PRESS RELEASE: Bill C-43 Provisions to strip refugees of social assistance are cruel and unusual

November 19, 2014


The Federal Government is proposing amendments to the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act through Bill C-43, which would allow provinces to deny refugee claimants social assistance by imposing minimum residency requirements on social assistance recipients.  On behalf of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (CARL), Peter Showler, former Chairperson of the Immigration and Refugee Board, will testify before the Citizenship and Immigration Committee of the House of Commons on November 19, 2014.  These amendments should be struck down or revised to ensure that no refugee claimant be denied the basic necessities of life including food and shelter.

“This bill is a disaster for refugees”, said Mr. Showler.  “Most refugee claimants are profoundly vulnerable when they arrive in Canada.  They are destitute.  They are not allowed to work.  Many have suffered serious physical and psychological injuries. Without basic social assistance, it will be almost impossible to survive, let alone complete all the steps required to prove their refugee claims.  These amendments put the lives and safety of refugees at risk. When did Canada become so cruel?”

Since the inception of Canada’s inland refugee claim system in 1989, refugee claimants have always received basic support through provincial social assistance programs.  Refugee claimants are not legally permitted to work for three to six months when they first arrive in Canada. They have no legal means of supporting themselves.  Social assistance is necessary to ensure refugee claimants have food, shelter, and the basic necessities of life. There are also basic expenses required to prove a refugee claim.  Destitute refugees will not have the means to prove their claims. The preservation of a non-discriminatory national standard, which guarantees the basic necessities of life for refugees while they make their claims, is the means by which the federal government upholds its basic obligations under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and international law. 

“By facilitating the denial of social assistance to refugee claimants, the government is once again abdicating its refugee protection obligations under domestic and international law”, said Efrat Arbel, law professor at the University of British Columbia.  “Depriving refugees of the means to secure housing, food, and basic necessities is antithetical to the notion of saving lives or offering genuine protection, which are the core values that underpin Canada’s refugee protection system.”

“These amendments have been hatched in a policy vacuum. There are no evidence-based policy justifications for denying social assistance to refugees”, added Mitchell Goldberg, President of CARL. “This is just another example of the federal government’s continuing attack on refugee rights.  These amendments target poor, vulnerable, and disadvantaged refugees for no valid social purpose in arbitrary and unprincipled ways.  This is the definition of cruel and unusual treatment”.

To read CARL’s brief on Bill C-43, click here. (Aussi disponible en français.) 

To view the hearings online (Nov 19, 3:30-5:30 pm EST), please follow the “ParlVU” link here.

To view an open letter to the Minister of Finance opposing Bill C-43, signed by 160 organizations, including CARL, click here.


Peter Showler:

Efrat Arbel:

Stephanie Valois [en français]

Mitchell Goldberg: