Letter: Budget Bill Restricts Social Assistance for Refugees

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On November 18, 2014, 160 organizations from across Canada have come together to oppose parts of federal Bill C-43. An open letter was sent to Finance Minister Joe Oliver calling for the withdrawal of sections 172 and 173 in this Bill. These sections, which were first introduced as Private Members Bill C-585, would allow provinces to restrict access to social assistance benefits for refugee claimants and others without status in Canada.

CPJ also submitted a brief to the the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration urging them to insist that sections 172 and 173 be removed in their entirety from Bill C-43.

Letter: Budget Bill Restricts Access to Social Assistance for Refugee Claimants

November 18, 2014

The Honourable Joe Oliver, MP, PC
Minister of Finance
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON  K1A 0A6

Dear Minister,

As organizations that have an interest in ensuring that everyone in Canada has equal access to income security, we are alarmed by the inclusion of sections 172 and 173 in your recently introduced omnibus Budget Bill C-43. These sections amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act and are essentially Private Members Bill C-585, which was introduced earlier this year.

Many of our organizations are health and social service agencies and legal and community advocates that work directly with refugee claimants and others with precarious immigration status. The change that would be made to the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act as a result of these provisions would allow provinces to restrict access to social assistance for refugee claimants and others who have not yet been granted permanent residence.

To receive social assistance in any province, one must already qualify through testing and demonstrate great need. To then deny social assistance based on immigration status is to cruelly deny the most vulnerable in our society the crucial lifeline that allows them to survive.

A Federal Court recently described your government’s denial of healthcare to refugee claimants as “cruel and unusual”. It is disturbing to see another initiative in Parliament that seems to be using legislation to threaten the well-being of migrants attempting to navigate Canada’s immigration system.

Fleeing persecution places tremendous stress and burden on families seeking refugee status in Canada. Some of these families suffer from post traumatic stress disorder that can make finding and holding a job difficult without appropriate health care. Work permits take time to be approved and issued, which leaves people with no source of income for months on end. In the interim, access to social assistance is vital to sustain and rebuild lives. 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. We know that poverty leads to poor health outcomes including higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and depression. We also know that denying basic social benefits, particularly to refugees, contravenes the spirit and letter of numerous international human rights obligations that are binding on Canada, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. It is unacceptable for our government to implement policies that worsen people’s health and deny their fundamental human rights.

We are also concerned that such a significant legislative change is being included in an omnibus Budget Bill, after being introduced as a Private Members Bill. These are inappropriate processes to deal with such a critical issue as access to basic social benefits. This is particularly the case since these provisions will have far reaching negative consequences for the health, income security, stability, and successful settlement of very vulnerable people who have come to Canada seeking shelter from war and persecution.

Our organizations call on you to withdraw sections 172 and 173 from Bill C-43. We will be making this Open Letter public and will continue to raise this issue with you, your MP colleagues, and the general public.

Sincerely,

See the full list of signatories here.

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