MPs tell Trudeau Liberals to scrap ‘discriminatory’ immigration law

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen makes his way to appear before the Commons Citizenship and Immigration committee in Ottawa, Thursday November 23, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government is being told it should scrap a section of Canada’s immigration act that advocates and others, including MPs from all parties, have said discriminates against persons with disabilities.

The parliamentary committee said in its report tabled Wednesday in the House of the Commons that the government should “broadly repeal” the controversial section of the act. The announcement follows a months-long Global News investigation that exposed flaws with the way Immigration Canada handles permanent residency applications for persons with disabilities.

MPs had been reviewing the rules around “medical inadmissibility” which allows Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to deny applicants permanent residency if they or an immediate family member have a disability or medical condition that could put “excessive demand” on Canada’s publicly-funded health and social service systems.

“The committee heard overwhelming testimony that section 38 1 (c) of the Immigration Refugee Protection Act should be repealed,” Robert Oliphant, Liberal MP and chairperson of the committee, told Global News. “This is an outdated section of the act. It doesn’t align with Canada’s responsibilities with respect to people with disabilities and my personal opinion is that I’ve been convinced by the witnesses that it’s time to make changes.”

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READ MORE: Immigration Canada reverses decision, grants residency for family denied over child’s disability

The report also recommended that while the repeal may take time, certain interim measures can be taken immediately like increasing the cost threshold for excessive demand inadmissibility – currently set at $6,655 – and “modify the calculation criteria for this threshold.”

“The reality is we began to see this as a human rights issue,” Oliphant said. “We were never satisfied with a lot of the data we got [from Immigration Canada]. It was data that felt old and was extrapolated from other issues.”

“It doesn’t look at the net benefit of immigrants coming to Canada. It doesn’t look at the value that an immigrant could add to this country. Stephen Hawking would be excluded from coming to Canada.”

WATCH: Canada’s immigration minister considers scrapping ‘discriminatory’ law that rejects immigrants

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The recommendations come after a flurry of closed-door meetings in which MPs discussed a range of options for changing a policy the country’s Immigration Minister, Ahmed Hussen, has called “out of step” with Canadian values and attitudes toward people with disabilities.

“This review is necessary and long overdue. To put it into perspective, this provision has been around for 40 years,” Hussen told the committee when he testified last month. “The current excessive demand provision policy simply does not align with our country’s values on the inclusion of persons with disabilities.”

READ MORE: Immigration Canada ‘breaking the law,’ when denying some disabled applicants, say legal experts

Click to play video: 'Immigration Canada ‘breaking the law,’ when denying some disabled applicants, say legal experts'
Immigration Canada ‘breaking the law,’ when denying some disabled applicants, say legal experts

Advocates, workers, disability groups, and other experts offered impassioned testimony before the committee in Ottawa where they called for the ‘discriminatory’ provision to be repealed.

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“We’re questioning the implementation of this law and we’re urging the committee to repeal it,” Adrienne Smith, a Toronto-area immigration lawyer, testified last month. “If the purpose [of this law] is to actually save the government money, it doesn’t make sense to put more money into a system that’s broken – and we strongly feel that the system is broken and it’s not worth fixing.”

Oliphant said of the more than 12 people who spoke before the committee, only heard two witnesses argued in any way for keeping section 38. 1 (c).

“No one else argued in favour – the arguments were overwhelming for the repeal of that section,” he said.

READ MORE: Canada rejects hundreds of immigrants based on incomplete data, Global News investigation finds

Click to play video: 'Canada rejects immigrants based on incomplete data'
Canada rejects immigrants based on incomplete data

Global’s reporting showed serious deficiencies in how Immigration Canada established the cost threshold used to deny applications due to excessive demand. It also revealed problems with the way some immigration officials calculate the supposed cost estimates for the health and social services a person might use once in Canada.

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“Witnesses referred to the significant investigative journalism that Global News had undertaken which brought to light a range of significant concerns regarding Section 38(1)(c) and its application,” the report said. “Witnesses and department officials spoke about the issues raised by Global News.”

Conservative members of the committee, meanwhile, say they agree the policy needs to be changed, but think more research needs to be done first.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel said Immigration Canada needs to do a far better job of explaining the true costs of maintaining the existing system and any potential consequences that might arise because of repeal.

“I don’t want to diminish the testimony we heard at the committee, it was very compelling in terms of peoples’ experiences,” said Rempel, who called the policy “ableist.”

“But for the committee to only look at one option – when that data is missing and we know that the provinces haven’t signed off on this – that’s problematic.”

Rempel says it’s time for the government to provide clear direction on this policy – both to the committee and to the provinces. Her concerns were outlined in a 10-page dissenting report that urged the government to look more closely at this policy before making any significant changes, such as repeal.

Meanwhile, Oliphant also noted in the report that individuals who have been rejected under the “excessive demand” provision represent less than 0.1 per cent of Canada’s healthcare costs, “a statistically insignificant amount.”

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In the case of Mercedes Benitez who was initially denied because her son Harold has an intellectual disability, Global’s reporting showed that immigration officials poorly characterized and misused academic research when creating cost estimates for Harold’s anticipated needs. In other examples, Immigration Canada failed to provide applicants with any cost estimates at all, which according to a Federal Court decision, is a violation of the law.

Several of the families profiled as part of the Global News’ series “inadmissible” have had their immigration cases reviewed or accepted entirely.

Immigration Canada has said it will carefully consider the committee’s recommendations before making any announcements.

The government has not provided a timeline for when any changes to the provision might be expected.

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