Call to Action: Tell Parliament to Stop Discrimination against people with disabilities who immigrate to Canada

An awesome way to guarantee that you will not be allowed to immigrate to most countries – even if you otherwise completely qualify – is to have a disability, or have a disabled immediate family member.

Despite the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms explicitly guaranteeing that laws in Canada cannot be written to discriminate against people with “mental or physical disabilities” (Section 15 of the Charter), Canada’s Immigration Act allows someone who otherwise passes all of Canada’s immigration requirements to be denied immigration because they “might reasonably be expected to cause excessive demand on health or social services”.

What has this meant in practice? Well, in 2009 Chris Mason, an immigrant from the UK who was injured on the job while working legally in Canada, was deported back to the UK because of his disability. In 2010, Ricardo Companioni was initially denied immigration to Canada from the US because of his HIV-positive status, but managed to argue in Federal court that he and his partner would pay for their drug treatments and thus not be part of Canada’s care system – a solution that is not available to many people. In May, the Barlagne family lost their appeal to be allowed to stay in Canada, as their youngest daughter has Cerebral Palsy. The reasoning was that the court did not believe the Barlagnes would be able to pay for their daughter’s care.

None of these stories are unique. Even when the Bill was being debated in Parliament, Members were bringing up concerns about how the “excessive demand clause” would affect people whose families had disabilities. In 2000, when Wendy Lill, a Member of Parliament, asked:

We have a charter of rights which talks about each Canadian being entitled to equality under the law. The Will to Act Task Force, which was established several years ago, talked about equality of citizenship for persons with disabilities.

Clause 34 talks about how a foreign national or other permanent resident would be inadmissible on health grounds if their health condition might reasonably be expected to cause excessive demand on health or social services. This is the only clause in the bill which seems to me would in any way relate to a person with a disability making an application to come to Canada.

I would like to know if a family with a child who has a disability such as Down syndrome or cerebral palsy would be accepted in this country. [emphasis added]

She was assured by the then-in-power Liberals that:

I think it is internationally accepted, in the Geneva convention and other statutes, that the best interests of the child can indeed be defined. In the case of a disabled child, I believe that the intent is to prevent abuse. The abuse might be that the only reason for someone wanting to come to Canada would be to seek free health care of some type.

However, in the case of family reunification, if we are talking about bringing a new family to Canada, if a child has a disability, frankly, I am absolutely confident, having met the men and women who work in citizenship and immigration, that we would take all of that into account and we would not allow it to stand in the way. [emphasis added]

I’m very happy for the no-longer-in-power Liberals that they were certain situations like the Barlagnes would never happen in Totally-Awesome-To-People-With-Disabilities Canada, but since we live in this Canada, I think their optimism was misguided. As has been amply demonstrated by reality.

The Council of Canadians with Disabilities has recently written yet-another-letter urging the Hon. Jason Kenney, Minister of Immigration, to review the “excessive demand clause”. You can read the letter in full at their website.

I have adapted their letter to send to Mr Kenney, as well as my MP, and provide that letter for my fellow Canadians to adapt or use in any way they see fit.

This is a discriminatory policy. People with disabilities and their families are not drains on the Canadian economy. We are people, and we should not be denied equal rights because of our disabilities.

My letter is below:

Hon. Jason Kenney
Minister of Immigration
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Mr. Minister:

I am writing because, like many Canadians with disabilities and our families, I am concerned at the discriminatory practices that are a part of our Immigration Act. The “excessive demands” clause, and the way it has been applied to deny immigration to people with disabilities and their families, is appalling in light of Canada’s recent ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and Section 15 of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Canada’s Immigration Act and the excessive demand clause should be revised. We do not apply the excessive demand clause to refugees nor to those coming to Canada through family reunification. Yet we deny families seeking to immigrate to Canada to work and create jobs because they have a child with disability or because they themselves have a disability. Canada’s Human Rights Act and the Charter prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability, race, religion, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. Throughout Canadian immigration history people were not allowed to immigrate to Canada because of religious belief, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity and gender. Over the years, Canadian immigration policy has changed and no longer are members of the above groups denied permission to immigrate, with the exception of one group: people with disabilities. It is time to change the policy.

In solidarity with the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, I urge you to undertake a review of the excessive demand clause of the Immigration Act. Canadians with disabilities are insulted by Canada’s immigration law. Our current law belittles our contributions and reinforces the old stereotypes that people with disabilities will be a drain upon our society, not contributors to it.

I also hope that you will meet with the Council of Canadians with Disabilities to discuss their concerns about the Immigration Act, so that it can better reflect Canada’s commitment to non-discriminatory practices towards people with disabilities.


Find your Member of Parliament

Further Reading:

Canada Ratifies UN treaty for disabled rights

Disabled? See you Later

One thought on “Call to Action: Tell Parliament to Stop Discrimination against people with disabilities who immigrate to Canada

  1. I wanted to post a comment when thi went up, as I found it very upsetting, and it moved me strongly in relation to my family history. But I didn’t. Now that history has become more stark.

    My mother and her parents fled Austria during the Nazi regime. (We are Jewish.) They barely made it out alive. A big part of the problem was the delay because my grandfather was considered “Polish” (the country of his birth) by US authorities, and the Polish quota had been met. They went to France, and eventually came to the US.

    They tried to bring my grandfather’s sister and mother over and got visas and affidavits from American relatives that they would be no “burden” to the US because their relatives would take care of them. Then Helene, my mother’s grandmother, broke her leg. The US rescinded their visas because of that broken leg, and Sara, her daughter, stayed to care for her. They were both murdered by the Nazis. My grandfather was tortured by this to his death.

    Yesterday, I got to read the letters and telegrams from my mother’s aunt — see her handwriting, read her words, see her desperation, then resignation after the tickets were refunded. It was so horribly real, and it pains me so much that this still happens now and in other Western nations where people try to emigrate and are turned away due to disability.

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