April 16, 2018 10:41 am
Updated: April 16, 2018 11:39 am

Trudeau Liberals to overhaul ‘discriminatory’ immigration law targeting people with disabilities

'These newcomers are not a burden to Canada': Liberals announce changes to immigration policy for persons with disabilities

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has announced major changes to Canada’s immigration policy that will make it far easier for persons with disabilities and their family members to immigrate to Canada.

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Delivered early Monday morning in the foyer of the House of Commons, the announcement by Immigration Minister, Ahmed Hussen, comes after months of reporting by Global News that exposed major flaws with the way Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada handles permanent residency applications for persons with disabilities. This included allegations immigration officials were either breaking the law or not properly implementing their own policies when denying certain applicants.

Known as “medical inadmissibility” due to excessive demand, the law, as currently written, allows the government to deny people residency in Canada because they or an immediate family member have a disability or medical condition that could place “excessive demand” on publicly funded health and social service programs. This often means denying residency to parents whose children have disabilities.

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

The changes announced Monday, however, mean the government will no longer consider certain social service spending when deciding if someone can immigrate to Canada, particularly social service spending related to special education needs.

This decision is especially meaningful to potential — and otherwise viable — immigrants whose children have intellectual disabilities – such as autism or Down syndrome – because it means their applications will no longer be denied due to special education needs and other social service spending that could be required once they arrive in Canada.

Hussen said the changes will take effect immediately. Families whose applications have been denied in the past due to special education costs related to a child’s disability will need to reapply if they wish to be considered under the new rules.

As Global News first reported, these types of cases make up roughly one-third of all applicants denied permanent residency because of excessive demand. Hussen added that with the new changes, roughly 75 per cent of all cases denied in the past will now be accepted – that equals roughly 750 applications a year.

Gov’t plan triples cost threshold used to deny based on medical condition

In addition to eliminating special education costs as a barrier to immigration, Hussen announced the government plans to triple the cost threshold used to deny applicants whose medical conditions could result in health-care costs once they arrive in Canada.

Currently set at $6,655 a year, which the government says was the average per-capita health and social service spending in Canada in 2016, the new limit for denying residency because of medical costs will be closer to $20,000 a year once the changes are implemented. Hussen said the government plans to move toward the complete elimination of this threshold in the future, pending the outcome of ongoing negotiations with the provinces.

WATCH: Immigration minister provides little detail on who will pay for additional medical costs

Hussen did not provide details on who will pay for the additional medical costs – the provinces or the federal government. He did, however, say he is working closely with the provinces and territories to find a solution and that his office will monitor the impact of these changes on public health care systems. He added that much of the funding for health care spending in Canada already comes from the federal government in the form of health and social service transfers to the provinces.

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

While the new rules could still see some applicants denied residency due to medical expenses – such as elderly parents with serious health care needs trying to be reunited with their children in Canada – the changes announced Monday mean conditions such as HIV/AIDS and many forms of heart disease will no longer be a major obstacle to immigration because the cost of treating these illnesses is typically far less than the new cost threshold for excessive demand.

Global News exposes major problems, keeps families together

Monday’s announcement by Hussen reverses a 40-year-old policy that many legal experts have said discriminates against persons with disabilities and their family members. It comes after the Global News’ series Inadmissible, which revealed serious problems with the way Immigration Canada administers the excessive demand policy.

Over an eight-month period, the series exposed the devastating impact of the policy on hard-working people from across the country, many of whom have been in Canada for years, separated from their families, paying taxes and contributing to Canadian society.

The decision to change the policy also follows a Parliamentary committee report that last December recommended the government repeal Section 38-1-C of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the section of the law that deals with medical inadmissibility due to excessive demand.

Liberal MP Rob Oliphant chairs the committee. In his report, Oliphant said the cost of granting residency to all those denied due to excessive demand was minuscule, representing just 0.1 per cent of what Canada spends on health care each year. He also acknowledged the many contributions made by Global News toward exposing systemic problems with the law.

“Witnesses [who appeared before the committee] 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,” he wrote.

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

Several families profiled by Global News who were denied permanent residency because of a child’s disability had the decisions in their case reversed. Hussen specifically mentioned these families in his announcement Monday, saying cases like theirs were a driving factor behind the government’s decision.

These families included Mercedes Benitez, a Filipino caregiver living in Toronto whose 18-year-old son, Harold, has Down syndrome and has been separated from his mother for a decade. It also includes Jon and Karissa Warkentin, who were denied permanent residency because their six-year-old daughter, Karalynn, has a mild intellectual disability.

This is a developing story. More to come…

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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