The federal NDP sharply criticized the Liberal government Tuesday for failing to ‘scrap’ a section of Canada’s immigration act that critics say discriminates against persons with disabilities.
“Today, Immigration Canada still rejects permanent residency of family members based on them having a disability,” NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said during Question Period in Ottawa. “The Liberals have been reviewing this issue for two years and last week the Minister met with the provinces, but still no action.”
Kwan raised the case of Toronto-area woman Mercedes Benitez, a live-in caregiver who cares for a 93-year-old man.
Benitez and her family were deemed inadmissible to Canada due to her son’s disability. Her story was profiled as part of an ongoing Global News investigation that revealed major problems with the way Canada evaluates immigration applications for persons with disabilities.
“In the meantime, the future of families like Mercedes Benitez hangs in the balance,” Kwan said. “When will the minister stop discriminating against children with disabilities and scrap this outdated provision?”
Serge Cormier, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, responded saying the government is proceeding with an in-depth review of the situation by consulting the provinces and territories.
“Our goal is to strike a balance between welcoming new Canadians while protecting our social services and public health care,” Cormier said.
But Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen admitted to Global News that he believes the policy of denying applicants because of a disability is “outdated” and “out of step” with Canadian values and has provided few answers as to how and when the government plans to change these policies.
Hussen discussed the issue last week during a meeting with his provincial and territorial counterparts but did not provide any specific details on what was discussed or how the government will create a process that is fair to families who have a child with a disability.
“The fact of the matter is the provision is there for a reason,” Hussen told reporters. “The question is: how do we maintain the rationale for the provision but make it compatible where society is today? And that’s not an easy task.”
Family in limbo
Toronto immigration lawyer Toni Schweitzer who represents the Benitez family called the lack of action by the federal government “beyond disappointing.”
Schweitzer said that while she agrees there is a need to manage a finite amount of medical dollars, there has to be an immediate change to these policies to ensure families aren’t refused residency because a child has a disability. Something she says is discriminatory, full stop.
“It’s a problem and we shouldn’t be doing this,” Schweitzer said. “It would appear that the previous minister seemed to take this more seriously. He met with a few people and said the right things and then nothing happened. This is moving very, very slowly.”
Schweitzer, who works with the Parkdale Community Legal Services in Toronto, has asked Immigration Canada to reconsider Benitez’s case, which is currently under review.