Immigration Minister Vows to Change Law That Bars Immigrants With Disabilities and Illnesses

A parliamentary committee is reviewing the law that refuses applicants who would put “excessive demand” on health or social services. By Nicholas KeungImmigration reporter
Wed., Nov. 22, 2017

Canada’s Immigration Minister says he’s committed to changing the rule that bars many people with disabilities and illnesses from immigrating to Canada.

Rights groups and individuals affected by the so-called “medical inadmissibility” rule say not only is it inhumane, but it also breaches the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The provision is at the centre of public hearings by a parliamentary committee to review a provision of Canada’s immigration law that rejects immigrants who are expected to place “excessive demand” on health or social services if let into the country.

“Disability is the last major characteristic that remains a barrier to settling and building a life in Canada, and the Council of Canadians with Disabilities believes this provision is outdated and discriminatory and must be removed from the (Immigration) Act,” said John Rae, a vice chair of the council.

On Wednesday, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen agreed the rule needs to be updated. He was vague on exactly how the law might be changed, saying no decisions would be made without input from the provinces and territories who bear most of the costs of health and social services.

“This provision needs to be changed. It’s simply not in line with our government’s policies with respect to moving towards an accessibility agenda, but also with … how Canadians are increasingly of the opinion that we should be more inclusive as a society,” Hussen said, testifying before the parliamentary committee.

According to the Immigration Department, 1,429 immigration applications were rejected on medical grounds in the last three years. Under the law, demand is found to be excessive if it exceeds the average annual health care costs for a Canadian, which is currently estimated at $6,655.

American disability advocate Loree Erickson, who graduated with a doctoral degree from York University’s critical disability program, said it is hypocritical for Canada to say it embraces accessibility, diversity and equal rights when its immigration law excludes those with disabilities. The Virginia native’s permanent residence application was rejected two weeks ago.

“It’s devastating and terrifying,” said Erickson, who has been in Canada for 14 years and taught at Ryerson University and the University of Toronto. “Our needs aren’t special or excessive.”

Amalia Loyzaga, of the Toronto’s Caregivers’ Action Centre, a grassroots advocacy group, said some 150 foreign caregivers, who met the two-year live-in employment requirement, were denied permanent residence in 2014 because a dependant child was deemed medically inadmissible.

“It is clear the law is discriminatory against disabled people,” said Loyzaga, who came to Canada in 2008 under the live-in caregiver program and who has recently been warned by immigration officials that her daughter Apple, who is mildly autistic, could be deemed medically inadmissible.

“We can’t wait any longer. We need an immediate repeal of the discriminatory medical inadmissibility regime.”

The HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario said people living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, are essentially inadmissible to Canada because antiretroviral medications easily cost $12,000 to $15,000 a year.

“By focusing solely on alleged use of health services as grounds for exclusion and ignoring the important contributions that people with HIV make to Canadian society, the excessive demand regime conceals outdated prejudices that people living with HIV like other people with disabilities are a burden on Canadian society,” the clinic said in its written submission.

Although the law does grant exceptions sometimes on humanitarian grounds, Toronto labour and human rights lawyer Fay Faraday said not everyone can afford a lawyer to represent them.

“The caregivers are providing a service and care to your family, but themselves are denied the rights to bring their family here because their family is just like yours,” noted Faraday. “These workers are a growing part of the labour market that cannot be automated. It’s human care work. They need (permanent) status on arrival.”

The Canadian Bar Association said both Ottawa and the provinces must conduct a comprehensive study of health and social service costs to support its policy decisions on the monetary threshold immigration officials currently use for medical inadmissibility.

“Any review of this process must balance the need to protect public health and the integrity of the Canadian health care system with the legitimate needs of migrants in a manner that is consistent with Canadian Charter values and international human rights standards,” the association said in its recommendations.

The parliamentary immigration committee is expected to continue its medical inadmissibility hearings into the new year before releasing a full report with final recommendations.

With files from The Canadian Press

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