New Bill May Restrict Social Assistance for Asylum Seekers

As recently reported by Yahoo News – “The right to social security is fundamental and inextricably linked to the right to life and the ability of an individual to realize his or her other basic needs such as food, water, shelter, and health,” Elizabeth Berton-Hunter, a spokesperson for Amnesty International stated in response to the Tories’ attempts to deny social assistance for refugee claimants.

Bill C-585 and its Potential Changes for Asylum Seekers

The House of Parliament was scheduled to debate Tory MP Corneliu Chisu’s private member bill (Bill C-585) which, if passed, would amend rules and allow provinces to bar asylum seekers from receiving benefits such as housing or other support services. Amnesty International released a statement suggesting that denying social assistance to refugee claimants violates international law. Opponents of the government were pleading for public support against the measure. Currently, under federal transfer payment regulations, provinces are not allowed to impose residency requirements for their welfare programs.

The Tories’ Argument for Restricted Social Assistance for Asylum Seekers

In response Minster Chris Alexander stated “Canada has the most fair and generous immigration system in the world. However, Canadians have no tolerance for those who abuse our generosity and who take unfair advantage of our generosity. We will give the power to the provinces and territories to establish minimum periods of residence to qualify for social assistance, if they wish to do so.  This would build on the savings already being seen through recent reforms to Canada’s asylum system which will result in total savings to taxpayers of $1.6 billion over five years.”

The Tories also restricted claimants’ health benefits leaving some refugees with only “urgent health care” and others with care only if they have a disease that would be a risk to the public.

While refugee advocates continue to call the measures unfair, the government justified the changes by citing reports about applicants who came to Canada solely for the purpose of “exploiting” social assistance and health benefits.

Bill C-585 and its Potential Damaging Effects to Canada’s Reputation

Critics argue that the changes are “cruel and have marred Canada’s reputation internationally”.

Berton-Hunter further stated that “Canada has over the decades had a very positive reputation in the international community when it comes to refugee protection. However, changes to its laws and policies to make its immigration and refugee system more restrictive over the last five years, for example, by making drastic cuts to its Interim Federal Health Program, is putting that image in jeopardy.”

We will report more on this and other related immigration stories as the information becomes available.

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Michael Niren

About Michael Niren

Michael is a graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto. He is a member of the Law Society of Upper Canada, the Canadian Bar Association’s Citizenship and Immigration Section and the Associate Member of the American Bar Association. Read more

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