As a former immigration officer, and now a citizenship and immigration lawyer here in Calgary for the past decade, I have seen incredible changes in Canada's immigration policy. Recently, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's reforms to Canada's immigration and refugee system include eliminating 'incentives' to those that come to Canada and make a false refugee claim.
Late last year we were approached by a woman in a truly difficult situation. Having made a refugee claim against Mexico here in Calgary, she was deemed to have abandoned it when she advised Citizenship and Immigration of her address change, but not the Immigration and Refugee Board. A simple immigration error, but one with significant consequences. After her refugee claim in Calgary was deemed abandoned, she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer; unfortunately diagnosed late because the cancer went undetected by Canadian doctors on a prior exam. Adding insult to injury, she learned that she was not eligible for health care to deal with the missed cancer.
Despite working and paying into the system, Maria and other refugee claimants will not receive any benefits or services. The new policy will have dire consequences. Dr. Ritika Goel, interviewed for the story and a volunteer in a clinic for refugees in Ontario states it's only a 'matter of time before a life is lost'.
My thoughts: Immigration Minister Jason Kenney starts with the wrong premise that refugee claims in Canada are "bogus". And while the cutbacks may be legally correct, they are morally incorrect. If Maria and others like her are good enough to pay into the system, they are entitled to the benefits and services of that system. Further, this heavy handed approach may not be necessary. The reforms to Canada's refugee system means that individuals will have their claim adjudicated within weeks. With referrals already down by 70%, I think there is now little economic incentives to come to Canada to make a false refugee claim.
There is no doubt in my mind that health care for refugees is good public policy.
The CBC's Carolyn Dunn looks at how one refugee woman is coping after the federal government pulled back on benefits for some refugees, leaving her without any medical coverage: