Blatchford: Government policy on refugee health care exposed as heartless and shameful – and other Commentary

Some of the first commentary in the mainstream media on the refugee claimant health ruling, starting with Christie Blatchford of the National Post and her savage teardown of the Government:

But, in fact, Judge Mactavish found, if any of that is true, the government can’t demonstrate it and hasn’t done so.

The government’s own witnesses admitted the changes to the program were based on various “perceptions” and “beliefs.” From a “cost containment” perspective, the government offered no evidence that the changes “will in fact result in any real savings to Canadian taxpayers.” And Ottawa conceded “it has not carried out any research in order to determine whether denying health care as a means of deterrence has any empirical validity or chance of success.”

And there you have it: The government brought in a cruel and inhumane program aimed squarely at the most vulnerable people in the country, sold it in the basest way imaginable by appealing to the least generous impulses in us all and hasn’t proved it will save one red cent of the $91-million cost of the program (as of 2009-10).

(The judge drily noted that if the government really wants to save money, perhaps it could speed up the bloody process by appointing more members to the Immigration and Refugee Board.)

With the changes, she said, “the executive branch of the Canadian government intentionally set out to make the lives of these disadvantaged individuals even more difficult. It has done this in an effort to force those who have sought the protection of this country to leave Canada more quickly, and to deter others from coming here to seek protection.”

Judge Mactavish agreed with Dr. Paul Caulford, a family doctor and co-founder of a clinic for those without insurance, who said that sooner or later, “a refugee claimant will eventually die as a result of inadequate access to health care.”

Well, maybe that would deter people.

Christie Blatchford: Government policy on refugee health care exposed as heartless and shameful

And Kate Heartfield in the Citizen:

A policy that “shocks the conscience and outrages our standards of decency” is not defensible, politically and morally, even if it is legal. It is hard to argue against the court’s opinion that the government “has intentionally set out to make the lives of these disadvantaged individuals even more difficult than they already are in an effort to force those who have sought the protection of this country to leave Canada more quickly, and to deter others from coming here.”

This judgment might not be the final word on the constitutionality of refugee health care, but it’s a damning critique not only of a particular policy, but also of the way our government makes policy in general.

Refugee rules are bad policy, legal or not | Ottawa Citizen.

In Macleans, Aaron Wherry asks the obvious:

Whatever the courts decide, there is probably here a good basis for a real debate about what the government has done with the Interim Federal Health Program. That we should hope to limit abuse of the immigration and health care systems seems like a reasonable goal. The question here is how—and particularly whether the changes to the IFHP are a good way to go about doing that.

That we should have this sort of analysis now is surely useful, even if it might be odd that we should have to get it from a judge. If only we had some kind of public forum for the consideration and debate of such stuff. Perhaps if we did, we could delegate a committee to pick up this ruling, independently study it at length and propose a comprehensive response. That at least seems like the sort of thing we might elect people to do.

Do the cuts to refugee health care amount to good policy?

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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