November 19, 2015 1:38 pm
Updated: November 20, 2015 11:44 am

No, Canada doesn’t spend more on refugees than on pensioners

Migrants wait to register with the police at the refugee center in the southern Serbian town of Presevo, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015.

AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic

Maybe you’ve seen it. Maybe your uncle forwarded it to you or someone you know posted it on Facebook.

The meme, infographic, status update, chain email you received is false. It was debunked years ago but continues to be circulated.

Canada doesn’t spend more on refugees than on retirees. Not even close.

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Some government-assisted refugees get a small monthly amount in their first year in Canada — about $800 for a single person — and a one-time set-up allowance of about $900. They may also get a loan of a few hundred dollars for rental or other deposits. There are sometimes small one-time allowances for pregnant women, newborns, young children in school.

But government-assisted refugees are required to pay back the cost of their trip to Canada and their initial medical exam — with interest.

Many argue that these “transportation loans” saddle families with thousands of dollars in debt before they’ve even arrived in Canada, making it tougher for them to integrate economically and support themselves — hurting Canada’s economy in the long run.

Asylum-seekers in Canada get no social assistance until they’re permanent residents, at which point they’re eligible for provincial social assistance just like anyone else.

Privately sponsored refugees aren’t eligible for any social assistance: They’re the financial responsibility of their sponsors for the duration of the sponsorship, which is usually about a year.

Single older Canadians in the lowest income bracket, on the other hand, get at least $1,300 a month through Guaranteed Income Supplements and Old Age Security pensions.

Are there poor seniors in Canada? Absolutely. But as Carleton University economist Frances Woolley points out, Canada’s rate of elderly poverty in 2013 was less than a third that of the United States and about one-sixth that of Australia. The rate of elderly poverty is well below that of children or working-age adults.

READ MORE: Are refugees an economic burden?

And studies have shown refugees find their feet relatively quickly: A 2004 study indicates the vast majority of refugees‘ income is earned from employment, not social assistance, within seven years of their arrival in Canada. They sometimes perform better than business-class or family-class migrants.

A Statistics Canada study published last month found that while the majority of refugees received some form of assistance on first arriving in Canada, that proportion dropped significantly within the first years of their residence.

But the myth persists. Incarnations have sprung up in the U.S. and Australia.

It drives Janet Dench nuts.

“It is such a virus. It’s incredible,” she said.

Dench is executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees. The highest-traffic page on the group’s website is consistently the one that debunks the refugee-pensioner myth.

“One of the things that is the most disturbing is the pitting of one vulnerable group against another.”

People send them to Dench herself, she said — people who “should know better.”

“It’s people who have university educations or people who you wouldn’t expect to fall for absolute crass falsehoods of this sort,” she said.

But there’s an impact to rumours of “bogus” refugees trying to scam the system, Dench said: It means institutions and service-providers treat refugees differently or might not fund refugee groups.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do to undo that damage.”

© 2015 Shaw Media

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