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Amnesty International welcomes recent Federal Court decision regarding refugee health care

    July 08, 2014

    Update: Interim Federal Health Care will be reinstated for refugees at midnight 4 November 2014.  However the government has appealed the July decision in the Federal Court of Appeal.

    Amnesty International welcomes the recent decision of the Federal Court  regarding health care for refugees. The court found that the 2012 cuts to health care for refugees through the Interim Federal Health Program constituted “cruel and unusual treatment” and violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The court found that the cuts deliberately targeted refugees, a vulnerable, poor, and disadvantaged group.

    Amnesty International has previously expressed concern that changes to the Interim Federal Health Program were discriminatory and likely to result in violations of the right to health of refugees in Canada, in contravention of Canada’s international human rights obligations.

    The court found the changes were harsh, particularly with respect to the rights of children.  It noted that that while “cruelty of the 2012 changes to the IFHP is not limited to children”  the impact of the cuts on children, “potentially jeopardize the health, and indeed the very lives, of these innocent and vulnerable children in a manner that shocks the conscience and outrages our standards of decency.”

    Amnesty International calls on the federal government to reinstate the Interim Federal Health Program and to ensure that the program is 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 Federal Court’s decision gives the government an opportunity to bring Canada’s health care program for refugees fully in line with human rights standards, as required by both our constitution and our international obligations.