Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Omnibus Budget Bill Restricts Refugee Access to Social Assistance

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Omnibus Budget Bill Restricts Refugee Access to Social Assistance

Article excerpt

Omnibus bill limits refugee social assistance

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OTTAWA - Buried in the Harper government's latest massive, omnibus budget bill is legislation that could restrict the ability of refugee claimants to access social assistance.

The move follows the government's decision to limit refugee claimants' access to universal, public health care.

That measure was struck down by Federal Court Judge Anne Mactavish, who said it constitutes "cruel and unusual" treatment, puts lives at risk and "outrages Canadian standards of decency."

The government is currently appealing that ruling.

On social assistance, the government has essentially adopted as its own a private member's bill introduced last month by Conservative backbencher Corneliu Chisu.

It is proposing to amend the legislation governing federal transfer payments to provinces for social programs. That legislation currently forbids provinces from imposing a minimum residency requirement before a refugee claimant can become eligible for social assistance.

The budget implementation bill would lift the prohibition on minimum residency, which was intended to ensure a national standard for supporting refugee claimants in need.

The 458-page bill includes a host of measures unrelated to the budget, including broadening the scope of the national DNA bank, tightening rules for the temporary foreign workers program and creation of the long-promised Arctic research station.

It was tabled Thursday -- while the attention of virtually the entire nation was focused on the wild shootout that had occurred a day earlier in Parliament's Centre Block.

A spokesman for Finance Minister Joe Oliver said it had always been the government's intention to table the bill on Thursday, in hopes that it will be passed by the time Parliament takes its Christmas break.

Although he did not take issue with the timing, New Democrat MP Craig Scott said the government uses omnibus bills precisely to avoid scrutiny of controversial provisions like the refugee social assistance cuts.

Scott called the social assistance and health care cuts "a one-two punch," aimed at discouraging vulnerable, desperate people from finding their way to Canada and claiming refugee status, even though many claimants turn out to be genuine refugees. …

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