The Conservative government will resume offering health care to refugee claimants while it appeals a Federal Court decision that struck down recent changes as "cruel and unusual" treatment.
Immigration Minister Chris Alexander had asked for that July ruling to be stayed while Ottawa launches an appeal. But that request was rejected on Friday, forcing the federal government to make a decision by Tuesday on how to proceed.
"We remain disappointed by the court's decision from last summer. We've expressed that many times," Mr. Alexander told reporters Tuesday afternoon. "But we are complying with the court's decision."
The minister said the government will offer health care to pregnant women, children and refugee applicants who have convinced a government officer that they would be at risk in their home country. Also, the government will give the same level of care regardless of whether an applicant is from a country deemed to be safe or not safe.
The July 4 ruling by Justice Anne Mactavish was viewed as potentially precedent setting because it invoked a rarely used section of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms – "cruel and unusual treatment or punishment" – to reject the policy as unconstitutional.
The opposition NDP and Liberals have repeatedly criticized the government in the House of Commons for refusing to back down in light of the Federal Court decision. NDP MP Andrew Cash said Tuesday that the government's actions amount to an "attack on refugees."
The July ruling struck down government changes launched in 2012 that aimed to restrict health-care spending to successful refugee claimants. The government has said it is moving to crack down on "bogus asylum seekers."
Canadian refugee advocates have warned that such a change will be devastating for newly arrived refugees. The Canadian Council of Refugees said groups that help refugees will also struggle to pay the bills if their refugee clients no longer have money to pay such groups for basic services such as food and shelter while their claims are processed.
Mr. Alexander said throughout the changes that the government has always provided health care to approved refugees.
"What we're talking about are people whose claims were rejected, people whose claims haven't been heard yet, people whose claims were found to be fraudulent – actually invented," said Mr. Alexander, who estimates that less than 1,000 people a year fall into this category.