Advocates prepare to battle anew with feds over cuts to refugee benefits

The Conservative government’s proposed changes to who can qualify for welfare amount to an effort to pressure provinces into adopting anti-refugee policies, say critics who are picking a new fight over benefits for refugee claimants.

OTTAWA — The Conservative government’s proposed changes to who can qualify for welfare amount to an effort to pressure provinces into adopting anti-refugee policies, say critics who are picking a new fight over benefits for refugee claimants.

Nearly 160 groups from across the religious and social spectrum are calling on the government to reverse measures, buried in the latest omnibus budget bill, which open the door to refugee claimants being denied welfare.

The Conservatives say they are just giving provinces the flexibility to determine benefits, but it’s not a benign change, Michele Biss of the group Canada Without Poverty told a news conference Tuesday.

“The federal government is offering a financial incentive as a means of the provinces implementing the government’s ideological driven policies towards refugees,” Biss said.

Currently, if provinces place any residency restrictions on who is eligible to receive social assistance, they could lose some of the money they receive from the federal government to cover those services.

The blanket prohibition against restrictions is meant to ensure a national standard for access to social services, so that everyone receives the same level of support no matter who they are or where they live.

The budget bill seeks to change that, creating categories of people to whom residency requirements cannot apply.

For example, the proposed legislation wouldn’t cut off benefits to people whose refugee claims have been approved or who are already permanent residents or Canadian citizens.

If the law passes, which is likely, provinces could then restrict benefits to people not on that list, including most foreign nationals.

But temporary foreign workers, students and visitors are all required to prove they can financially support themselves before coming to Canada, leaving only refugee claimants exposed to the possibility of restricted benefits.

It’s in those first few months in Canada while they await a decision on their claim that their needs are acute, the groups said in a open letter released Tuesday.

“Access to social assistance is vital to sustain and rebuild lives,” the letter reads.

“Without that source of support, many will be unable to feed, house, or clothe themselves and their families, putting further pressure on already overburdened charities and shelters.”

Immigration officials have told MPs and senators the policy change was prompted by conversations with the province of Ontario on refugee system reform, but a spokesperson for the Ontario government disputes that they ever asked.

It’s not about the provinces, said Dr. Ritika Goel of the advocacy group Health For All, one of several activists who delivered copies of the letter to the finance minister’s constituency office.

“It’s about a precedent, it’s about opening the door to something and sending a message about refugees,” Goel said.

During committee hearings on the issue Tuesday, Conservative MP Gerald Keddy elaborated on his party’s rationale in a heated exchange with Biss.

“What it actually allows is those who are abusing the system — false refugees or fake asylum claimants — to lose their social assistance,” Keddy said.

“And what about those people who will be successful in their claims?” Biss shot back before the conversation was ended by the committee chair.

Keddy’s language mirrors that of the government in its ongoing efforts to revamp the refugee system in Canada.

The Conservatives used the same justification — discouraging bogus claims — in their controversial decision in 2012 to slash health care coverage for refugee claimants.

That policy change ended up in court, where it was struck down as unconstitutional — a decision the federal government is appealing.

The changes to welfare eligibility could face the same fate, Biss said.

“There are a lot of ways this bill could be challenged, most fundamentally in line with the charter and the human rights violations that will occur if this bill is passed.”

Just Posted

WATCH: Red Deer’s noxious weeds are a goat’s dietary delight

Piper Creek Community Garden gets chemical-free weed control

Get your guilty pleasures: Westerner Days food

Traditional sugary treats were served up by the plate, bowl and bucket… Continue reading

Centrefest brings feats of daring to Red Deer’s downtown

Fundraising was a tough slog, but it came together in the end

Count shows slight decrease in Red Deer’s homeless

In two years, the number of homeless in Red Deer has decreased… Continue reading

Redoing hip surgeries are costly, says new study

Redoing hip and knee replacements costs Canada’s health system $130 million a… Continue reading

WATCH: Cirque ZUMA ZUMA puts on a show at Westerner Days

ZUMA ZUMA performs three times a day during Westerner Days

Zuckerberg’s Holocaust comment puts Facebook on the spot

NEW YORK — Denying the Holocaust happened is probably OK on Facebook.… Continue reading

Brazilian police arrest ‘Dr. Bumbum’ after patient dies

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilian police have arrested celebrated plastic surgeon Denis… Continue reading

Canadian marijuana company Tilray has first US pot IPO

SEATTLE — A Canadian company is the first marijuana business to complete… Continue reading

Dolphins anthem punishment includes suspensions

Miami Dolphins players who protest on the field during the national anthem… Continue reading

Soy “milk” makers may need to find alternative description

NEW YORK — Soy and almond drinks that bill themselves as “milk”… Continue reading

Calgary woman convicted in son’s strep death granted day parole

CALGARY — A woman whose son died after she failed to take… Continue reading

Greenpeace members arrested for climbing Olympic Stadium tower in Montreal

MONTREAL — Several Greenpeace members climbed the outside of the Olympic Stadium… Continue reading

B.C.’s Site C dam project behind schedule, plagued by problems: expert

British Columbia’s mammoth Site C hydro-electric project is seriously behind schedule, plagued… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month