugee Convention which Canada is a signatory to; however, the recently decried amendments created under Bill C-31; Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act unequivocally violates this article by arbitrarily detaining and denying health care to refugee claimants deemed to be “irregular” arrivals or from the so-called “safe” countries and the “designated countries of origin”.
According to article 31, (1) of the Convention, the Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.
Stated thus, the implementation of the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) cuts orchestrated against refugee claimants by the Minister of Citizenship and Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney are in contravention of Canada’s international human rights obligations as well as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The federal government should take heed of health experts’ advice that the cuts are inhumane and constitute systematic continuation of torture, cruelty and degrading punishment. Medical groups have counselled the Minister responsible to abandon the changes and that change to the program should be consistent with international human rights standards and be non-discriminatory.
Encroachment is also rendered to the three types of protection within Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms namely; the right to life, liberty, and security of the person. The right to life and security of the person is being violated as refugee claimants are currently being denied access to health care to treat life threatening diseases whereas the right to security of person is being violated as some refugee claimants are currently being arbitrarily detained under the notion that they are “irregular” arrivals.
The new laws that amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) are oblivious to the fact that health is a human right in International Law under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 25) which stipulates thateveryone has the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.
Minister Jason Kenney’s laws moreover come in force at a time when Canada has build a reputation as a long standing member of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) which makes the right to health legally binding. Article 12 of the (ICESCR) denotes that every country which is a signatory to the Covenant should recognise the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. Article 12 (d) calls for the creation of conditions which would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness.
By signing the Covenant, Canada is bound under international law to observe the provisions of the ICESCR, which prohibits discrimination and stipulates that non-discrimination is essential to the enjoyment of the right to the highest attainable standard of health. The 1951 Refugee Convention also points that refugees should enjoy access to health services equivalent to that of the host population and that the health of refugees and other forcibly displaced people is a key component of protection that host countries who are signatories to the convention should observe.
Currently some refugee claimants in Canada are reported to be left with minimal access to health care than they would receive in refugee camps. Reports are now coming out citing cases proving that newly arrived refugee claimants are having a hard time getting admitted in Walk-in-Clinics to receive primary health care. Some doctor’s in Walk-in-Clinics are said to be no longer willing to see refugee claimants because they are afraid they would not receive payment for the billing.
At present some refugee claimants are alleged to only receive medical coverage when their conditions are deemed to be a threat to the public, such as when they have communicable diseases or in an acute psychotic state. This new development which affects victims of torture fleeing persecution from their countries is unprecedented since post world war. Ever since the Minister Jason Kenney started the implementation of the IFHP cuts, many newly arrived refugees in Canada are reported to be feeling the knocks and shocks of the inhumane exclusion. According to Minister Kenney, the cuts serve as a deterrence geared towards discouraging “bogus” refugee claimants from coming to take advantage of the Canadian Health Care System. What the minister forgets is that the last thing refugees think of when fleeing persecution is a health care system.
A report by Doctors for Refugee Care decries the eliminated refugee claimants’ medication which includes life saving medications such as insulin, anti-epileptics, and psychiatric medications. The Doctors for Refugee care also condemn Minister Kenney for cutting vision, dental and supplementary benefits care. They say refugee claimants from non-designated countries of origin, now only receive medical care if the condition is urgent or essential. Those from so-called “safe” countries and rejected refugee claimants are said to no longer receive any medical assessment and treatment at all with an exception for conditions seen as threatening public health or safety.
Medical experts argue that delaying treatment of refugees only incurs more complications in the future and have criticised these cut as bad policy that will prove to be more costly at the end. They have pointed out that Refugees have real trauma and have difficulties getting engaged in the health system and that not having access to timely intervention means that many health conditions, from physical conditions such as diabetes and cardiac diseases to mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder may escalate to crisis levels, requiring more costly emergency or inpatient care. This legislation is therefore viewed as not only ethically flawed but is denounced as fiscally unjustified and is feared to have the propensity to lead to more costs for Canadian taxpayers.
The following is a sample of cases catalogued by the Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care in which IFHP entitled refugee claimants have been refused coverage and care:
- A young child from Africa with a high fever but has no health insurance because his IFHP has not been activated;
- A woman in her third trimester of pregnancy develops pre-eclampsia, a potentially lethal disease, but has no coverage to treat her condition;
- A man with a rectal mass is turned away from care a multitude of times although he should have health insurance according to the government’s own policy;
- A young child from Africa could not get a chest X-ray after her IFHP was issued but there was a delay in its implementation. She eventually was found to have pneumonia;
- A man is scheduled for surgery for a kidney stone causing an enlarged kidney but may have to cancel the surgery as he waits over two months for renewal of his coverage;
- Two young children with multiple hospitalizations for asthma cannot get access to their inhalers leaving them at risk for seeking out care through emergency departments;
- A woman missed her opportunity to get prenatal screening because she awaits the initiation of IFHP coverage. The baby will be a Canadian citizen;
The exercise of discretionary powers to target this vulnerable population, impose designations and use such designations to deny them health care, is contrary to international human rights, and the humane and compassionate tradition for which the international community had so long recognized Canada. This reputation has unfortunately increasingly come under attack in the recent years by the progressively inhumane and unfair policies of the present government. It is incumbent on all Canadians to voice their concerns, and to demand that the government implement a more even handed and fair refugee policy, which also respects Canada’s international human rights obligations.