Conservative Government still undermining refugee health care: goes behind closed doors to retroactively end IFH Program

December 4, 2014

Troubling move raises doubts over long-term commitment to follow court decision

For immediate release: The federal Conservative government is continuing to undermine health care coverage for refugees. Its most recent move was a Cabinet decision, made behind closed doors, to repeal the 1957 Order in Council establishing the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP).  The government made its decision retroactively to June 30, 2012, the day the government’s “cruel and unusual” cuts to refugee health care – since declared unconstitutional by the Federal Court – took effect.  

This new Order in Council was introduced on November 6th, just two days after the government was compelled by the court to reinstate health care for refugees. Late on November 4th, the government announced Temporary measures for the Interim Federal Health Program. These measures do not fully restore the level of coverage that was available to refugees before the original cuts. Now this latest development casts doubt on Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander and the Conservative government’s long-term commitment to following the court order and providing necessary health services for refugees.

“We are surprised and troubled that the government would quietly abolish a health program that had worked so well for more than half a century,” said Dr. Meb Rashid, medical director of the Crossroads Clinic at Women's College Hospital. “When the Minister should be working to respect the court order and reestablish health services for refugees, he is instead offering partial measures with one hand and wiping away long-standing policy commitments with the other. How can we trust anything Minister Alexander says?”

Following the July 4th Federal Court ruling the Conservative government waited to the last minute to announce an appeal of this decision. It also requested to suspend the decision while the appeal was heard. The Federal Court of Appeal denied the government’s request, ruling that “the harm of continuing to deny refugees health care pending the resolution of the government’s lengthy appeal was greater than the inconvenience of requiring the government to reinstate the IFHP”. Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care, Justice for Children and Youth, and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers will fight the federal government’s costly appeal of the Federal Court decision.

“This government refuses to take no for an answer and is prepared to let people suffer for its obstinacy”, said Lorne Waldman, founding member of CARL and lead counsel on the case. “First, the government chose to prolong the uncertainty and cost taxpayer dollars with an unnecessary appeal of the Federal Court decision. Next, it introduced an inadequate response to the decision that leaves some refugees previously covered by the IFHP without important health services. Now, it has made the original IFHP disappear with a wave of a pen in a closed door meeting. This is not just cynical governing, it is reckless.”

The IFHP has been marred by red tape and unnecessary complexity for more than two years.  Since the changes were announced in June, 2012, Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care and others have documented numerous examples of patients being denied care – including sick children and pregnant women fleeing sexual violence. The recent Order in Council is sowing more confusion for frontline health care workers and anxiety for sick and vulnerable refugees.

“Minister Chris Alexander and the Conservative government are continuing their reckless conduct rather than acting responsibly on a serious public policy issue and respecting a court order,” said Dr. Philip Berger, founding member of Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care and Medical Director, Inner City Health Program at St. Michael’s Hospital. “Every move this government has made on the refugee health file has been spurious, vindictive, or sneaky. It is time for Minister Alexander to come clean, stop playing games, and do as he was ordered by the court. Cruelty is costly.”

More than 20 national health care organizations, all provincial Premiers, lawyers, law professors, artists, faith-based groups, student organizations and other Canadians continue to call for the federal government to reverse the cuts to refugee health. A recent Forum opinion poll revealed Canadians are not in favour of providing refugees with less access to health care. 

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Christopher Holcroft Principal, Empower Consulting