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Court decision on refugee care applauded

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) joined other groups in welcoming a Federal Court decision ruling federal government cuts to refugee health care are unlawful and unconstitutional.

As a result of changes to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) implemented in June 2012, refugees, except those who are government-assisted and victims of human trafficking, lost access to coverage for medical care unless it is urgent or essential. For some groups, such as refugee claimants from designated countries of origin, even essential medical care was denied, with treatment being provided only if there is a risk to public health or public safety.

“The 2012 modifications to the IFHP potentially jeopardize the health, and indeed the very lives, of … innocent and vulnerable children in a manner that shocks the conscience and outrages Canadian standards of decency,” the Court decision stated.

"This is a victory for reasonable compassion and a big step for natural justice," CMA President Dr. Louis Hugo Francescutti said in a news release.

The Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care (CDRC), Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (CARL), and Justice for Children and Youth (JFCY), together with two individual patients who were severely impacted by the cuts, challenged the legality of the IFHP cuts before the Federal Court of Canada.

“The impact of the federal Conservative Government’s cuts has been devastating,” said Dr. Philip Berger, a founding member of CDRC and Medical Director, of the Inner City Health Program at St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto in a news release.

“For more than two years now, doctors across Canada have seen these cuts place the pregnancies of refugee women at serious risk, cause denial of treatment for sick children, and deprive refugees with cancer of coverage for chemotherapy. We are pleased to see the Federal Court put an end to this unwarranted suffering.”

“With today’s decision, the Federal Court has recognized that the government’s cuts to refugee health care violate the fundamental rights enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, without any lawful justification”, said Lorne Waldman, president of CARL and lead counsel on the case. “This decision gives life to Canada’s commitment to protect refugee rights. It sends a clear message to government that it cannot abdicate its responsibility to meet the most basic health care needs of vulnerable refugees and refugee claimants”.

The court decision came just two weeks after the CDRC launched the third annual day of protest against the cuts.

Francescutti noted that a broad coalition of provinces — Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec — had the wisdom to voice objections to the cuts and to take steps to restore various levels of coverage to refugees. He urged the federal government – which has stated it will appeal the decision - to sit down with the provinces and territories and work on a policy that is acceptable to all.

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