The Trouble With Bill C-585

Have you heard about Bill C-585? If passed, the Bill will remove the national standard that provinces not impose a minimum residency requirement for recipients of social assistance. The Bill will target already marginalized groups, particularly refugee claimants and other protected persons. Today, the Toronto Star published an article written by Nicholas Keung entitled: Bill tabled to ban refugees from social assistance where CWP was asked for our concerns about the Bill. You can read the article below or check it out on the Toronto Star website here.

“A Conservative MP’s private member bill is quietly making its way through the legislature and, if passed, could exclude refugees from accessing any social assistance.

Bill C-585, which is before Parliament for second reading later this month, would allow provinces to individually impose residency requirements for eligibility for social assistance benefits and restrict access to those benefits by refugees.

The bill was tabled by Pickering-Scarborough East MP Corneliu Chisu as an amendment to the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act, which lays out the terms of the Canada Social Transfer, including funding for services such as post-secondary education, child care and welfare.

Currently, the act stipulates that a province may not impose a minimum period of residency to restrict eligibility for social assistance — or it will risk losing some or all of its social transfer payments. The condition is meant to ensure that a national standard is in place to support those in need of help.

Embedding such a major change in a private member’s bill has irked antipoverty and refugee advocates because such bills, as opposed to government bills, are less transparent and undergo less scrutiny; they’re usually put forward to address issues of regional significance.

“When we first heard about it, we were not sure what the bill meant. It speaks to the way the bill was introduced,” said Marie Chen, staff lawyer of the Toronto-based Income Security Advocacy Centre, which is leading a grassroots campaign to lobby MPs to defeat the bill.

“It is a major piece of law to be changed by a private member’s bill. Its impact clearly targets refugee claimants.”

Although it is not known if Corneliu’s bill has the blessing of his party, critics say the proposed law appears consistent with other changes the Conservative government has made to the refugee system, including cuts to health coverage for refugees.

“It follows a pattern of changes proposed and effected by this government to make life more miserable for refugees,” said Janet Dench, of the Canadian Council for Refugees.

“It is very disturbing. This is a huge concern to our member organizations, which will end up dealing with the consequences.”

Chisu, a Romanian-born Canadian, retired Canadian forces major and a first-term MP, was out of town and could not be reached for comment. Immigration Minister Chris Alexander declined to tell the Star’s inquiry if he would support the bill and referred any inquiry to Chisu.

While the bill says no minimum residency requirement would be allowed for Canadian citizens, permanent residents or victims of trafficking on a temporary resident permit, advocates are alarmed by the groups that are omitted and could suffer the effects of the bill.

They include refugee claimants still awaiting a decision; people whose bid for asylum failed; people who may be deported but are waiting for pre-removal risk assessments; people who have been allowed to stay in Canada on “humanitarian and compassionate” grounds, and sponsored spouses already in Canada.

The Immigration and Refugee Board said it has no data on the number or percentage of refugees who receive government assistance. Neither would it comment on government policy or pending legislation.

However, as a result of recent changes Ottawa made to restrict and expedite refugee processing, the number of claims received has plummeted to less than 10,000 in 2013, from a peak of 40,000 a year. As of June 2014, only 5,872 claims had been made this year.

Michele Biss, of Canada Without Poverty, said advocacy groups have tried unsuccessfully to meet with Chisu to understand the rationale behind his proposal.

“We do need a national standard to protect the most marginalized people, including refugees, who are disproportionately affected by poverty. They come with absolutely nothing, fleeing unimaginable persecution. How are they supposed to feed and house themselves?” said Biss.

“The federal government has a role in these national standards. It can’t just pass the buck to the provinces and hope they will take care of them.”