Last year, the Federal Government cut the Interim Federal Health Program to deny basic health care to refugee claimants in Canada. The move was strongly criticized by most stake-holders across the country, including immigration and refugee advocates, human rights activists, and doctors. Many believed that cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program were designed by the government to appeal to its core supporters but would not save the government any money. In fact, the cuts raised concerns about more expensive emergency treatment, and the spectre of a public health crisis if refugees were refused any preventative care or treatment.
However, the Government of Ontario, along with the governments of some other provinces, have decided to put in place their own health care plans for refugee claimants to cover the services cut by the federal government. Since constitutionally and under intentional laws the responsibility to care for refugee claimants falls to the federal government, the provinces intend to present the federal government with a bill for the health services rendered. It is unclear at this point how the federal government will respond to this move by Ontario and other provinces, and the courts may ultimately be called upon to decide the dispute.
In the mean time, there is much to celebrate in knowing that the health care needs of some of the most vulnerable people in Canada will be looked after - as will the public health of Canadians at large.
Press Release by the Government of Ontario - Reinstating Access to Healthcare for Refugee Claimants
Article in the Toronto Star - Ontario Reinstates Basic Health Care for Refugees
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