An idea whose time has come – reconsidering medical inadmissibility

By Joel Sandaluk / Partner, Immigration Lawyer

This week the Minister of Immigration, Ahmed Hussen announced that he was committed to ending the discriminatory practice of barring admission to Canada of individuals who are disabled or suffering from a serious illness.

For years, the Immigration and Refugee protection Act and the legislation that preceded it, has included provisions which had the effect of rendering people inadmissible in the event that their admission to Canada would cause a greater than average drain on Canada’s health or social service system. These provisions also had the effect of rendering inadmissible any family members who were included in the same application. This meant that a parent with a disabled child could not immigrate to Canada and that an applicant with a disabled spouse was rendered inadmissible as a result of their having an inadmissible family member.

In many cases, this resulted in extremely heartbreaking situations for people who had been living and working in Canada for many years with the intention of acquiring permanent resident status in Canada only to have those applications denied because they had family members who suffered from disabilities. This was particularly true in the cases of many live-in caregivers who had dedicated years of their lives while separated from their families and working in jobs that Canadians were unwilling to do in order to secure a better life for themselves and their families.

In one case, a live-in caregiver, Juana Tejada, came to Canada and worked for years only to have her application for permanent residence in Canada denied because she was diagnosed with cancer before she became a permanent resident. In her case, her family was eventually allowed to join her in Canada, arriving here to see her briefly before her death.

Because of these medical inadmissibility provisions, many family reunions are delayed and ultimately cut short as in the case of Ms. Tejada.

Medical inadmissibility provisions were designed to prevent the abuse of Canada’s immigration system by people intending to come to Canada simply to obtain medical treatment without making any significant contribution to the country. What the policy fails to acknowledge however, is that in many cases, these provisions have the effect of discriminating against people who have been living, and working in Canada serving as productive members of the Canadian society for years only to be turned aside because they or a close relative for theirs would require greater level of care or community service than an “average Canadian.”

Using this cut off is arbitrary and, in the words of the Minister, does not reflect “Canadian values of inclusion.” It is time to reconsider how we decide who should be kept out of Canada on the basis of their medical condition or disability.

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