Refugee health care


In Canada, the federal government has been responsible for the provision of health care to refugees since 1957. In June 2012 the federal government introduced a series of sweeping changes to the Interim Federal Health (IFH) program, the health insurance program for refugees and asylum seekers that provided them with basic health care coverage and supplemental coverage including access to medication, dentistry, and vision care. These exclusions were challenged by a number of organizations and individuals as violations of sections 7, 12 and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom.

The issue

The changes to IFHP divided refugees into three categories of asylum seekers, with differing levels of health coverage depending upon the person’s country of origin. Some of the provinces stepped in to cover the services and medication no longer provided under the program. But it means that refugees had uneven access to basic health needs depending on where they lived.

The Federal Court judge found that the deliberate exclusion of refugees constituted “cruel and unusual treatment or punishment” under section 12 of the Charter, and was also “prohibited discrimination on the ground of national or ethnic origin” under section 15 of the Charter.

The Government of Canada appealed the decision to the Federal Court of Appeal. Shortly after its election in 2015, the newly elected Trudeau government withdrew the previous government’s appeal.


Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers along with three individual patients.

The CHC’s involvement in this case:

The Canadian Health Coalition and the Charter Committee on Poverty Issues filed a joint request for intervention in front of the Federal Court of Appeal. The request challenged the earlier court’s finding that those who rely on publicly funded health care do not enjoy the same protection of the right to life in access to health care. This was found in the Chaoulli case (2005) to apply to those who can afford privately funded health care. The organizations were denied leave.

Further reading

Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care v. Canada (2014)

Request for intervention at the Federal Court of Appeal by the Canadian Health Coalition along with the Charter Committee on Poverty Issues (2015)

Harper’s Cuts to Refugee Health Care: A violation of medical ethics and a disgrace to Canada (CHC press release, 2012)



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