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Canada: Protecting the Right to Health of Refugees (With November 2014 update)

    June 18, 2012

    Please note that on 4 July 2014, the Federal Court of Canada ruled that the cuts constituted “cruel and unusual treatment” and violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Health coverage will be restored to refugees at midnight, Tuesday 4 November.   The case is not over.  The Government has appealed the decision in the Federal Court of Appeal.

    Amnesty International is deeply concerned that changes to the Federal Interim Health Program are discriminatory and will result in violations of the right to health of refugees in Canada, in contravention of Canada’s international human rights obligations.  Amnesty International is calling on the federal government to withdraw the changes and to ensure that any changes to the program are consistent with international human rights standards with respect to access to health care, non-discrimination and refugee protection.

    Access to healthcare is a fundamental human right, enshrined in international human rights treaties binding on Canada.  First and foremost, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, ratified by Canada more than 35 years ago in 1976, in article 12, recognizes “the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.”  The Covenant prohibits any discrimination in the protection of the rights it includes, such as the right to health.  Discrimination on the basis of national origin is specifically prohibited.  States are required to take steps aimed toward “achieving progressively the full realization” of the right to health and all other rights in the Covenant.  

    The changes to the Federal Interim Health Program raise serious concerns with respect to these important human right obligations.  The changes also fail to take account of the pressing healthcare concerns that many refugees experience, as a result of the human rights violations that have forced them to flee their countries or the harsh and difficult conditions they have faced while fleeing.  Failure to ensure proper and adequate treatment for these health needs at an early stage contravenes human rights requirements and may also give rise to greater public health demands at a later stage.

    The changes are due to take effect June 30. Health-care services for resettled refugees and refugee claimants from most countries will be limited to only “urgent and essential” care, which is a vague and uncertain standard. Coverage for refugees claimants whose claims have been rejected but who are still in Canada and for claimants from some countries deemed by the government to be “safe” countries of origin will be provided only for conditions that pose a risk to the health of the public, such as tuberculosis or HIV. Other coverage, such as vision care, dental care and prescription medication will be eliminated completely.


    John Tackaberry,
    Media Relations,
    Amnesty International Canada
    613-744-7667, ext 236