01/28/2015 03:32 EST | Updated 03/30/2015 05:59 EDT

Refugee Health Care Ruling Didn't Guarantee Constitutional Right: Feds

OTTAWA - Not all refugee claimants automatically have a constitutional right to health care coverage following a Federal Court decision last year, the federal government says.

So the current system fully complies with the decision, the government argued this week in the latest legal fight with refugee claimants on the issue.

It's a fight that has now cost at least $1.4 million, according to figures tabled in the House of Commons this week.

And it's not over yet. A Federal Court judge has reserved her decision in the latest skirmish and meanwhile the government's appeal of the original decision continues.

The two sides were in court this week over the health coverage program introduced for refugee claimants after the Federal Court struck down the previous one as unconstitutional.

While the system put in place in November is broader than the old interim federal health program, known as IFHP, not all refugee claimants have access to the same levels of coverage.

The court never said they had to, federal government lawyers argued.

"Respectfully, nothing in the orders state to put all the interested parties back in the same position they would have been (in)...had the changes to the IFHP never been made," the government argues in court documents.

"It is for Parliament to decide how to respond to the declaratory orders with remedial legislation that is Charter compliant."

But lawyers for the refugee claimants have argued the intent of the ruling was to return to the program in existence prior to the 2012 overhaul.

That year, the government did away with a decades-old program which essentially saw taxpayers covering all the health care costs of people awaiting a decision on their refugee claim.

In its place, the government sharply curtailed coverage and allocated it based on where the refugee was from. Some items — such as medications — were no longer paid for at all.

In July, the Federal Court ruled the changes were putting people's lives at risk and declared the system unconstitutional, giving the government four months to implement a new, Charter-compliant system.

The revised program put in place in November expands health coverage available to refugee claimants, most notably extending it specifically to children and pregnant women. But it still classifies how much coverage people will receive based on what kind of refugee claim they are making and where the claim is in the process.

The government said the new program isn't subject to the old judgement, and if their opponents want to challenge it, they can launch a separate court case.

"It would lead to absurd results if original judgements were continually revisited after remedial legislation was introduced....," the government said.

It's time for the long-running battle to end, said the New Democrat's Andrew Cash, who had asked the government how much it was paying in legal costs for the case.

"Instead of paying lawyers to keep healthcare away from refugees, the Conservatives should end this offensive charade, abide by the federal court's ruling and fully restore the program," he said.


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