Bill C-585: An Act to Exclude Refugees from Social Assistance

This week is World Refugee Week. This is an opportunity for people in Canada to join together and lobby the government to make changes to policies that affect refugees. One of the big issues of focus this week is government cuts to health care for refugees. But there’s another important issue rearing its head that no one seems to be talking about: the Federal government is quietly using a motion to try to restrict access to social assistance for refugee claimants! This issue is being swept under the carpet and hasn’t received much media attention, largely because the wording of the government motion is so incredibly confusing.

Let’s break it down:

On April 4th 2014, Corneliu Chisu, Conservative Member of Parliament for Pickering-Scarborough East Ontario tabled a motion to introduce Bill C-585, An Act to amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act (period of residence). This Bill basically says that provinces and territories should not have to follow the rule to NOT have a minimum amount of time before they can apply for social assistance. Still confused? Me too.

Okay, to clarify:

Right now, provinces and territories cannot require that someone be a resident for a certain amount of time in their province/territory before they can apply for social assistance. This means that if you’re a refugee who has arrived in say, British Columbia, you are not required to wait a certain amount of time before applying for social assistance. You can access it right away.

So, why is this so important? Why do we have this law right now?

Well, think about it. For most refugees, who are fleeing immediate danger, do you stop and pack a bag? If you’re a woman fleeing Mexico from the threat of death because of domestic violence do you tell your spouse “just wait a moment while I pack up my cash and valuables”? No. You run – often with nothing except the clothes on your back.

So what’s the problem? What’s Mr. Chisu trying to propose?

His proposal is that no minimum period of residence may be required with respect to social assistance, if you’re: a) a Canadian citizen b) a permanent resident or c) part of a very specific group of refugees.

Sounds good, right? Well here’s the problem: this very specific group excludes most refugees. This will basically allow provinces and territories to deny a large number of persons, particularly refugee claimants who are not victims of human trafficking or who have not had their refugee hearing, from receiving social assistance when they first arrive in the province.

So, if Mr. Chisu’s Bill becomes a law, what happens to that woman from Mexico? She is likely part of that excluded group. In the time between when that woman arrives in Canada and until her case is heard at the Refugee Protection Division she will receive NOTHING. She will have no source of income support. She is entirely reliant on community programs whose resources are already stretched thin. She will probably end up living on the street at least until she is determined to be a refugee.

One wonders what’s really at play here. Is Mr. Chisu hoping to assist in stemming the tide of refugees that enter Canada by helping to establish Canada as a country that is not only is willing to let refugees die from poor health, but is also willing to starve them?

This is a Private Member’s Bill and doesn’t seem to be high on the Conservative party’s to-do list. That being said, it shows a major disregard by the government for the dignity of refugees, who have often left everything to come to Canada and be free from persecution.

It’s World Refugee Week. Let’s not be fooled by this Bill and its convoluted efforts to further marginalize one of the most disadvantaged groups in Canada. We are a country that has long had compassion for refugees on the understanding that everyone is entitled to a safe and decent place to live. Let’s keep it that way.


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