REGINA - Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is criticizing a federal decision to deny chemotherapy to a refugee as "unbelievable" and un-Canadian.
Wall says he doesn't understand the rationale behind the move.
"It's unbelievable that some of the decisions that have been taken federally are having this impact on people who are clearly the most vulnerable, refugees who are obviously fleeing something quite terrible — that's why they're refugees," Wall said Thursday.
"On the face of it, you just consider the case of this particular gentleman or others who, for example, as it was pointed out ... might need prenatal care, this is just common sense. You just do this.
"This is the kind of country we are. You cover it."
The man arrived in Saskatoon several months ago after fleeing a Middle Eastern country where he was persecuted for being Christian. Soon after arriving, he started having abdominal pain and was diagnosed with cancer.
The federal government said it would not pay for chemotherapy, Saskatchewan Health Minister Dustin Duncan revealed Wednesday.
Ottawa announced changes in the spring to the Interim Federal Health Program, which provides temporary health coverage for protected persons, refugee claimants and other groups not eligible for provincial health insurance.
Under those changes, some refugee claimants saw cuts to their drug, dental and vision coverage. Additionally, those whose refugee claims are rejected and those from a yet-to-be defined list of "safe" countries will only receive medical care if their condition is deemed a risk to public health or safety.
The federal government said it hopes the changes will deter bogus refugee claims and ensure failed asylum seekers don't take advantage of Canada's free health care.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney outlined the rules Thursday in response to a question in the House of Commons.
"A genuine refugee comes to Canada as a permanent resident and therefore qualifies for comprehensive provincial health insurance. Rejected asylum claimants and pending asylum claimants are not refugees until they are determined to be so by our fair and generous legal system, during which time they receive comprehensive health insurance but not extended benefits," he said.
"Those who are rejected and are pending removal are effectively illegal immigrants."
Kenney's office would not say whether the Saskatoon man is considered a refugee by the government of Canada. A spokesperson said officials could not comment because of privacy issues.
Liberal MP Ralph Goodale, who raised the issue in the House, said the federal position is pretty harsh.
"You get to the bottom line and essentially the government of Canada is saying that these people, who previously had some degree of coverage before the budget cuts and the policy change in the spring, are simply on their own," Goodale said in a phone interview with The Canadian Press.
"And if that leads to serious health problems or potentially even their passing away, that's not a federal issue — and that's a pretty callous position."
Duncan had said Wednesday that confusion abounds. He said provinces are frustrated because there is a lack of clarity in terms of what Ottawa will continue to cover.
Saskatchewan has picked up the tab for the man's chemotherapy.
"This country is rich. We are rich beyond measure compared to the countries where these folks are fleeing from and so it's our view that we should just be there to help.
"That's kind of a basic Canadian value, I think," said Wall.