Hospitality House Refugee Ministry in Winnipeg's executive director Tom Denton

Winnipeg Catholics endorse Anglican suit over refugee health cuts

  • June 27, 2012

Christians aiding refugees is nothing new. Christians taking the Canadian government to court so refugees won’t be denied medication, artificial limbs or rehabilitative therapy is.

Hospitality House Refugee Ministry in Winnipeg has launched a lawsuit on behalf of the Anglican diocese of Rupert’s Land claiming breach of contract against Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Hospitality House is trying to block government plans to strip down its health insurance plan for refugees.

Cuts to the Interim Federal Healthcare Program for refugees take effect June 30.

The suit has been launched on behalf of the Anglicans, but the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Winnipeg has been informed and, although it hasn’t joined the lawsuit, supports the action, said Hospitality House executive director Tom Denton.

The archdiocese of Winnipeg is a sponsorship agreement holder with Citizenship and Immigration Canada. It contracts Hospitality House to manage its 387 sponsorship cases currently in process. Those 387 cases represent 850 individual refugees.

The sponsorship agreement between the archdiocese and Citizenship and Immigration Canada stipulates the government will provide health coverage through the Interim Federal Healthcare Program, said Denton.

“Our position would be that you can’t unilaterally change the deal,” he said. “When you undertake a sponsorship on the understanding that that’s in place, then you can’t pull the rug out from underneath us.”

Citizenship and Immigration’s communications staff claim the health care benefits it has been providing are better than what Canadians have under provincial health insurance.

“It is unfair to ask Canadians to fund benefits for protected persons and refugee claimants that they are not necessarily entitled to themselves,” CIC told The Catholic Register in an e-mail.

But the government is simply downloading costs on parishes and families who are trying to help refugees start a new life, said Denton.

While Hospitality House seeks an injunction to stop the cuts, students at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg have come up with another way of challenging the government’s policy. They’ve launched a campaign on Facebook and YouTube asking Canadians to mail loose change to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The students estimate the cost per Canadian of maintaining full medical coverage of all refugees would be 59 cents.

“When refugees arrive in Canada they often have experienced some of the most traumatic situations possible,” said the students at

“Furthermore, they are arriving in a foreign land which speaks a language different from theirs, with little or no support networks. Therefore, we strongly believe that they are deserving of the best help which our country can give them for a chance to heal.”

Getting refugees proper medical attention — including dental work, vision care and psychological counselling — is usually a good investment, said Denton. Refugees who’ve had those problems taken care of settle quicker and become employable. “People won’t be able to settle as successfully or as quickly, and that’s a cost right there,” Denton said. “And then the health problems will be exacerbated because they’re untreated.”

But persuading the government to change its mind is a tall order, he said. “They seem to stick to their guns on everything they do. This is not a government that changes its mind.”

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