PRESS RELEASE: CARL applauds Ontario government for reinstating access to health care for refugee claimants

December 10, 2013

The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (CARL) applauds the Ontario government for agreeing to temporarily fill the gap left by the federal government's abdication of responsibility to meet the most basic health care needs of vulnerable refugees and refugee claimants.

The Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) has been in existence since 1957 and is administered by Citizenship and Immigration Canada.  IFHP paid for basic health care for refugee claimants and refused claimants until they were removed from the country or became eligible for provincial health care. Without consultation, in June 2012, Minister Jason Kenney suddenly abolished the half-century old program and replaced it with a program that denies basic, emergency, and life-saving medical care to thousands of refugee claimants who have lawfully sought Canada’s protection.

Restoring access to basic, essential health care is both humane and fiscally responsible.  In the last 18 months, Ontario, like other provinces, has been forced to absorb the inevitable, costly and life-threatening impact of forcing refugees and refugee claimants to forgo or delay medical care that they cannot afford and resort to emergency wards rather than ordinary health care providers.

The interim measures put in place by Ontario do not erase the federal government’s cynical and unconstitutional conduct.  Rather, they demonstrate what the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers – as well as Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, the Canadian Medical Association and 19 other medical professional organizations – have known and said all along.  First, stripping refugees and refugee claimants of basic, essential health care coverage does not save public money, it simply shifts the costs to the provinces.   Secondly, the value of Canadian citizenship does not lie in cruelly depriving vulnerable non-citizens among us – including children – of life sustaining health care; rather, we show what it means to be Canadian when we treat vulnerable people who live among us with dignity and compassion.

The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, together with Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care and two individual patients who were severely impacted by last year’s changes, have asked the Federal Court of Canada to declare that the federal government cuts to refugee health care are unconstitutional and illegal.  The hearing will commence next week in Toronto, December 17-18, 2013. 

To learn more about this legal challenge, please visit:


For more information, contact:

Audrey Macklin: | 647.403.5170

Lorne Waldman: | 416.254.4590