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Letter to the Minister - Bill C-31

May 10, 2012


Dear Minister:

I am writing as a physician to express my shock and disappointment with your government's treatment of refugee claimants.

I understand that effective June 30,2012 the federal Government is drastically reducing health coverage for all classes of refugees. Some will be denied coverage entirely;most will receive coverage limited to those of "an urgent or essential nature" and " Medications and vaccines only if needed to prevent or treat a disease that is a risk to public health or a condition of safety concern ". Refugee children will be ineligible for vaccines;pregnant refugees will be ineligible for routine antenatal care.

As a physician active in obstetrical care I can tell you this will have devastating health consequences for women and children and is bound to result in birth complications, low birth weight babies, and put the lives of women and children at risk. For a government that has claimed to have an interest in maternal child health internationally, the denial of access to prenatal care and basic child health is outrageous.

Furthermore, as a physician I believe that Bill C-31, Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act will have devastating consequences for the health and well-being of refugee claimants who come to Canada to seek safety from violence and persecution in their country of origin.

In particular, Bill C-31 will mean that:

1. Refugee claimants arriving as a group can, on designation by the Minister, be incarcerated in high-security prisons for one year without review. Children aged 16 or more will be imprisoned as if they were adults. Children under 16 will either be separated from their parents and handed over to child protection agencies, or unofficially detained with their parents. There will be no access to early release, even for the most vulnerable individuals, such as pregnant women, torture survivors, or people who are mentally or physically ill. This amounts to punishing victims, and will cause serious harm to highly vulnerable people. Refugee claimants deserve, and are entitled to, our protection. These actions amount to persecution.

2. Designated claimants who are recognized as refugees will be barred from obtaining permanent residency for 5 years, and will therefore not be allowed to reunite with their families. Separating refugees from their families for 5 years is punitive, damaging to refugees’ mental and physical health, and puts tremendous stress on the entire family. As a health care provider working with new arrivals to Canada, I can assure you that the health costs of separation from family are enormous.

3. Many refugee claimants will be deprived of the right to appeal decisions rejecting their claim for refugee status. Mistakes are human. It is profoundly unfair to eliminate access to an appeal board when erroneous rejection of a refugee claim can mean sending a person back to face torture or death.

4. The government will have the power to strip refugees of their status and deport them from Canada, even after they have lived here for years and become permanent residents, simply because conditions have improved in their home country so that they are no longer at risk of persecution. This will penalize people who have been settled in Canada for years and have done nothing wrong.

5. The Minister will have the authority to designate certain countries as ‘safe’. Claimants from those countries will be on a ‘fast-track’ that will almost certainly lead to their exclusion. This fails to take into account that marginalized groups may be subject to violence without meaningful access to state protection even in countries that are safe for most of their citizens.

Bill C-31 will cause psychological harm and suffering to highly vulnerable people who have already experienced repeated trauma. I ask you to do everything in your power to ensure that the bill is withdrawn. I further urge you to reverse your position on the provision of health care to refugee claimaints. I find it shocking that the government of Canada would put the health of our most vulnerable at risk in this manner.


Danielle Martin, MD, CCFP

Chair, Canadian Doctors for Medicare