For several years, a persistent chain e-mail has been circulating claiming that refugees receive significantly more money in income assistance than Canadians collecting a pension. The e-mail states that the monthly entitlement for single refugees under the Refugee Assistance Program (RAP) is $1,890.
This information is incorrect.
Financial assistance under the RAP is provided to a limited number of government-assisted refugees who entered Canada as permanent residents and are not entitled to income support under provincial social assistance programs.
On this basis, a limited number of refugees who qualify under the RAP are allowed a one-time “start-up” amount of up to $1,830 to cover essentials like staples, furniture and clothing. They also receive a temporary monthly allowance for food and shelter that is based on provincial social assistance rates. In BC this is approximately $610. This assistance is temporary — lasting only for one year or until they can find a job, whichever comes first.
Another persistent rumour is that refugees and new immigrants qualify for OAS after living in Canada for as little as two years. Again this is incorrect. In order to qualify for OAS, there is a 10 year residency requirement after age 18.
More recently, proposed changes to health care for refugees under Bill C-31 has also generated misinformation, including claims that the changes are dangerous or unethical.
There is no change in Interim Federal Health coverage for treatments affecting public health and public safety. Treatment, including prescription medications, will continue to be provided to all refugee claimants for infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV, and for other medications necessary to protect public health and safety, such as anti-psychotic drugs.
Nor is there any change to primary health care for the vast majority of refugee claimants, who will continue to have access to the full range of basic doctor and hospital services that all Canadians receive through their provincial health care system, including treatment for chronic disease. Importantly, all refugee claimants are provided, free of charge, an Immigration Medical Exam, which screens claimants for disease and provides the preventative health care that critics claim is being lost. And, of course, as soon as a refugee claimant is found to be a genuine refugee, he or she has access to the full benefits of the provincial health care system.
What is changing is that bogus asylum seekers, including those whose claims have been rejected but who refuse to leave Canada, will no longer receive, at taxpayer expense, enhanced health services such as eye and dental coverage that are unavailable to many ordinary Canadians.
Nor will “asylum seekers” from safe countries, such as the liberal democracies of the European Union or the United States, continue to receive the full range of basic and supplemental health care coverage, though they will still receive urgent or essential medical care, including hospital treatment, and any prescription drugs and treatment necessary to address a public health or safety risk, such as an infectious disease. These changes go hand in hand with the introduction of reforms to speed up the processing of asylum claims from safe countries, meaning that these asylum seekers will have their claims heard in a matter of weeks, rather than years, as is currently the case. Health coverage for these claimants is, therefore, only a short interim measure.
These are reasonable, measured changes to stop the abuse of Canada’s generous and overburdened health care system by bogus asylum claimants, and especially by those that have already been rejected by our fair and independent refugee determination system but who refuse to return home, preferring to enjoy generous welfare and health care benefits that even honest, hard-working Canadians do not receive.
As with all of the above, I encourage constituents to be cautious about believing, and then sharing, incorrect information without first seeking clarification. Unfortunately, fear mongering remains an effective way of swaying public opinion particularly if you factor in the speed and breadth misinformation travels via e-mail and the internet.
The good news is the internet also makes it easier to be better informed. Access to information about the Government of Canada and Parliament is available at www.gc.ca and www.parl.gc.ca. Additionally, my office is always available to help clarify your concerns, so feel free to contact me at [email protected] or by calling 250 470-5075.
Ron Cannan is the Member of Parliament for Kelowna-Lake Country.