Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen announced new changes aimed at welcoming immigrants with disabilities to Canada on Monday but provided little details on how the federal government planned on funding the initiative.
The changes include increasing the cost threshold for medical inadmissibility to three times the previous level — Hussen confirmed that new number would land around $19,000 — and amending the definition of social services by removing references to special education, social and vocational rehabilitation services and personal support services.
Previously immigration applicants could be found medically inadmissible to Canada based on a set of criteria that largely affected people with disabilities. Hussen said the policy the government is updating is 40 years old and the changes will take effect immediately. Most of the people who have been affected in the past are economic migrants, Hussen said.
The number of refusals under the previous provision was not high, but according to the department of immigration it did result in cases where applicants or their children were refused even though their health condition or disability was one already accommodated in Canada.
The changes will also allow all applicants and and their families to remain in Canada, regardless of disabilities.
Hussen, who was flanked by Public Services Minister Carla Qualtrough and Kirsty Duncan, the minister responsible for persons with disabilities, would not confirm how the federal government would pay for the new costs associated with welcoming more people and with increasing the threshold of the criteria.
When asked repeatedly if the federal government would compensate the provinces for the cost, Hussen waffled, saying there’s “always going to be a societal cost for inclusion, but we believe it’s the right thing to do to include people and take a holistic approach.”
Pressed further, Hussen did say the federal government “will pay for it,” adding that the government provides transfer payments to the provinces and territories.
“Canadians understand we have to include people with disabilities and this policy is way out of date we have to bring it in line to where we are as a society,” he said.
But whether the federal government will in fact give money to the provinces to pay for newcomers with disabilities remains unclear.
“In my comments in the end I said we would reflect on these changes to see the impacts they’ll have so we have to wait and see what the numbers will be. The Canada health transfer takes into consideration the health funding needs of provinces and territories,” said Hussen.
Qualtrough said if she had not been born in Canada, and if her parents had chose to bring she and her brother here to build a life it’s “very likely” her family would have been denied entry because she is legally blind.
“Yes I required accommodation growing up, yes I required additional support, yes I encountered obstacles, faced discrimination and was constantly confronted by people making assumptions about what I could and couldn’t do but I’m the product of our publicly funded school system and social services,” said Qualtrough.
Immigration advocates have called for a repeal of section 38(1)(c) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Migrant caregivers protested outside Hussen’s Toronto office in March and said that section of the law denies permanent residency to an entire family if one member is sick or has a disability that would pose “excessive demand” on Canada’s health care system.
Hussen insisted today that by not repealing the law, his government is not perpetuating discrimination
“No we’re not doing that. We’re moving in a responsible manner to make the necessary changes at the moment and make it closer in line with Canadian values but we also have to do it in a way that brings the provinces and territories on board,” he said.