Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney
Credits: REUTERS/CHRIS WATTIE
OTTAWA - Two Winnipeg-based refugee sponsor groups are going to court in a bid to short-circuit the federal government's plans to trim refugee health benefits.
The Anglican diocese of Rupert's Land and Hospitality House Refugee Ministry are accusing the feds of breaching an agreement to cover the supplemental health coverage of the refugees they privately sponsor.
Private sponsors sign contracts with Ottawa agreeing to fund housing, clothing and food for refugees - but until now, taxpayers ate the costs of the extra health benefits through a special federal plan that included coverage like eye and dental care and discretionary medication.
But now the costs that go above basic health care will be downloaded onto the private sponsors.
"That's the point - they're changing the contract unilaterally and dumping costs on sponsors that had previously been picked up by the government," said human rights lawyer David Matas, who is representing the church groups in the looming court fight.
Matas said he expects to file the challenge in federal court this week and will include an interim stay in the main proceeding to scuttle the federal cutoff date of June 30.
His department had no comment on the imminent court challenge Tuesday, but Immigration Minister Jason Kenney defended the roll back as "an equity issue."
"We don't believe it's reasonable to force taxpayers to pay for supplemental extra health benefits for recently arrived refugee claimants that are not available to Canadians who pay into the system themselves," he said.
The government estimates the trim will save federal coffers $100 million over the next five years.
Activist doctors are also ramping up pressure on the feds to keep the status quo.
Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care - after crashing a news conference with natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver over the issue last week - are making a last ditch appeal Wednesday in Ottawa for Kenney to back down.
"The Conservatives underestimated the strength of the reaction and the persistence and stubbornness of physicians across Canada. They don't know what's coming their way," said Dr. Philip Berger, with St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.
The doctors are also warning they will closely monitor the impact of the federal cuts.