Just when you may have thought the federal Liberal government’s immigration policy couldn’t get any worse, it comes up with another scheme to prove us all wrong.
Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen gave Canadians the bad news this week when he announced Canada would end a policy that refused immigration applicants based on medical grounds.
The House of Commons studied the issue last fall, when Hussen told the immigration committee the government was committed to ditching the 40-year-old policy. He said at the time it “does not align with our country’s values of inclusion of persons with disabilities in Canadian society.”
Thursday, Hussen said the government is working on a response and will present its plan by April 12.
“How we do that is equally important, because this affects provincial health care and social service budgets and we have to do it in line with what the provinces are willing to do,” he said.
Hussen made the remarks during an appearance before the immigration committee, where he took a wide range of questions on the government’s immigration targets.
But how much will all this generosity cost Canadian taxpayers?
“Many Syrians have amputations and other war injuries, are nursing chronic diseases that have gone under-treated, for years or cope with psychological conditions from insomnia to post-traumatic stress and severe depression,” National Post columnist Tom Blackwell wrote in November, 2015.
Aid organizations report children struck mute by their encounters with violence.
“Most of them left either after their house was destroyed, or they had at least one or two close relatives or friends who died,” said Paul Yon, who heads the Médecins Sans Frontières mission in Lebanon. “We have people who have quite a lot of signs of stress, depression and so on.”
That sounds a little expensive.
A couple of years before the federal government even accepted the Syrian refugees, the refugees already here were costing the Ontario government plenty.
“A year after Ottawa cut health funding for refugees, Ontario hospitals are absorbing the costs or pursuing those patients for unpaid medical bills,” Toronto Star Immigration Reporter Nicholas Keung wrote.
Hospitals in Greater Toronto are hardest hit by the changes, made effective by the federal government last June, since the majority of refugees are destined for this province.
“The University Health Network — which includes Toronto General, Toronto Western and Princess Margaret hospitals, along with the Toronto Rehab Institute — expects to foot a total $800,000 bill this year for services delivered to the uninsured in its emergency rooms alone,” Keung wrote.
The federal government fully restored its refugee health care program back in 2016, but that just shifted the bills from the province back into the federal court. Taxpayers are still going to have to pay the bills.
Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskens was elated when the feds agreed to take the responsibility for health care costs of refugees.
“”Providing these services is not only fair, it saves our health-care system money in the long term by cutting down on costly emergency visits,” he said.
Hoskins noted that because of the cuts, Ontario had to create a temporary health program to meet Ontario’s “humanitarian obligations.” That has cost the province $2 million (in just two years).”
But does it matter which Canadian government pays? Canadian taxpayers will pay one way or another and it isn’t cheap.
In September, 2015, a Global TV news report seemed to indicate the costs of bringing and caring for refugees was worth it.
In fact, says Gillian Zubizarreta, settlement coordinator for the Halifax Refugee Clinic, government bureaucracies — difficulty in obtaining a work permit, for example — can often be more of a barrier to refugees’ contributing to the economy than refugees’ desire to milk social programs.
“There is so much stigma around refugees not contributing, which not well-founded at all. It’s patently untrue,” she said.
“From what we see, our clients are so entrepreneurial in spirit and the moment they have work authorization they are out there doing whatever they can, Even those who barely speak English are taking jobs that are well below their expertise.”
But, oh how that could all change as Hussen moves to accept refugees with serious medical problems and little prospects of working or contributing to Canadian society.
The argument then moves from bringing refugees out of harm’s way into a welcoming Canadian society to a discussion on whether Canada can really afford to be a caring safe haven for the world’s most desperate people.
Jeff Wilkinson is a Senior Politics Reporter at Debate Report covering provincial and national politics, . Before joining Debate Report, Jeff worked on several provincial campaigns including Jack Layton. Jeff has worked as a freelance journalist in Toronto, having been published by over 20 outlets including CBC, the Center for Media and VICE.com.