A Conservative MP’s private member bill is quietly making its way through the legislature and, if passed, could exclude refugees from accessing any social assistance.
Bill C-585, which is before Parliament for second reading later this month, would allow provinces to individually impose residency requirements for eligibility for social assistance benefits and restrict access to those benefits by refugees.
Currently, the act stipulates that a province may not impose a minimum period of residency to restrict eligibility for social assistance — or it will risk losing some or all of its social transfer payments. The condition is meant to ensure that a national standard is in place to support those in need of help.
Embedding such a major change in a private member’s bill has irked antipoverty and refugee advocates because such bills, as opposed to government bills, are less transparent and undergo less scrutiny; they’re usually put forward to address issues of regional significance.
Critics say the proposed law appears consistent with other changes the Conservative government has made to the refugee system, including cuts to health coverage for refugees.
While the bill says no minimum residency requirement would be allowed for Canadian citizens, permanent residents or victims of trafficking on a temporary resident permit, advocates are alarmed by the groups that are omitted and could suffer the effects of the bill.
They include refugee claimants still awaiting a decision; people whose bid for asylum failed; people who may be deported but are waiting for pre-removal risk assessments; people who have been allowed to stay in Canada on “humanitarian and compassionate” grounds, and sponsored spouses already in Canada.
The Immigration and Refugee Board said it has no data on the number or percentage of refugees who receive government assistance. Neither would it comment on government policy or pending legislation.
However, as a result of recent changes Ottawa made to restrict and expedite refugee processing, the number of claims received has plummeted to less than 10,000 in 2013, from a peak of 40,000 a year. As of June 2014, only 5,872 claims had been made this year.
Michele Biss, of ‘Canada Without Poverty’ said advocacy groups have tried unsuccessfully to understand the rationale behind this proposal. “We do need a national standard to protect the most marginalized people, including refugees, who are disproportionately affected by poverty. They come with absolutely nothing, fleeing unimaginable persecution. How are they supposed to feed and house themselves?” said Biss.
Source: The Star